(Bloomberg) — BHP Billiton Ltd.’s giant Olympic Dam mine in Australia’s Outback is a labyrinth of 450 kilometers of tunnels and roads — an ideal testing ground for the industry’s burgeoning shift toward cleaner power.
Taking about 30 minutes to drive from top to bottom, there’s ample opportunity for the world’s biggest miner to test electric SUVs in a bid to cut both costs and pollution, including potentially harmful diesel emissions. BHP will make a decision by the middle of next year whether to extend the program across a 240-strong fleet of light vehicles at the South Australia operation.
“Getting mines to be completely diesel free is our end goal,” said Andrew Draffin, a project manager at Voltra, a supplier that’s provided BHP with adapted Toyota LandCruiser models fitted with an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. “We’ve started with light vehicles because that’s the easiest for companies to prove the electric concept.”
While less than 1 percent of vehicles used in mining are currently battery-powered, the change is likely to be rapid and see the majority of trucks and loaders replaced with electric equipment over the next seven to 10 years, according to Epiroc AB, a Swedish manufacturer and supplier to the mining industry.
Advances in technology and the plunging costs of lithium-ion batteries are allowing the industry to begin a potential transformation of their mines, replacing diesel-fueled equipment from drills to 40-ton haul trucks with quieter, more efficient and less-polluting electric-powered alternatives.
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