Challenges with mining BEVs
It’s not simply ‘plug 'n' play’ for mining BEVs
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are constantly evolving – and mining companies need to go ‘back to basics’ to ensure they fully understand the new technology to effectively safeguard site operations.
The global mining shift towards BEVs brings with it some new fire risks. However, there are key actions vehicle operators and OEMs can take to mitigate these and ensure maximum safety and minimal downtime.
Mobile equipment fires are incredibly common in the mining and resources industries, but some critical factors can help improve fire prevention and control across the sectors.
In general, mobile equipment fires:
- Create significant risks for operators, maintainers, and emergency responders
- Can have catastrophic consequences for underground mine operations
- Bring about some key operational and commercial concerns for earthmoving equipment owners and operators
- Necessitate compulsory statutory reporting in most mining jurisdictions
- They are highly scrutinized, with regulators urging mine operators to enhance their mobile equipment fire management performance.
Facilitating low-carbon mines
In line with global sustainability targets, the mining industry continuously explores eco-friendly alternatives to combustion-engine vehicles and diesel-powered machinery, which are regularly used to fulfill intense work schedules.
Emissions, noise, and heat generated from diesel engines can negatively impact the underground mine environment. This makes the advantages of BEVs arguably stronger for underground mining than other mining operations. As a result, many mining businesses are now looking to BEVs as a sustainable solution for all onsite equipment. This includes production equipment, such as LHD and drilling rigs, and utility support equipment, for example, boom trucks, scissor trucks, and personal/service carriers.
The electrification of underground mining vehicles presents a key opportunity for companies to reduce costs while improving safety, as it reduces the need for expensive ventilation measures and improves the air quality of mines for workers.
Emergency response and battery chemistry
Inside a battery, heat is produced by the current flow (known as the Joule effect), and temperature control is determined by the battery management system (BMS). The BMS tracks the average temperature of the battery pack, individual cell temperatures, and the consumption and production of coolant temperatures if a coolant is used.
Typically, any high temperatures will be caused by an external heat source or as a result of the voltage or current being out of its operating range.
High internal temperatures can cause separator failure, leading to internal short-circuiting. For some chemistries, this can initiate a thermal runaway process, which can lead to the venting of hazardous gases and flames and the possible explosion of the battery assembly.
During thermal runaway, a battery can also produce its own source of oxygen, propagating the flames from within and sustaining the fire. This makes suppression using traditional measures challenging, so approaching it often requires a unique solution. The key is to identify battery failure at the earliest possible stage and then initiate cooling immediately, with a wet chemical suppression agent, for example. Doing this will successfully stop or delay a potential hazard, preventing the fire from further developing.
As there is currently no standardization for batteries in BEVs, battery chemistries can vary, and special consideration should be taken when the vehicle is engaged in an event that causes fire or fundamentally damages the battery.
Introducing a BEV into your mining operations
There are some key questions to consider when introducing BEVs to your mining operations, including:
- Do you understand the BEV’s battery chemistry and related fire suppression techniques? Are mine maintenance teams aware of the battery chemistry?
- Is the BEV prepared with suitable fire detection and suppression solutions for its battery chemistry?
- Is the operator qualified to react appropriately should a fire occur?
- Do emergency services have the appropriate training and fire suppression equipment?
- For mixed fleets:
- Can emergency workers identify the battery chemistry from a distance in the event of an emergency?
- Have operators been trained to recognize battery chemistry and select the appropriate response?
In line with general best practice fire prevention measures to minimize fire risk, such as regular cleaning or maintenance, there are some further key steps that operators can take:
Before a BEV is introduced into a site’s operations, it should first undergo a full risk assessment. This risk assessment should go beyond looking at the vehicle in silo and consider the risks in the context of its intended use/operating environment. This will offer a deeper insight into the risks relevant to the specific context in which the BEV will be used. The assessment should also examine the risks presented by the battery chemistry, covering all details of the battery lifecycle.
OEMs for mining BEVs should incorporate specific control measures into the battery design to allow the vehicles’ continued safe operation. They should also provide necessary information for end-users to be able to execute the relevant emergency management strategies in the event of a fire.
Select a fire suppression system that meets the individual risks
When the risks have been identified, mine operators should ensure these can be managed effectively through the introduction of additional control measures to maximize safety. Your fire suppression solution should be specifically tailored to your individual site and its risks. This is also important for minimizing false system activation.
Fire Suppression system
BEVs should have a fire suppression system that’s suitable for the particular vehicle type, in accordance with the battery chemistry. Automatic systems – which may be required by local mining regulations – should also be able to be manually activated by the BEV operator. Fire-fighting information should be supplied by the OEM to train operators, first responders, and mechanical and electrical personnel.
For OEMs, effective fire suppression systems can be incorporated into the manufacturing process, ensuring BEVs are protected, and relevant site regulations are met from the beginning. For operators, fire suppression systems can be retrofitted to current vehicles and machinery to enhance operations and maintenance safety.
Finally, the maintenance of your vehicles’ fire suppression system should be integrated into your routine vehicle maintenance.
Safeguarding mining’s future
As the mining industry continues to advance at a pace, companies must adapt existing processes and systems to meet the latest and evolving risks caused by BEVs.
Your fire suppression solution should seamlessly blend with your existing work processes to save lives and minimize operational downtime.
For further information on how you can maintain your mine’s BEVs, get in touch.