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It’s not simply ‘plug ‘n’ play’ for BEVs: new risks for mine operations

Published by , Editor
Global Mining Review,

As battery electric vehicles (BEVs) continue to evolve, mining operators need to go ‘back to basics’ to ensure teams fully understand the new technology to safeguard site operations. Marcello Sanchez, Global Sales Manager – Mining, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, discusses the fire risks associated with the global mining shift towards BEVs, and explores how operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can mitigate these risks effectively.

It’s not simply ‘plug ‘n’ play’ for BEVs: new risks for mine operations

In the mining and resources industries, mobile equipment fires are all-too-common. However, there are a number of key factors that operators and OEMs can consider to improve fire safety across the sectors.

Typically, mobile equipment fires:

  • Present significant risks for operators, maintenance personnel and emergency services.
  • Can be catastrophic for underground mine operations.
  • Create wider issues for earthmoving equipment operators.
  • Require mandatory statutory reporting for most mining jurisdictions.
  • Are extensively analysed by regulators, who are now expecting mine operators to act to improve the fire safety of their mobile equipment.

Facilitating low-carbon mines

Aligned with global sustainability targets, the mining industry is pushing for eco-friendly alternatives to diesel-powered machinery and combustion-engine vehicles that are commonly used to fulfil demanding work schedules.

BEVs arguably have greater benefits for underground mining above all other mining, as heat, emissions and noise generated by diesel engines can significantly affect the underground work environment. Therefore, many mining companies are now viewing BEVs as an important and sustainable solution for onsite equipment – including both production equipment and utility support equipment.

The electrification of underground mining vehicles presents critical opportunities to minimise costs while boosting safety, reducing the need for expensive ventilation systems and improving the overall air quality for mine workers.

Battery chemistry

Within a battery, heat is generated by the current flow, and the overall temperature is managed by the battery management system (BMS).

Typically, high battery temperatures occur as the result of an external heat source or the battery voltage or current being out of its operating range. These high temperatures can cause separator failure, which leads to internal short-circuiting.

Currently, there is no standardisation for batteries in BEVs, meaning battery chemistries can vary. For some battery chemistries, high temperatures can initiate a process called thermal runaway – which can cause the battery to emit hazardous gases and potential explosion of the battery itself. When in this state, a battery requires a unique suppression solution that can detect potential battery failure at the earliest possible stage, immediately initiating cooling to mitigate fire risk effectively.

Minimising risks

Alongside general best practice fire prevention measures, such as regular vehicle maintenance and cleaning, there are some further key steps that can help to minimise fire risk for BEVs.

Risk assessment

It is important that any new process or equipment is first subject to a full risk assessment before it is integrated into the site’s operations. It is also critical that OEMs provide sufficient information to end-users, so they can ensure the appropriate fire protection measures are taken to ensure safety.

The risk assessment should consider more than just the vehicles or machines in isolation and think about their use/operating environment in its entirety. This will offer a deeper insight into the risks that are most pertinent in a given context. The risk assessment should also note the risks posed by the battery chemistry.

Selecting the right suppression system

The fire suppression solution should be adapted and tailored for the individual site and its risks.

Fire suppression systems for BEVs should be appropriate for the vehicle type and battery chemistry. Local mining regulations may also require automated systems, which are also able to be manually activated by the vehicle operator. Ensuring everyone is equipped in the safe operation of fire suppression system is key.

For OEMs, effective fire suppression systems can be integrated into the BEV manufacturing process, ensuring its protected and relevant site regulations are met from the outset. For operators, they may also be retrofitted to existing vehicles and machinery to improve operations safety.

Safeguarding mining’s future

While the mining industry and its technology continues to rapidly evolve, adapting the existing processes and systems to address the new risks brought about by BEVs is critical.

A fire suppression solution should integrate seamlessly with existing work processes to save lives and minimise operational downtime.

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