Caterpillar mining truck
Source: Caterpillar

Mining equipment maker, Caterpillar, and Nouveau Monde Graphite are collaborating to turn the Matawinie Mine into a test site for the manufacturer’s future all-electric mining vehicle offerings

As part of its goal to fully power their open-pit graphite mining site with zero-emission vehicles and reach an overall carbon footprint of net-zero, Nouveau Monde Graphite (NMG) announced they are joining forces with Caterpillar to help test and develop the manufacturer’s line of all-electric vehicles.

Ultimately both companies hope the deal will result in Caterpillar producing and being the exclusive supplier of electric equipment for the Saint-Michel-des-Saints mine by 2028.

NMG anticipates the move will result in a significant reduction in total cost of ownership and fuelling costs with Quebec having an abundance of reasonably priced hydro-electricity to power an electric fleet and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“I recall our first meeting with Caterpillar some two years ago, outlining our vision of a zero-emission mine in Québec. Our commitment to this vision has taken us to this very important moment, not only for Nouveau Monde, but for the global mining industry as a whole,” said NMG’s chairman, Arne Frandsen, in a press release.

Before production begins Caterpillar is gearing up to conduct extensive testing of both the vehicles and the accompanying charging infrastructure. The date for testing to commence has not yet been released, but it will be a highly collaborative process, indicates Caterpillar’s president, Denise Johnson.

“Through integrated technology, machines and services, the entire Caterpillar team is proud to support Nouveau Monde as they work towards constructing and establishing their first zero emission mine.”

Nouveau Monde looking to lead the way

The Caterpillar agreement is the second that Nouveau Monde has committed to that focuses on the development of the electrification of mining equipment and infrastructure.

“We are proud to be a driving force for our peers as we strive to electrify our operations to meet our carbon neutrality commitments while maintaining the productivity and efficiency standards of our mining operations,” said Eric Desaulniers, founder, president and CEO of Nouveau Monde, in the press release.

NMG previously joined the Innovative Vehicle Institute (IVI), Propulsion Québec and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in collaboration with Adria Power Systems, Dana TM4, and Fournier to construct a new electric propulsion system with a rapid recharging infrastructure specific to the mining industry.

The target date for delivery of the system is the spring of 2022, according to a spokesperson for Propulsion Québec.

Should the infrastructure be established and Nouveau Monde’s entire fleet be transitioned from diesel to all-electric and with sufficient charging facilities, the company estimates that it will save more than 80,000 litres of diesel and 220 tons of GHG emissions each year.

Ongoing innovation

While a significant step and one of the early pioneering agreements in open-pit mining, the NMG/Caterpillar agreement isn’t the first to focus on electrifying mining fleets.

In May 2021 BHP, Rio Tinto and Vale launched the Charge on Innovation Challenge. The joint initiative is a global challenge for innovators to develop the electrification of large-scale, long-haul truck systems without negatively-affecting productivity.

One of the barriers the challenge is looking to overcome is keeping the electric equipment sufficiently charged to complete its duty cycle. The need is for one charge that can power and propel through a full haul cycle of loading, travelling, dumping, returning and queueing.

Concepts for the challenge are expected to be pitched later in the year — perhaps some learning from Caterpillar’s testing at the NMG site will inform pitches.

A critical factor on the path to electrifying Canada’s mines: workforce training
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