STOCKHOLM: Sandvik expects the market for battery-powered underground mining equipment to grow in 2-3 years as mining companies try to reduce emissions and cut costs.
Sandvik, which rivals Epiroc and Caterpillar, could sell more electric kits than diesel kits for underground mining in 10 years, according to the head of the mining business.
While Sandvik has about 30 battery-powered electric forklifts and dump trucks in underground mines, which it says is more than any competitor, they represent less than 0.5% of the total loader and dump truck fleet.
But while the market is still limited, it is gaining momentum, said Henrik Ager, head of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.
“Over the past two years, we have moved away from the idea that electrification could turn into a big technological shift, to the certainty that this is where we are going,” he said.
Infrastructure, which is mostly electrified, accounts for about 60% of the underground mine’s energy consumption, but loaders and trucks carrying up to 65 tons of rock continue to run on diesel fuel.
Ager said the electric machines should be fully validated to work in the mines and discussed in all purchases in 2-3 years.
Investment bank UBS said electrification will lead to lower emissions and savings for mining companies.
“In the coming years, we will see an accelerated cycle of replacement for underground mining equipment, although surface equipment will also benefit from stable growth rates,” said analyst Guillermo Peñe Lojo.
Battery-powered machines are more expensive to buy, but savings on ventilation and cooling and high costs in underground mines make it profitable to switch to electricity now, Ager said.
However, it may take time before the mines are fully electrified.
“Let’s say we start selling more electricity than diesel in 10 years … it took about 15-20 years before most diesel was replaced by electricity,” said Ager, adding that Canada is the farthest for tough regulations regarding diesel fuel.
Sites using Sandvik battery-electric equipment include the Newmont Borden gold mine and the New Afton New Gold mine in Canada.
The Swedish company, which uses lithium-ion batteries, plans to offer a full range of underground electric forklifts and dump trucks by 2022.
Sandvik, which has installed automation in around 65 mines, estimates that around 1,000 underground mines have a strong business case for automation.
Ager said Sandvik has the same ambition as American automaker Tesla – to build around the battery, not start with the car itself.
“This is a parallel with Tesla. This is what they did and this is much better, ”added Ager.