A different set of EVs to drive into mines

by Sumantra B Barooah 30 Jul 2021

Hindustan Zinc, the world’s second largest Zinc-Lead mining company, signs MoU with Finnish technology company Normet to deploy battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in its mines. The move is part of the company’s drive to go net carbon zero by 2050.  

If everything goes as per plan, In the next 5 to 6 years, all of Hindustan Zinc’s mines will have only battery electric vehicles (BEVs). “I wouldn’t like to see any more diesel operated mining equipment inside the mines, whether they are opencast or in underground,” Arun Misra, CEO, Hindustan Zinc tells Autocar Professional. Misra’s bullishness about EVs in general has less to do with the move to BEVs and is primarily driven by the company’s goal to have net zero carbon emission by 2050.

The company’s first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to reduce 0.5 million tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) reduction and also achieve ‘zero noise pollution, zero harm to the environment and zero carbon emission’ by 2025. As part of this plan, Hindustan Zinc today signed an MoU with the Normet Group to introduce Front Line and utility battery-powered service equipment in underground mining. 

In the first phase of the partnership, Hindustan Zinc will deploy three of Normet SmartDrive EV’s – a Spraymec, an Agitator, and a Charmec in its underground mines. These vehicles play a support role to the other equipments that dig the mines and bring out minerals. There are around 250 such vehicles, that run on diesel, across the company’s 8 mines.

The move to EVs, which Misra says would cost 5 percent more or less than the ones they will replace, is also expected to result in significant savings for the company. “Overall we feel that maintenance costs will go down by around 35 percent, In terms of TCO (total cost of ownership), about 15 percent,” says Misra.

A diesel run Normet machine consumes 15-17 litres of diesel per hour. The average life cycle for these vehicles is 20,000 hours. Hindustan Zinc expects to save around 3 lakh litres of  diesel, per vehicle, by substituting the diesel vehicles with Normet’s SmartDrive BEVs.

The SmartDrive BEV claims to have an architecture designed to optimise energy consumption and performance in underground mining and tunnelling applications. Its built-in energy recuperation technology claims to maximise the storing of regenerative braking energy during downhill driving and deacceleration. In addition, efficient hydraulic dual-circuit oil immersed brakes provide additional braking power when it is needed. 

Only replacing diesel vehicles with BEVs will not be fully in line with going truly green, unless the energy source to charge the BEVs is also environment friendly. Misra says, “Every mine’s top surface should have enough of solar power. The charging power should come from solar or wind, so that, even if I do the end-to-end calculation, the CO2 reduction happens.” He adds that Hindustan Zinc, which has capacity to generate over 350 MW of thermal power, has started a shift to cleaner energy generation.  In addition to increasing its own renewable sources of power generation, Misra added Hindustan Zinc is “in discussions with a few companies who would be supplying us a mix of renewable and conventional power”.

The plan is to have a mix of 60:40 or 70:30, “depending on the economic viability”, by 2025. After that, Misra says, “it is all about net zero”. Hindustan Zinc already has an MoU in place with A Swedish company, Epiroc, to source BEVs that do the main mining operations. The first of these vehicles, according to Misra, will be deployed during this financial year. He agrees that mining adversely impacts the environment, but says in a welcomingly increasingly aware society, “the onus is on us to all the time to stay ahead of the curve and be absolutely environment friendly”. And BEVs are expected to play a good role in the overall efforts. “Industry should stop speaking of reduction by 10, 20, or 30 percent. Ideally, it should be net carbon neutral. That’s the goal everybody should have,” says Misra.