How Technology Can Help Mining Companies Become More Sustainable

How Technology Can Help Mining Companies Become More Sustainable
Image: Supplied

This article is sponsored by Sandvik.

Through innovation, advanced analytics, automation, digitalization, electrification, and process efficiencies, mining operations can continue to minimise their impact on our natural resources. There have been significant technological advancements in recent years to make mining more environmentally friendly. Not only do these advancements set the industry on the pathway to sustainability, but they can also help to make it more productive, help to improve the working environment and reduce costs.

One way in which mining companies are reducing their environmental impact is by switching to bio-diesel and electric. For example, battery-driven mining equipment has proven to be powerful enough to replace diesel options and can significantly reduce the amount of CO2 typically produced by mining operations.

Technological advancements including automation and remote control systems can lead to cleaner working environments with new machines that are more powerful and productive.

The move to electric

Sandvik is one of the companies aiming to lead the industry in the increasing pace of the move from diesel to electric.

“You don’t have to change your way of mining. It is a massive change but one which is really easy to implement. That’s the message we are trying to give,” Brian Huff, VP of Technology and Product Line, Battery and Hybrid Electric Vehicle Business Unit, tells us.

There might be some initial challenges in making the industry comfortable with any new technology, but thankfully, momentum is building when it comes to EVs in the mining space.

Huff says that a significant driver of momentum for mining electrification is that there are benefits across the board.

“This benefits the workers, it benefits the mine operation, it’s easier for ventilation, governments are supportive and it’s supportive of global environmental concerns. You have everything pushing in the same direction,” Huff says.

The mining industry creates unique demands in terms of the size of the machinery and the power needed to operate the 60-tonne dump trucks constantly running in the mines.

“The best way to get more power, to have a more capable vehicle, faster speeds and climbing steeper hills is through increasing the voltage,” Huff says, noting voltage has been pushed higher at a rapid pace for every vehicle generation thus far.

Sandvik has created its own battery self-swapping technology to ensure an uninterrupted and smooth process.

“The clear advantage of the self-swapping battery system is that it is the quickest way of getting energy on board for the machine to operate,” says Mikko Valtee, Manager Applied Research at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.

“It is really addressing the infrastructure impact of refuelling,” Huff adds.

“Swapping batteries means that you can charge batteries at the same rate that you are using the energy, mitigating the peak power draws from the infrastructure, minimizing the amount of charging power that you need and really optimizing all of your equipment.”

“An electric truck travels 10 per cent faster than a traditional diesel machine. So really, you are equal or better in productivity using battery,” Huff says.

Looking ahead, Huff says he expects a rapid push for electrification, where we will see a lot of advancements when it comes to power capacity, density and reliability. At the same time, batteries will last longer and be smaller.

“As the early adopters and the fast followers come on board…. when someone is considering a fleet, they will stop asking why they should go with electrified equipment. And I think that flip in the approach is coming very rapidly.”

Electric vehicles are a great start, but to become more environmentally sustainable, mining companies must also lessen their impact on the environment surrounding the mine sites, according to the Australasian Mine Safety Journal. This means leaving the land in an acceptable state when mines close, so the land is ready to be reused or that ecosystems can regenerate to what they were before the mine was there.

Some mining companies have even implemented reforestation schemes to restore every local species present at the mine site before their operations began.

There are still many areas in which the mining industry is unsustainable. However, thanks to advances in technology, the sector can still significantly reduce its environmental impact and move towards a more sustainable operation.