Every element that is important to sustaining life in the modern world – from a mobile phone to a refrigerator to a wedding ring – is made from minerals that are extracted from mining sites across the globe. In the coming years, as the world transitions from gas and diesel-powered cars and trucks to vehicles powered with batteries and hydrogen, the need to mine minerals to support these vehicles will become even more critical.
It is also true that 1.5 percent to 2 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide are generated from the mining industry. In the face of these realities, an important question being raised is: Considering the importance of mining to obtaining the minerals we need for all of the things we need, how do we go about mining in an innovative, sustainable way, without significant increases in production costs?
The answer to meeting this challenge may be in new technology being developed for heavy-duty equipment and haul trucks used for mining. Electric motors which source energy from hydrogen fuel cells (often called a stack), as opposed to the traditional choice, diesel fuel, is making its way into the mining industry and leading the charge for increased sustainability and efficiency, safer operations, and the possibility of cost savings for mining operations across the globe. Hydrogen fuel cells operate by transforming hydrogen into clean energy, whose only output is electricity, water, and heat.
Though the environmental advantages of hydrogen fuel cell technology are clear, the use of fuel cells and batteries in heavy-duty mining equipment is so new that few companies are prepared to take on the challenge. But not L&M Radiator.
The Hibbing, Minnesota-based heat exchanger manufacturer has proven itself instrumental to the implementation of this new, green technology for the mining industry with its recent projects developing coolers for fuel cell-powered mining equipment.
“It’s an exciting time for greener applications in the oil and gas and mining industries,” said Tim Cass, L&M Radiator Applications Engineer for Truck and Underground. “L&M is ready and we are poised to be at the forefront of developing cooling solutions for our customers that provide the best green alternatives that not only help our planet but maintain and maximize our customers’ operating efficiencies — just as our customers have come to expect from L&M Radiator and our Mesabi-brand products for more than 60 years.”
Mesabi-Powered Hydrogen Cell Haul Truck Makes History
Approximately 8,950 miles across the globe and just north of Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa, an open-pit platinum mine called Mogalakwena is making history with the testing of a hydrogen fuel cell haul truck. L&M Radiator was called upon by the mine’s owner, AngloAmerican, to develop a first-of-its-kind radiator solution for this vehicle test project.
AngloAmerican operates a number of haul trucks at Mogalakwena. As a test to develop a long-term green energy solution for its mining operations worldwide, the company converted the diesel engine powertrain on a 930E, a 320-ton Komatsu haul truck, into a powertrain driven by a hydrogen fuel cell stack.
“After the ‘proof of concept’ was finished in Seattle,” said Laura Ekholm, Executive Vice President of L&M Radiator, “AngloAmerican shipped the power train — eight hydrogen fuel cells, a battery pack and our cooling package — off to the mine in South Africa. It is amazing to see new technology our team was a huge part of coming to fruition.”
Serving as a technology demonstrator, the converted 930E is the first of many in the Mogalakwena fleet that the company plans to convert as part of its green initiatives plan. The converted 930E demonstrator ran approximately one day per week as it worked through the initial testing phase.
Battery-powered haul trucks need to accomplish more than mere operation; they must operate within a range of the fleet. “You can’t have a slow haul truck on grade,” Cass explained. “Every haul truck on the job needs to keep up with the other 930Es in the fleet, otherwise traffic will start to back up and you’ll lose operational efficiency for the entire mine.”
“The primary goal of this test was to determine if hydrogen will be able to provide the necessary power for the mine’s operation and to determine the overall efficiency of the hydrogen fuel conversion,” said Cass.
This singular haul truck is only the beginning of what will become structural change for the industry at large. AngloAmerican intends to transform its entire fleet of haul trucks at Mogalakwena (and at its other mines worldwide) into hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles.
“The data from this successful test will be used to implement future applications for the Mogalakwena fleet as well as additional green initiatives for other haul trucks and mining equipment,” added Cass.
Multiple Factors Taken into Development Consideration
“For this initial 930E conversion, it was necessary to take the whole engine module out and replace it with fuel cells and batteries,” Cass explained. “Space constraints were definitely a challenge for our engineers. Designing the fans and motor mounts and getting the air flow to work in that limited space took some engineering ingenuity.”
“Another challenge was the very strict set of guidelines for limiting contamination, including materials that fuel cell manufacturers have in place,” added Josh Mitchell, an Applications Engineer with L&M Radiator. “That’s where the Mesabi All-Aluminum M-Tube came in.”
L&M Radiator engineered an All-Aluminum M-tube cooler for fuel cell cooling compatibility with the existing coolant on the 930E as brass and copper were not viable options.
According to Chris Domogalla, an L&M Design and Applications Engineer, hydrogen fuel cells operate at a lower maximum temperature than diesel engines, and they have a narrower coolant operating range. When outside of that operating range, the output of the fuel cell stack decreases. In addition, approximately 40% of the energy produced by hydrogen fuel cells is heat, which must be removed. This posed a unique challenge for engineers at L&M Radiator.
“Hydrogen fuel cells emit a lot of heat, especially towards the end of its operating life,” added Cass. “The heat rejection increases as the powertrain ages. When you combine hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity, the exothermic reaction produces heat and electricity, which must be removed, otherwise, the fuel cell overheats.”
Environmental conditions were also taken into consideration during the design stage. The hotter the work site, the more difficult it is to cool the fuel cell stack. In this instance, Mogalakwena is hot, but not excessively so.
Mesabi Coolers the Superior Choice for Battery-Powered Equipment
Thanks to unmatched ingenuity based on decades of experience crafting expert cooling solutions for the mining industry, engineers at L&M Radiator were successful in their endeavor to develop a cooler that would keep the Komatsu haul truck’s electric drivetrain from overheating.
“Mesabi is using its vast experience in the mining and construction and harsh-environment industries and applying our experience to meet fuel-cell heat rejection requirements,” said Domogalla. “The Research and Development department at L&M Radiator has developed a cooling management system to keep the power source – whether it’s a battery or a hydrogen fuel cell – operating at its most ideal temperature.”
The L&M Radiator engineering team faced another challenge – designing the cooling system to withstand the extreme vibration and shock present in most mining operations. Leveraging its mining experience, the L&M team developed an electric drive fan system – considered the first to ever be used on a large mining haul truck.
“The Mesabi cooler is designed to last the lifetime of the equipment,” added Cass. “No matter what the power source, whether it be diesel, hydrogen, or a battery – Mesabi radiators will last the lifespan of the truck or shovel or drill.”
When it comes to a sustainable future, real change is happening in the mining industry, and L&M Radiator has proven its indispensable technology and expertise will continue to be a key driver of the success of this change.
L&M Radiator Superior System Forges the Path for a “Green” Industry
The AngloAmerican project is just one of several hydrogen projects for both haul trucks and mining equipment that L&M Radiator is currently working on.
Read more about L&M Radiator’s innovative green-age solutions at the Mesabi® Exchange.
Learn more about the game-changing AngloAmerican project, here.