Challenges of Incorporating Electro-Mobility in Mining

In a bid to make the mining industry more sustainable, Codelco, Chile’s state copper miner and the world’s largest copper producer, is incorporating electro-mobility into its operations. However, major challenges lie ahead.

In a webcast, Codelco’s innovation management specialist, Gonzalo Ramirez, stated that greater electro-mobility adoptions inside the mines would be dependent on the availability of well-trained and informed people as well as the technological feasibility of the business. He mentioned that from a market perspective, the company needed to validate business models and lower battery prices while on the technological side, Codelco needed the massive use of equipment.

According to Ramirez, about 70% of carbon emissions inside a mining operation are produced by electric power consumption while the remaining 30% comes from the fuel used by the trucks.

In 2018, Codelco started testing electric vehicles inside its northern division. After this, the company introduced electric buses to transport workers at its Chuquicamata and El Teniente mines, in the Antofagasta and O’Higgins regions, respectively.

In addition, last year the company introduced hybrid equipment to be used for unloading, transportation and ore loading at El Teniente. Last week, Codelco and Engie,  an energy company, began the pilot phase of a new electric vehicle that the two companies had jointly developed.

During the webcast, Ramirez also talked about the incorporation of electric vehicles in the company’s underground operations. He noted that this strategic move was designed to decrease ventilation requirements, which were responsible for high energy costs.

With regard to Codelco’s electro-mobility business model, Ramirez stated that the EV batteries represented 30% to 40% of the cost of the vehicles. He mentioned that many companies are renting batteries and selling vehicles. In addition, Ramirez noted that the industry was adapting new business models that don’t require the purchase of batteries. This, he explained, is a disruption of how the company manages and consumes energy to drive its fleet.

The management specialist added that the human factor represented another challenge for electro-mobility in mining, explaining that it is vital to understand how to be drivers of change both as decision makers at the government level and as machine operators at the business level. The biggest challenge, he observed, was finding such capacity to drive change within the country.

Finally, Ramirez discussed the boost that local suppliers would receive as electro-mobility becomes widespread in mining operations, noting the need for supplier development to be local in terms of electro-mobility adoption.

One company worth watching in the mining sector is Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR). Energy Fuels focuses on producing uranium and vanadium, both of which are categorized by the U.S. federal government as critical minerals.

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