August 1, 2023

Battery technology – the road ahead

Interview with Mika Kinnunen (Product Manager, Electrification)

Everyone knows that the world needs to move towards more sustainable methods of energy supply, for safety and environmental reasons. But environmentally friendly operation is only one of Normet’s SmartDrive battery electric vehicles’ benefits, explains Mika Kinnunen, Product Manager, Electrification. 

“There are no limitations to battery applications in principle,” says Mika Kinnunen, “but you need to identify and concentrate on areas where costs and productivity are most advantageous.” At Normet, Kinnunen is responsible for pushing the boundaries of battery tech in mining and tunnelling, meaning advocating for adoption of this technology across the industry.  

High-level benefits, locally 

“The high-level benefits of battery electric technology for underground projects are well-known,” he points out, “and we encourage our customers to make the most of them.” The most immediate advantages relate to the local environment. Harmful local emissions are zero, while overall emissions are significantly reduced thanks to the possible use of sustainable energy sources.  

“This energy generation affects the whole lifecycle emissions of course, which leads to other benefits,” Kinnunen explains. “No emissions mean a much safer work environment, and better ergonomics is due to significantly lower noise levels and less vibrations. Masks are not often used”.  

This emphasis is also representative of Normet’s mission to support customers to improve safety, sustainability, and productivity underground. “Battery technology and how we are incorporating it into our offerings is an important part of how we provide value throughout the project lifecycle. At the beginning, for example, if you know that you will run battery operated vehicles then you can plan the infrastructure around that. You can, for example, save a lot of money by avoiding building the powerful ventilation systems needed for diesel vehicles. The TCO of our vehicles is constantly improving, thanks also to lower usage and maintenance costs.” 

Ensuring optimum processes through technology

Naturally, all companies are concerned about minimising costs while maintaining optimum process control and operation. The development of the latest technologies such as battery electric power is partly driven by Normet’s vision of helping customers to do that in the long-term. “Our whole process expertise helps us step into our customer’s shoes to identify how we can best meet their needs. Saving costs is a large part of that, and something we are always concerned about.” 

Adopting battery electric vehicles actually has several interconnected benefits. Reduced TCO is one part which dovetails with improved sustainability through reduced emissions and fossil fuel usage. Electric power is a big change for the mining and tunnelling industry in general. 

“Normet is already seen as a technology leader,” says Kinnunen, “and introducing new technologies strengthens that. So, in part we want to be seen as pioneers in this area. Global trends related to environmental sustainability are also a big driver. Battery power is a positive development that only brings benefits to our customers. We need to help our customers understand those benefits. Our customers need support from us to implement the technology structurally in terms of infrastructure as well as operationally.” 

Partnerships lead the battery way 

Supporting efficient use of technology provides value and benefits for everyone in the process chain. In Kinnunen’s case, he is particularly interested in fast charging technology to ensure maximum productivity and uptime, and meeting Normet’s interest in cooperating with other leading companies. “In terms of fast charging, we have a partnership with Kempower, who are EV charging technology leaders. They have developed this technology for automotive applications, and we help to adapt it for harsh underground conditions in terms of moisture, dust, mechanical contacts, and so on. We need to ensure we and our customers can use appropriate equipment, which is why these partnerships are so important.” 

As Kinnunen said earlier, although electrification is possible in many applications, it makes more sense in some cases to pursue that path. Certain processes are more suited to electrification than others.  

“For example, concrete logistics is a suitable process. The benefit of electrification is that it is possible to regenerate the energy. With diesel it’s gone when you burn it, but batteries can be recharged. Now, when you move concrete in a mine, you have the largest load going downhill, and at this point the batteries can be recharged using regenerative drives, ready to power the empty truck back up to the mine exit. Our data shows that in this one application, when driving downwards, we can regenerate one third of the total energy needed. In optimal conditions it could be even more.”  

Full-process and long-term 

Of particular importance given Normet’s full-process expertise is that help and advice is available throughout equipment lifetime. “Full support through our services makes the transition less risky,” Kinnunen explains. “With the right competence in place we can accelerate the transformation.”  

Overall, Kinnunen is positive about the future of battery electric vehicles underground. “I think everyone sees the benefits of improving performance and sustainability. There’s no hesitation about the overall direction, and the tech transition will surely speed up. It’s just a question of when and how quickly we can share our knowledge”. 

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