In October 2018 the International Council on Mining and Metals announced its Innovation for Cleaner Safer Vehicles. It comes as a result of some significant statistics around the industry's impact on the environment, and the safety record of mining vehicles. For example, a report compiled by Statista indicated that in 2016 10 mining companies between them produced 211 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. The ICMM has 27 members, and in 2017, 22% of the accidents involving fatalities at operations owned by these companies involved mobile equipment and vehicles.
The statistics were enough to make the ICMM and its members prick up their ears and decide the time is right to pursue initiatives that will make mining vehicles both greener and safer. Some companies are already well on the path to making them safer with fleets of autonomous pit vehicles now in operation. These have put humans safely on the sidelines, where they can monitor and interact with the vehicles remotely without getting up close and personal, or putting themselves in harm's way. However, the vehicles aren't necessarily any 'greener' because in many cases they still guzzle fossil fuels.
The ICSV initiative involves both the ICMM member companies along with some of the big guns of the equipment supply world – Komatsu, Caterpillar, and Hitachi are amongst them. The aim is to get both industries talking to each other to develop solutions to the environmental and safety issues raised by this equipment and their deployment in mining.
There are 3 goals. First obviously is reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by mining operations - just 10 mining companies producing that 211 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions is certainly cause for alarm. However, the initiative goes further than simply reducing CO2 emissions. The ICMM members are aiming to have all their surface mining operations completely greenhouse gas free by 2040.
The second goal is about cleaning up diesel particulate matter. The member companies are on a mission to reduce their emissions of these and for good reason. Diesel particulate matter, ie diesel exhaust contains a number of compounds (at least 15) that the International Agency for Research Cancer lists as being human carcinogens. Further to these, it also contains more than 40 compounds that the US EPA has on their 'hazardous air pollutants' list.
On top of these, some of the gases in diesel exhaust cause atmospheric chemical reactions that create their own secondary particulate matter, which also have carcinogenic properties. What are some of these compounds? They include organic compounds like nitrate and sulphate, metals such as nickel and chromium along with hydrocarbons, and various trace elements. Mine workers are amongst the groups most highly associated with increased incidents of lung and bladder cancer, respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, enhanced immune responses, as well as nasal and eye irritations.
If the ICSV initiative pans out, these companies will have significantly reduced emissions of diesel particulate matter from their surface operations, and appreciably minimised its impact in their underground operations, by 2025. Will they achieve those goals? They've got 6 years!
Goal number 3 is making collision avoidance technology more effective, and having it more widely available across the industry than it is currently. The time frame for this is also 2025. The ICMM is hoping that the successful achievement of these goals and the implementation of the solutions that will be developed, will all help the mining industry make a difference environmentally, and also make it a safer industry for people to work in.
The key to making it work though is collaboration. The mining industry can't do it alone, and nor can equipment manufacturers. The manufacturers for instance need cohesive frontline feedback from the industry around where the improvements are required. This will allow them to focus their research on developing technology that meets those requirements. The mining industry in turn, apart from supplying this feedback, also needs to understand how this technology will be implemented. That way, feedback can be aligned with reality and both industries can work together to come up with the best possible solutions to these issues.
And whilst it's the ICMM member companies that have undertaken these ambitious 'clean up' goals, the overall aim is to improve the industry as a whole. If they can develop and implement processes and procedures that will remove diesel particulate matter from their underground operations and CO2 emissions from their surface operations, that technology will obviously be available for other miners to utilise. The ICMM is also open to working with non-ICMM miners on the projects on a case by case basis but they'll have to meet the ICMM's membership conditions first, which may be a sticking point for some companies that would otherwise be interested in getting involved.
From the equipment manufacturer's perspective, they're open to feedback and participation from anyone with something to contribute. Ultimately, the equipment they produce with this technology on board will be available to both the mining industry in general and other industries with similar equipment needs. Some of the companies involved have already begun working on relevant technologies. Komatsu has built a number of electric dump trucks for a client, which is a specialised solution but on the right track nevertheless. Caterpillar already has a vehicle detection and avoidance system called Proximity Awareness that can be used for a range of vehicles.
One problem that the ICSV will need to juggle is the competition aspect of the equipment manufacturers. Collaboration is all very well but most of the companies involved in the project produce the same types of products. Therefore, and understandably, they'll be keen to ensure they protect their products and don't compromise the features that set those products apart from their competitors. So whilst it would be 'great' from a mining perspective to have all future pit vehicles fitted out with the same or similar emission control and vehicle avoidance technology for instance, the idea probably wouldn't meet with the same degree of enthusiasm from the manufacturers who would be keen to ensure 'their' particular technology is better than their competitor's.
The initiative is however a start in the right direction and if the ICMM can pull it off, the environment and the mining industry generally will be the big winners.