Industry News

The ‘quiet’ drive towards a smarter, electric future

On the eve of the federal election campaign there was debate between members of the Australian Government and the Federal Opposition about the latter’s electric vehicle (EV) policy – in particular, an aspirational target that EVs should constitute 50 per cent of all new car sales by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused his opponents of waging “a war on weekends” by denying Australians the right to buy diesel SUVs and stripping tradies of diesel utes.

This faux indignation faded before the official sound of the campaign starter gun because it became clear (particularly if it’s to meet its emissions targets under the Paris Agreement) that the Federal Government’s own modelling on EVs assumed a similar goal. Toyota and Hyundai debunked the scaremongering, saying eco-models of utes and SUVs would be plausible by 2025. The key will be in the take-up by consumers.

If our pollies had done their homework, they’d know that eco-models of vehicles aren’t new. Electric/diesel hybrids have worked in quarries and mines the world over for the past decade. Diesel machines still outnumber electric/ hybrid versions and the “jury” (ie the extractive sector) is still out on whether a hybrid machine provides a significant return on investment.

{{quote-A:R-W:215-Q:"The quest for an electric future is being propelled by practicality, not regulation."}}However, that hasn’t stopped original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) – Caterpillar, Komatsu, Volvo CE, Kleemann, Keestrack, Terex, John Deere, LiuGong – from pursuing cleaner, non-diesel technologies. Sandvik recently bought US battery-mounted underground vehicle manufacturer Artisan and Epiroc has flagged fitting its underground and tunnelling fleet with electric drives and battery cells.

Volvo CE has long had aspirations for the world’s first “emissions-free quarry”. It realised this concept in late 2018 when it trialled electric loaders and haul carriers and a hybrid excavator with construction materials giant Skanska at a site in Sweden. The encouraging results prompted the company to launch the first of its new all-electric compact earthmoving vehicle range at bauma last month in Munich, Germany.

Indeed, bauma featured record numbers of electric and battery cell plant prototypes and concepts, which would have been unthinkable at the same show a decade earlier. Many of the suppliers stated the drive towards an electric future is being propelled not just by regulation but practicality – there has been a 97 per cent reduction in pollutants in the exhaust stream in diesel engines since 2000 but there really isn’t any more wriggle room in that space.

Eco-models are the “tip of the iceberg”. The gradual phasing out of diesel for electric drives, batteries and other alternatives in earthmoving and other mobile plant will eventually transfer to fixed plant. Some Australian mines are already experimenting with the integration of renewable energy and battery generation in their operations, in part because of high electricity and diesel fuel charges, but largely because it’s just smart business practice – in spite of erratic government climate and energy policies.

It may not seem like it but there is an “industrial revolution” quietly going on behind the scenes – thanks to the endeavours of OEMs. Politicians can argue about the impracticalities of EVs and the need for a reliable energy mix but most have jumped the gun without doing the research. The quarrying sector, in spite of politics, will embrace and adapt to progress more readily as these technologies become more practical, widespread and affordable.

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