From a whisper to a roar. What the mining industry needs to do to catch up to the electrification wave
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Sep 7, 2021
Stuart Lister

What started with a few key early adopters taking important steps towards battery electrification over the past decade has now slowly but surely gone from the margins to the mainstream

A MacLean battery electric vehicle (BEV) working underground

What started with a few key early adopters taking important steps towards battery electrification over the past decade has now slowly but surely gone from the margins to the mainstream

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This article is partner content sponsored by MacLean Engineering

There is a famous exchange in English literature:

”How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

These lines, from Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, are favoured by stock market pundits.

But they also provide a perfect description of how the Canadian underground mining industry is experiencing the transition toward full electrification of mobile equipment. What started with a few key early adopters taking important steps towards battery electrification (KL Gold and Borden Gold), has now gone from the margins to the mainstream.

Major development-stage projects in Quebec, Ontario, and Saskatchewan are all either signaling their active consideration of diesel-free fleets or have already designed their mines that way.

Case in point: diesel vs. EV trade-off evaluations are now standard practice for project evaluations, as major miners actively pursue long-term carbon reduction goals while at the same time wanting to take decisive steps towards improving workplace environments for their employees. Adoption of BEVs as one component of major producers’ carbon reduction plans and ESG commitments is becoming an inevitability.

The momentum grows with each successive project that places fleet electrification at the centre of its sustainability and investor strategy. Here in Canada — and eventually in other parts of the global underground mining community — the wheels of change may initially move slowly but they keep moving forward and are picking up speed.

Progress despite pandemic

It’s impressive and notable that the battery electrification shift in the industry is taking place despite travel restrictions and stretched supply lines due a catastrophic global pandemic.

Most mining majors’ share prices took a battering over the past year (though the gold spot price refused to get pushed down much below US$1,800, a level well above that needed by most miners to remain profitable). But quarter after quarter, producers continue to produce and free cash flow keeps flowing, even though the broader investor community isn’t paying attention — yet.

So, this is the backdrop. The proverbial duck on the calm pond, furiously churning its legs under the water’s surface. Battery electric mining vehicle options are now available across the underground mining cycle, from development to production. Depending on the nature of the ore body and the mine design to extract it, all vehicle categories are commercially available — with the exception of large capacity scoops and haul trucks — and the technology is now proven.

There are currently more than 30 MacLean battery electric mining vehicles working underground across Canada — a number we are both proud of and pleased with — and the company is actively involved in training the next generation of miners in battery-powered machine technology.

And we’ve demonstrated our nimbleness and survival instincts. As a direct result of pandemic supply chain disruptions, we’ve secured a continental supplier for the batteries at the heart of our EV Series mining trucks. We continue to add new products to our EV Series fleet (a shotcrete sprayer, a transmixer in 2021, followed by a grader in 2022). We are committed to expanding our training offerings both in terms of people and platforms, so that we’re able to walk beside our customers through the paradigm change in mining.

We’re also closely watching the current Canadian federal election, curious to see how much attention the greening of the resource sector receives on the campaign trail.

In our minds, the core issues to debate are clear: extracting battery metals in Canada in an efficient, low-emissions fashion; using made-in-Canada EV technology, should be a no-brainer for politicians of all stripes when it comes to the economic multiplier that keystone government support would generate.

Gradually, then suddenly. This is how paradigm changes happen.

To learn more about MacLean Engineering and their battery electric underground mining vehicles, visit their website.

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