Mining's Green Revolution: Charting the Course Toward Decarbonization
November 13, 2023
The future of mining is here and it's smarter, greener, and packs a tech punch. From machine learning to digital twins, the mining world is harnessing top-tier tech to rev up efficiency and sharpen decision-making. And as the industry forges ahead, there continues to be a growing urgency to reduce the carbon footprint.
Enter the era of decarbonized mining, where innovation meets sustainability.
But that's just half the story. Why is this green revolution so crucial? Because the quest for minerals shouldn't come at the planet's peril. After all, there is no Plan(et) B!
The huge volume of commodities moving every year raises the question: How do you transport those materials in the safest, most efficient way? The answer is by creating tech solutions that enable productivity, safety, and sustainability.
Leading and operating in the next gen mining era means embracing eco-friendly practices and championing sustainable initiatives that don't skimp on safety. It's a fresh blueprint for success: mine safer and smarter, tread lighter, and be future-ready.
Full Speed Ahead to Net Zero
The industry’s larger mining companies have set a goal that every mine needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Although this is not a formal regulation, it’s understood by the larger community and even Tier 1 mining companies, along with others across various industries, who have committed to this goal.
Joy Mazumdar, VP of Technology at Wabtec, says they’re also fully on board.
“What we are working on today is making sure that all of our solutions are geared towards helping mines achieve this goal through electrification. Mines are targeting to achieve that in 2050, but we have to take steps towards making our solutions meet zero emissions for the OEMs before that,” says Mazumdar.
Wabtec has been leading the way with decarbonizing electrification solutions that allow mines to gain valuable insights into their operations and make data-driven decisions to help increase output and reduce costs.
One of the first technologies in this regard - electrifying the mining truck. “Today, there are mines that still run mechanical equipment. We want to present them with the option to use electrified equipment, because electrification brings efficiency and that is one of the drivers toward achieving reduced emissions,” says Mazumdar. “Wabtec has been a leader in this space and our modern, AC electric drive systems have been in the market since the early 90s. So, we think it is definitely time to make that switch and for mines to go electric.”
Other areas of innovation include the use of liquid cooling for mining equipment, and trolley assist technology, which pulls power from an overhead line, allowing a vehicle to run at twice its normal speed and saving 90% fuel while on grade. The introduction of Wabtec’s high voltage propulsion system allows the mining truck to pull more power, leading to higher productivity—all while utilizing the same truck deck space that’s available and lowering the carbon footprint.
Revolutionizing mine safety is also a priority. Enforcing rigorous protocols and providing ongoing training helps prevent accidents and improves the overall safety of mining operations. Wabtec’s use of advanced technologies such as collision awareness systems and drill guidance systems help mines detect and avoid potential hazards in real time.
Joy Mazumdar, Vice President Technology at Wabtec
From Diesel to Batteries
One key innovation Wabtec’s R&D team has developed is the FLXdrive, the world’s first heavy-haul, 100% battery-operated locomotive. The technology works well within a locomotive, helping lead to the reduction of fuel consumption and emissions, says Mazumdar.
So, following the same principles, could the same thing be done with a mining truck?
A locomotive with a 5000-gallon tank and a diesel engine fundamentally requires much more than a mining truck’s 1500-gallon diesel tank to convert to electric. Further research revealed that it would require higher power, density, and lower volume to create an optimized solution for a mining truck that mimics a battery-powered locomotive.
But “the mining truck prototype powered by batteries are coming in the very near future,” Mazumdar continues. “We plan on testing them at the end of 2024, and we expect commercial production to begin around 12 months from the completion of testing in mid-2025,” he explains.
Revolutionizing the freight train and mining truck industries with cutting-edge tech solutions is pivotal for a sustainable future in mining. In the quest for decarbonization, tech-infused innovation is required to lead the charge towards a cleaner, more responsible mining era.
“The work we do here is transformational, and our engineering team brings these industry-leading breakthroughs to the marketplace. Ultimately, we’re focused on meeting the market’s zero emissions expectation,” says Mazumdar. “There are interim goals for the reduction of 30% by 2030, and 40% by 2040, but by 2050 it has to be zero. No emissions.”
Wabtec is staying committed to carving the path to a greener planet one solution at a time.