Vehicle orders bring Glencore’s all-electric Onaping Depth mine a step closer to fruition
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Jul 6, 2022
Mehanaz Yakub

Battery-electric vehicle orders from a trio of suppliers, including two Canadian manufacturers, are now in place at Glencore’s revolutionary Onaping Depth mine in Sudbury. Without BEVs, the mine would not exist. With them, Glencore can access deep stores of high-grade nickel ore until 2035

Photo: MacLean

Battery-electric vehicle orders from a trio of suppliers, including two Canadian manufacturers, are now in place at Glencore’s revolutionary Onaping Depth mine in Sudbury. Without BEVs, the mine would not exist. With them, Glencore can access deep stores of high-grade nickel ore until 2035

Sitting over 2,500 metres below the surface, close to Glencore’s former Craig Mine in Sudbury, Ont., the Onaping Depth nickel and copper deposit was first discovered in the mid-1990s.

For years, Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations (Sudbury INO) team was plagued with the seemingly intractable problem of how to access the deep nickel ore body with its high temperatures and low ventilation challenges, without jeopardizing the health and safety of miners, while still making the project cost-effective.

For a long time, the costs of mining Onaping outweighed the advantages of pursuing the project. But then Glencore found the solution: battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).

At the “BEV In-Depth: Mines to Mobility” conference in Sudbury in May, Glencore’s vice-president Peter Xavier made a long-awaited announcement, revealing which OEMs are providing Onaping Depth with its battery-electric equipment.

Xavier revealed that Sweden-based Epiroc was chosen to be Sudbury INO’s primary fleet provider, supplying BEV loaders, haulers and drilling rigs, while Canada’s MacLean Engineering and Kovatera were also selected to supply battery-electric utility machines and personnel carriers.

“Very early on that project team recognized that they had to commit to battery-electric technology that didn’t quite exist for the industry at the time,” said Glencore in a promotional video explaining the design of the Onaping mine set to be operational in 2024.

“With the commitment to battery electric vehicles…[This] really has been one of the key factors in driving that project forward.”

Battery-electric equipment orders for Onaping

Glencore intends for the Onaping mine to be one of the first in the world to be entirely run by electric vehicles. Its announcement of confirmed BEV equipment orders brings that vision one step closer to reality. Given Onaping’s scale and significance, it’s important news for the miner and the OEMs alike.

Utilizing a zero-emission fleet at Onaping will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produce less noise pollution, emit less heat and improve health and wellness and worker safety. It also pulls costs down to the point where it is financially attractive for the deposit to be developed.

Xavier said in a press statement that one of the factors that led Glencore to select Epiroc’s fleet of BEVs was because it had scored highly on safety, design and testing of the entire battery system (Epiroc machines use Northvolt batteries).

“Epiroc also offers large capacity batteries, uses a standard CCS charging protocol, has a battery swap system, and the designs are universal and compatible. Also, the batteries have integrated cooling systems and safety systems built into the design,” said Xavier.

The order includes in total 23 vehicles comprising of scooptram loaders, minetruck haulers, boomer face drilling rigs, Boltec and Cabletec rock reinforcement rigs, and Simba production drilling rigs.

Epiroc added that every unit will be outfitted with Epiroc’s Rig Control System, which will enable operators the ability to control the vehicle remotely using a control panel from onboard the vehicles or from a remote location.

Each piece of mining equipment will also feature Epiroc’s telematics system, “allowing for intelligent monitoring of machine performance and productivity in real-time.”

In addition, Kovatera — a privately owned vehicle manufacturer in Sudbury — will provide electric personnel carriers at Onaping, specifically the company’s purpose-built KT200e vehicle.

Developing battery-electric vehicles

In an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, Anthony Griffiths, MacLean’s product manager in the fleet electrification mining division, said the OEM will begin providing Onaping with a fleet of roughly 17 vehicles by the end of Q1 next year.

Griffiths added that the fleet will consist of explosive loaders and forklifts to “aid in the construction of the mine,” boom and cassette trucks to “help transport material and personnel and get the project up and running,” grader vehicles “to condition the ramps,” as well as scissor lifts and “all of the units that are traditionally associated with building and operating a mine.”

MacLean has a history of developing battery-powered vehicles for the mining industry starting six years ago when it built its first battery-electric vehicles — two scissor bolters and a boom truck — in 2016. Since then, MacLean has designed, manufactured and commissioned almost 50 pieces of mobile mining equipment for customers in Canada, the U.S. and South Africa.

“The timing was certainly right [in 2016] because just as that was sort of occurring, we started to hear that Glencore (by way of Onaping Depth project) was considering an all battery mine,” said Griffith. “That gave a little shot of encouragement to everybody that we were taking on this kind of new project, and that’s one of the reasons why we got started.”

MacLean and Glencore’s partnership emerged during the early stages of the development of the Onaping project, said Griffith.

“[Glencore] had done an awful lot of work and understanding on where to locate their charging stations and how the mine was laid out so that it wasn’t a mine that was built for diesel and then you adapted it to EVs — it was a mine built for EV adoption,” said Griffith.

“I think that’s helped us tremendously because they understand what our machines can do and they provided the infrastructure to allow that to happen.”

MacLean also has a service and support branch in Sudbury with an underground research and training facility nearby in Lively, which employs over 100 people in the area.

Stella Holloway, MacLean’s vice-president of Northern Ontario operations, expects the Sudbury services and training facility will be crucial in supporting Onaping over the course of its mining life.  

“Onaping Depth is an example to the mining world of how to successfully develop and operate a diesel-free, deep mine, so we are keenly aware of the high bar that has been set and are excited to step up and ensure the success of the MacLean EV Series fleet as it contributes to the wider success of the Glencore project as a whole,” said Holloway in a press release.

Creating the mine of the future

Known as Glencore’s “mine of the future”, Onaping will be equipped with not only BEVs, but with additional digital technologies such as real-time remote management, monitoring, and control from the surface.

Remote and autonomous technologies and safety systems will be integrated into the operation in addition to mine-wide wireless communication between employees and from underground to the surface. Critical ventilation and cooling systems, where the ambient rock temperature can exceed 40°C at depth, will also be included.

Once the mine is operational in 2024, the deep mine project will provide a significant new source of high-grade nickel ore that can be used to manufacture electric vehicles and EV batteries, says Glencore. The building and operation of Onaping mine will extend the overall site’s life to 2035.

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