As MacLean Engineering’s electric mining vehicles start to be deployed in real-world applications, work at the company’s Sudbury test site is helping to forge the next phase in mining’s transformation
Last November, I visited a test site run by one of the world’s leading manufacturers of zero-emissions mining technology. MacLean Engineering’s Sudbury, Ontario facility is being used to test battery-powered electric mining vehicles, which the Canadian company has been working to develop since 2015.
The impressive site consists of a 300-metre long underground ramp and an excavated cavern, in which enormous electric vehicles are tested for levels of energy use and heat generation.
A deep history
Nickel and copper mining has been ongoing in Sudbury for over 100 years, so at this point many of its mines are quite deep. Typically, ventilation requirements for mines of a certain depth are significant. Not only does one have to filter the air due to the dust being produced and diesel being burned, but you have to get rid of a large amount of heat generated by the vehicle engines. By converting equipment to electric power, the cost of ventilation shrinks significantly, as does that of vehicle maintenance, employee health, and of course, fuel.
The findings of this controlled study “will be used to help us build the awareness in the global industry about the benefits of the BEV switch and its immediate availability,” says Stuart Lister, vice-president of marketing and communications at MacLean. “We’ll also use it as a test bed for our autonomous operations tech development, as that program matures.”
MacLean’s electric vehicles have been deployed in Canadian mines, including Newmont’s fully electric Borden gold mine (formerly owned by Canada’s Goldcorp, which Colorado-based Newmont acquired in 2019). That mine, just outside Chapleau, northwest of Sudbury, began commercial production in October.
In speaking with contractors at the Borden site, Lister says, he found that a lot of the barriers to widespread adoption of battery electric vehicles in mines are the same ones that we hear about in the consumer market — that there is a level of education involved in retraining people and getting them used to driving the vehicles.
“The example we often share is that a diesel boom truck can go for two days without needing to be filled up, so at least two full shifts. Meanwhile, the zero emissions alternative, a BEV boom truck … will need to get topped up regularly while the unit is loading or unloading, or on lunch breaks,” says Lister. “So, the key takeaway is that the technology shift needs to come with a mindset shift.”
A space for Canada to lead
Widespread conversion of Canada’s mining sector to electric could have an enormous impact. In 2017, it accounted for $97 billion of Canada’s $2.1-trillion gross domestic product, as well as 19% of the value of Canadian goods exports. Canada also ranks in the top five countries globally for the production of 16 major minerals and metals.
The Borden mine wasn’t the only Goldcorp asset that Newmont took on through the acquisition. But as the world’s largest gold producer, it views the operation as a showpiece that, once its benefits are proven, will influence other international players to follow suit.
While that proceeds, the research being done back at MacLean’s Sudbury facility is also continuing to help the industry take its next crucial steps towards this transition.
“Our sharing of good quality trial information and actual mine performance data is critical to building broader adoption around the hard rock globe,” says Lister.