Ontario Leads the BEV Revolution

The move away from diesel gathers pace

While many parts of the world are just beginning to embrace battery electric vehicles (BEV) in mines, OEM’s operating in Canada are all familiar with their capabilities and potential. “Northern Ontario was the first to have a company develop a battery electric vehicle for underground; we were the first region with a mine to adopt it, and we are home to the first all-electric mine worldwide. This technology is a real step changer for the industry. It should enable us to get greener and go deeper into deposits, while also protecting the health and safety of employees working in the mines,” proclaimed Paul Bradette, executive director of MineConnect.

Northeastern Ontario is a hotbed for electrical equipment, with Kirkland Lake Gold’s Macassa, Newmont’s Borden and Glencore and Vale in the Sudbury basin all investing heavily in the technology. Contributing to this push toward electrification is the fact that heavy pressure is being put on mining companies to be greener and improve on their ESG performance. As a result, many companies now have aggressive decarbonization targets. For example, Newmont is looking to achieve their targets by increasing the underground asset portion of their portfolio. “Underground mining, combined with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that have almost zero emissions can play a big part in limiting carbon emissions and, from a macro perspective, it makes economic sense,” said MacLean Engineering’s Maarten van Koppen.

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Liebherr a leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment looking to grow its presence in the Canadian market, has also noticed a push for sustainable equipment. Tom Juric, divisional director mining at Liebherr-Canada, observed: “Customers are now asking what we are doing to decarbonize them, because ultimately, with respect to the mining houses, they can only bring so much. It is up to the OEMs and the technology partners to solve the decarbonization issue. Pretty much every company that we are talking to in Canada has decarbonization in their top five priorities.”

Juric also noted that each company has a slightly different perspective on the direction they want to take their business in terms of achieving their objectives. As a result, OEM’s have to hedge themselves in the way in which they bet on technology. He concluded: “The panacea that everybody is waiting for is in battery technology. If I look at our equipment right now, every single one of Liebherr’s mobile pieces of equipment has the capability to adapt battery power in some way, shape or form. The trouble is the power density versus weight and size of the battery. We are not currently looking at developing our own battery tech. Instead, we are looking at partnering with others.”

“Customers are now asking what we are doing to decarbonize them, because ultimately, with respect to the mining houses, they can only bring so much. It is up to the OEMs and the technology partners to solve the decarbonization issue.”

Tom Juric, Divisional Director – Mining, Liebherr Canada

SME’s & Startups: Devoted to transformation

One of the inherent strengths of Canada and in particular Ontario, is its devotion to fostering an ecosystem of new technologies, which provides miners with the tools they need to mine profitably, safely, and in an environmentally friendly way. With many of the largest mining companies in the world operating in Ontario, it is a great opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to see their products being deployed in some of the world’s most important mining operations.

At NORCAT’s Underground Centre in Sudbury an underground operating mine was created to serve as an innovation and training center, which allows startups to test, demonstrate and validate their technology to potential partners and customers. In this environment, buyers of innovation can see and touch technologies in an operating mine environment to inform buying and adoption decisions. Meanwhile, it is also crucial for builders of innovation, as it enables them to demonstrate a referenceable mining “customer” to prove the technology or solution. In turn, this can drive continued sales and adoption by mining companies.

One of the SMEs to have come up through the NORCAT ecosystem is RockMass Technologies, which provides data for miners to be able to better predict what they are going to be drilling, allowing for production optimization and mine planning. Shelby Yee, co-founder and CEO of RockMass Technologies, related that the path to commercialization is challenging in the mining industry, and designing tools that are easy to use for the operator is key: “It is critical to build a solution that is realistic for people to adopt, easy to learn, straightforward and it must integrate with all of the systems that the customer already has.”

Startups in the mining industry can also be fostered under the umbrella of innovation-focused companies, such as Sudbury-based Ionic Technology Group, which has a business model and philosophy that, when a product or line or business reaches a certain size, it is spun off into a separate entity, to “help maintain a specialized focus,” according to CEO, Christina Visser.

The latest technology in the Ionic Group about to be spun out into its own company is SafeBox, a technology developed almost 10 years ago as a solution to the high number of safety violations recorded around the world. Gabriel Janakaraj, business development manager at SafeBox, explained that rather than the traditional disconnect processes, which involve manual switches, SafeBox uses a field isolation device (FID) that is integrated into the field and conditioned to withstand harsh environments. “Our embedded system manages the physical isolation of energy and is accompanied by sensors to validate a zero energy state. We can accommodate electric, hydraulic and pneumatic systems as well as switches with a range of power ratings of up to 15 kV (kilovolts),” he continued.

While traditional energy management lockouts require an operator to disconnect switches manually, which is time-consuming and prone to human error, SafeBox performs the whole lockout in less than two minutes and guarantees that every motor is in a zero-energy state.

“The path to commercialization is really challenging in the mining industry. There are a lot of barriers in terms of working in difficult environments and you are also at the whim of the production cycle. It is critical to build a solution that is realistic for people to adopt, easy to learn, straightforward and it must integrate with all of the systems that the customer already has.”

Shelby Yee, Co-Founder & CEO, RockMass Technologies

Making equipment last

One way to boost the efficiency of an operation is through introducing groundbreaking innovation, but these technologies are not solely being applied to new equipment. In the case of Deep Cryogenics International (DCI), they devoted themselves to making mining equipment last longer. DCI’s president Jack Cahn explained that the process works by placing new items in a specially designed, insulated tank, where they are slowly cooled from ambient temperature down to -196 degrees Celsius. They are kept in that cold environment for about two days, and then slowly brought up in temperature. “We can treat many parts at the same time, weighing up to 5,000 pounds each. The process is environmentally green, infinitely renewable and infinitely recyclable as it only uses liquid nitrogen,” Cahn pointed out.

As a result of applying the deep cryogenic process, testing has been found to increase the wear life of an item on average between 20 to 40%, which equates to a significant amount of increased uptime, increased safety and reduced costs. According to DCI, the investment is best on high-wear, short-wear life items, especially for small items that are buried deep within a piece of equipment such that when that item goes down, it requires a complete disassembly of the platform.

Moving forward, DCI has received a Federal funding, which provided it with capital to build a mobile deep cryogenic tank, specifically for treating components in Northern Ontario. They intend on developing the product over the course of the next 12 months.

Timberland Equipment, which provides purpose-built mobile Underground Utility Vehicles (UUVs) for the mining industry, with Minejack being one of its principal product lines, is another company that is focused on equipment maintenance and aftersales. Owned by Marcotte since the mid-90s, at the end of last year, a decision was made to bring the companies together instead of operating as separate entities. According to Steve Dunlop, general sales manager at Timerland Equipment: “By merging, we synergized our team in one location utilizing the current experience and the larger Woodstock manufacturing facility to handle the upcoming equipment demand. The company has also become more streamlined, maintaining a robust aftermarket support service office for mobile equipment sales in Sudbury, Ontario.”

Image courtesy of James Hodgins - Mining Industrial Photographer, for MacLean Engineering