IPCCs have seen less take-up than expected despite their impressive environmental benefits.
Mine operators know that no new project is identical to the last, and that each needs a different toolbox of solutions from design and development to transport and processing. But in terms of transporting ore with lower emissions, Battery Electric Vehicle-related fleet deals have certainly featured in more mining press headlines than IPCCs (In-Pit Crushing and Conveying systems).
This is true, despite the many case studies that showed IPCCs can achieve higher production in certain deployments with less of a footprint, less staff, and ultimately lower emissions.
Another factor is the fact that as easily accessible near-surface mineral deposits dwindle and the process of obtaining approvals and financing for new operations becomes more challenging, future mines will be deeper, more remote, and inhospitable. This will lead to rising demand for larger and higher-capacity bulk movement operations that will have to handle materials well below previous economic cut-off grades.
For more than 20 years, FLSmidth has provided studies that compare IPCC to conventional truck & shovel operations. Usually, the comparison results in increased energy efficiency, lower CO2-emissions, and economic advantages for IPCC. Future FLS studies will also consider the implementation of battery haul trucks into IPCC.
In May 2023 Mining Magazine discussed the topic with Joel Bauer from the FLS Mine Planning Team.
Can you explain the key differences between IPCCs and battery-powered haul trucks in terms of their efficiency and environmental impact?
The higher efficiency of IPCC comes from the significant reduction of dead weight and friction of the conveyors when comparing them to battery-powered trucks. IPCC is directly powered from the grid and therefore does not suffer from any charging losses like battery-powered trucks. Neither does IPCC require large amounts of critical battery raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and graphite.
When considering IPCC for ore, the energy to crush the ore at the semi-mobile crusher in the pit is the same energy otherwise consumed for crushing the ore outside the pit in case of truck-only haulage. In truck-only operations, the waste rock does not need to be crushed. When considering IPCC for waste rock, the additional energy for crushing the waste rock to make it conveyable is more than compensated for by the higher efficiency of the conveyor compared to battery-powered haul trucks. The large amount of waste rock moved at ore mines with high stripping ratios as well as the growing distance and lift on the dumps makes IPCC systems for waste also an attractive option. On top of that a conveyor never runs empty except in the cold commissioning phase or sometimes during maintenance whereas mine trucks have to do empty trips moving around their dead weight only.
Inside the open pit, both IPCC and battery-powered haul trucks reduce the local emissions of NOx. Additionally, IPCC can reduce dust emissions otherwise created by driving haul trucks.
What are the major challenges and limitations of IPCCs, and how do they compare to those of battery-powered haul trucks?
IPCC has a limited flexibility and thus relies on truck haulage for the "First Mile" from the shovel to the semi-mobile crushing station. One challenge for IPCC is the right mind-set on the customer side to consider IPCC in long- and short-term mine planning, downtime- and maintenance management and to integrate it into the operation. The mine development can be planned upfront in favour of typical IPCC operations with conveyor ramps and less haul roads or other infrastructure required for trucks. Another challenge for both is the electricity supply to the IPCC system or the battery charging station.
How do IPCCs compare to battery-powered haul trucks in terms of their cost-effectiveness, both in the short and long term?
Usually, the CAPEX for IPCC is higher than the CAPEX for diesel haul trucks. However, battery-powered haul trucks might be more expensive. In the long term, IPCC pays off due to its higher efficiency. The longer the life of mine, the better to go for IPCC. In projects with high nominal throughputs and large distances to transport the material, the payback can sometimes be less than 2-3 years.
How do IPCCs and battery-powered haul trucks differ in terms of their maintenance requirements and downtime?
Battery trucks can be maintained one at a time without stopping the whole operation. Charging and/or battery change might cause additional downtime of single trucks and require more trucks overall.
For maintenance of the crushing station and the conveyor, usually the whole system needs to be shut down. Adequate maintenance planning is crucial here. This downtime however is offset by a higher average operational time of IPCC compared to trucks as the IPCC system basically runs automatically 24/7 and requires personnel only for supervision. There are no time losses due to shift changes of truck drivers for instance.
What factors should companies consider when deciding whether to invest in IPCCs or battery-powered haul trucks?
Every mine is different but, in the end, our customers decide based on CAPEX, OPEX, flexibility to integrate into their mine plans and operations as well as on safety of course. IPCC has been proven in the mining industry for more than two decades with many heavy duty applications around the world basically in every kind of environment. Especially in times of economic fluctuations and in some key mining countries unsecure political situation, the mining companies will probably be more risk averse and tend towards proven concepts.
Can you discuss any recent technological advancements or innovations in IPCCs or battery-powered haul trucks that have improved their performance or efficiency?
Our IPCC systems a proven technology used since many decades in multiple large open pit mines all around the world, while battery powered trucks only exist as prototypes, yet.
Recent innovations are the Eccentric Roll Crusher (ERC) and the Rail Running Conveyor (RRC). The ERC offers increased energetic efficiency with the integrated grizzly. The RRC will increase energy efficiency to new levels due to even further reduced friction
How do IPCCs and battery-powered haul trucks compare in terms of their safety features and risk management?
IPCC reduces the number of haul trucks in the mine and therefore the traffic. The need for fewer operators reduces the number of people exposed to hazards and also reduce the probability for human errors.
What impact do you think the growing demand for sustainable mining practices will have on the adoption of IPCCs and battery-powered haul trucks?
Both do have their place in the sustainable mines of the future. The combination of both might be the optimal solution. Increased awareness and demand for sustainable mining practices will lead to customers being more open to adapt IPCC and battery-powered haul trucks even with similar economics compared to conventional diesel truck haulage.
How do IPCCs and battery-powered haul trucks compare in terms of their energy consumption and carbon footprint?
The local (Scope 1) carbon emissions for both technologies are zero since they are fully electrically powered. For the Scope 2 emissions, we need to consider the total amount of energy consumption and the energy mix. Even with the same energy mix, IPCC has lower Scope 2 emissions due to its higher efficiency.
What advice would you give to mining companies looking to transition from traditional haul trucks to IPCCs or battery-powered alternatives?
IPCC systems have traditionally used diesel truck haulage for the "First Mile" from the shovel to the semi-mobile crushing plant, but IPCC is not limited to the diesel haul truck shuttle. Mining companies should look to implement electric shovels, battery-powered haul trucks for selectivity and flexibility in combination with IPCC to achieve a fully electric mine with the highest efficiency and the lowest carbon footprint. Therefore, the complete electrification of an open pit mine with IPCC and battery-powered haul trucks should be considered as early as possible in the mine planning.
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