Mining minerals

Canada commits to critical minerals and electric vehicles

The Government of Canada and many of its mining operations are committed to improving the critical mining pipeline and integrating battery electric vehicles (BEVs) into their operations.

Attendees at the first-ever BEV In-Depth conference in Sudbury described their approach to increasing their presence in the critical mineral supply chain.

“We plan to build on our momentum,” said Julie Dabrusin, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources.

“Our government plans to build an end-to-end sustainable battery supply chain and create opportunities from mining, processing, manufacturing, storing and recycling minerals.”

Canada will also strive to work with its trading partners in the EU, US and Japan to build a more resilient mineral supply chain.

Ottawa has also earmarked C$9.6 million to establish a critical minerals research center and provided C$48 million for federal research into battery processing and refining, Dabrusin said.

This year’s federal budget is a “game changer,” Dabrusin said, setting aside C$4 billion to streamline and implement Canada’s mineral strategy to catch up with other countries, including China.

Dabrusin highlighted the need for critical minerals in the supply of electric vehicles and other forms of transport, including bicycles.

“We need to fundamentally transform the way we move,” she said. “Canada has all the right ingredients to be at the forefront of the global battery boom.

Another critical aspect of BEVs is their integration into mining fleets.

Peter Xavier, Vice President of Glencore’s Integrated Sudbury Nickel Operations, explained how Glencore approached the task of integrating BEVs into its operations.

When Glencore completed its feasibility study in 2017 for the Craig mine expansion Onaping Depth project, “most of the equipment we needed didn’t even exist,” Xavier said.

Although most of Glencore’s drilling equipment had been electric for many years, there was a need to tell OEMs that Glencore needed battery electric vehicles to expand Craig.

“In the depths there are challenges, it’s more intense, we have to cool the air down there, but the diesel engines add heat and hygiene is an issue,” Xavier said.

Sudbury’s freezing winters also added another complicating factor.

Glencore has chosen to use Epiroc for its drilling vehicles, while Maclean provides the utility fleet and Kovatera provides the personnel fleet.

“We really needed to get it right,” Xavier said. “We took on independent crews to help with the selection as we were concerned about safety and ground fires.”

Adopting BEV technology “was a leap of faith, but it was fundamental to making the mine economical,” Xavier said.

The use of BEVs has enabled INO Sudbury to reduce its GHG emissions by 12 tonnes of CO2 emissions, he added.

Miners looking to integrate BEVs into their operations should take advantage of regeneration, think about what kind of charging strategy they need, and determine how many mags and what size mags they will need, Xavier said.

Operators must also have emergency response plans.

“It’s absolutely essential,” Xavier said. “You need to understand the processes to keep people safe underground with BEVs because when you go deep the stakes are that much higher.”

Sudbury INO still has a shot at being the world’s first 100% BEV-operated mine, Xavier said, though he acknowledged there are mines that could beat Glencore in that goal.

Vale, which also operates in Sudbury, has also introduced an increasing number of BEVs to its fleet, said Glen Watson, who works in sustainability and regulatory affairs at Vale.

“There is no roadmap,” he said. “The challenge [of contending with climate change and advancing decarbonisation projects] is very important, but it’s an exciting time.”

Vale currently has more than 50 electric vehicles operating underground in Canada, approximately 5% of the Canadian fleet.

Operations at the Creighton mine in Sudbury have also integrated vehicles, and Vale has 33 electric vehicles on site at the 8,460-foot-deep mine, said Alex Mulloy, BEV program manager for Vale Base Metals.

“We have seven manufacturers and 17 models on trial, including trucks, loaders, personnel carriers and utility equipment,” Mulloy said.

The Creighton mine, because it operates in a confined area and only uses EVs, allows Vale to better understand the synergies obtained by increasing the number of EVs in the fleet.

“We can determine the ventilation benefit” without it being obscured by the use of diesel engines in the same space, he said.

Keeping an open mind when it comes to BEV technology is necessary, Mulloy said.

“We know electric vehicles are going to evolve,” he said. “The problems we’re trying to solve will stay, and new technologies, like hydrogen, will come. We have to be open to them and embrace them.”