The future is electric.
MEDATech Engineering: Mining vehicles, construction vehicles and municipal maintenance vehicles are typically powered by industrial diesel engines. Collingwood’s MEDATech Engineering knows there’s a better option, namely their ALTDRIVE™ battery-electric drivetrain technology.
“When the Russian arctic burns and it’s 48 degrees in British Columbia, you know there’s a problem. That’s not normal,” says Robert Rennie, MEDATech’s founder and President. “Industrial diesel is a big part of the greenhouse gas problem—we’re here to change that.”
Rennie and his team of 35 are changing that in three ways: by building battery-electric vehicles, developing mine energy optimization software, and a ushering in a return to ultra-efficient electric rail for underground mining.
#1 100% battery-electric off-road trucks
ALTDRIVE technology is well known in the mining industry in particular and is found in Collingwood-based MacLean Engineering’s underground vehicles. MEDATech has been refining the technology for 10+ years and has now brought it to a point where it can serve in the most energy-intensive jobs in the world, like hauling ore.
The company’s latest accomplishment is a vocational truck (an off-road truck, used for a specific purpose). These trucks are built on the premium off-road Western Star 4900XD/6900XD platforms and are outfitted with all-electric ALTDRIVE drivetrain systems. The end result is a truck with up to twice the torque and twice the horsepower of the diesel equivalent. Because electric drivetrains are more robust, with thousands fewer moving parts, they last twice as long. MEDATech worked with ABB to make these trucks ultra-fast charge ready, with ABB developing the recharging system. Batteries are also recharged every time the driver engages the brakes.
At time of writing, International miner Teck Resources has already ordered a 5th wheel configuration for their Highland Valley Copper Mine in B.C. and the concept of a heavy-duty battery-electric truck is capturing the interest of miners and other industrial players around the world.
#2 Mine Optimizer
Pulling ore out of a deep hole in the ground takes a lot of energy. The biggest shares of energy consumption go to vehicles, equipment like conveyors and rock crushers, and heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
The size of the mine, location, equipment and many other factors will determine a mine’s energy consumption and costs. If you run lots of diesel equipment underground, which is the norm worldwide, you need a very robust HVAC system to maintain an acceptable work environment from an air quality and temperature point of view.
Move to battery-electric vehicles, however, and you can often halve the capital and operating costs of your HVAC system. The problem to date has been, who really knows what’s most efficient? Most miners have been making educated guesses on the cost/benefit of electrification, with mixed results. With MEDATech’s Mine Optimizer, that’s no longer the case.
MEDATech enlisted McMaster University’s Computer Science department to help build Mine Optimizer, a sophisticated software application that models energy usage and costs.
“What it does is it shows you how to trim the fat off of operations,” explains Rennie. “We also expect it to prove the case for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). “Of course it’s not just a planning tool,” Rennie points out. “Mine Optimizer software will enable miners to continuously refine operations, driving down energy usage and costs over the life of the mine.”
The software takes all manner of inputs, such as mine configuration and measurements, ore extraction methods, ramps, grades and tonnage, vehicle choice, HVAC values, power sources and many other factors. With virtually all energy-related variables captured, Mine Optimizer can be used to model an existing or prospective mine and optimize each input. This includes the mix of diesel vehicles and BEVs, configuration and metrics of charging infrastructure, and HVAC system values. It’s expected to save mines millions of dollars in set-up and millions more per year in operating costs.
#3 Muckahi Monorail System
Fred Stanford is a recent former President & CEO of Torex Gold Resources. When he first imagined a more efficient way to mine ore, he foresaw a return to rail. Over 30 years later MEDATech’s Muckahi System is ready to roll.
Muckahi is a surgical way to mine narrower ore bodies more efficiently. It’s a battery-electric monorail system that involves three logistical paradigm shifts: steep ramps (¼ the length of conventional mine ramps), roof-mounted monorails with all mining equipment running on them, and minimal underground infrastructure.
“We expect the technology to reduce mine capex and opex by 50 per cent or more,” comments Rennie. It’s also going to cut time-to-revenue by up to 80% and virtually eliminate underground greenhouse gas emissions.”
Since all vehicle and equipment infrastructure is bolted to the roof of the mine, a smooth surface below is not required. And since wheeled vehicles are not being used to cart ore up to the surface, ramps can have grades of up to 30%. Once a mineral seam has been exhausted, the monorail can simply be unbolted and moved to a different part of the mine.
The heart of the Muckahi system is the ALTDRIVE Rail Locomotive (ARL), a modern battery-electric locomotive that solves an equation involving steep grades, high speed, power requirements, heat generation and a healthy workplace. The ARL can charge in three ways: using regenerative braking, by plugging into grid power, or via a grid-power busbar. With locomotives sized to the job they are required to do, continuous run time is assured.
While Rennie admits that Muckahi is not ideal for every mining operation, he foresees wide applicability, especially for miners following tight, concentrated seams.
In an industry increasingly in search of not only monetary but also environmental efficiencies, MEDATech’s focus on battery-electric power is a growing concern.