Preparing for an electric future

IN PART two of his interview with Australia’s Mining Monthly Komatsu Mining Corp president and chief executive officer Peter Salditt lays out the company’s decarbonisation plans.

 Komatsu's power agnostic truck undergoing trials in Arizona.

Komatsu's power agnostic truck undergoing trials in Arizona.

Miners are facing increasing pressure to decarbonise their operations and as an original equipment maker, Komatsu is trying to develop the technologies they need to do that.

Given how rapidly the different decarbonisation technologies are advancing, this can prove particularly challenging.

There are differing schools of thought on the best way forward and miners want to make sure they pick the right one.

Mining procurement manager of a certain age will be trying to avoid living the decarbonisation power version of the old 1980s proverb: "He who buys Beta buys expensive clock …"

Salditt said customers were making purchase decisions for the long-term period. 

Obviously electric equipment is on the agenda as those customers seek to decarbonise their operations.

Komatsu has decided to go with a power-agnostic platform. The idea is the customer gets a truck and then decides what is the best way to move it. It could start out with a diesel engine and then, as the technology advances opt for a hybrid or a fully battery-electric version.

Given the bulk of Komatsu's surface haul trucks use electric drive makes things much easier.

"The truck we sell today is a diesel truck but it could become a diesel trolley-assist truck or a battery-electric trolley-assist truck or a hydrogen fuel cell truck," Salditt said.

"We have power units that we can take out and replace with other power units as technology changes.

"With the power agnostic approach we give customers options and don't lock them in to one solution."

Batteries included

Salditt said Komatsu was working to bring those alternative technologies to fruition and its battery-electric truck will be the first off the rack.

Its battery-electric prototype is already running around now and will be sent for testing at Komatsu's proving grounds in Arizona, US next year. The plan is to get it out on field follow tests in 2025 and have it commercialised in 2026.

How to charge those trucks remains the challenge.

"One much talked about solution is the trolley system," Salditt said.

That involves hanging power lines over haul roads and fitting the trucks with pantographs to link with them and draw charge from them. It is a technology that is already in use in several countries. Unfortunately the cost of power in Australia means it has never taken off here.

"We have more than 200 trucks running on a trolley system," Salditt said.

"But it brings in complexity and cost. It makes for much more stringent maintenance.

"In Australia, particularly the Pilbara, trolley assist is probably not the most desirable option. It lends itself more to deep pits and long ramps."

"We think battery trucks, automation all comes together."

Salditt said there would be a place of hydrogen would have a place in the mix.

"We're building a network of partners to develop the hydrogen fuel cell side," he said.

"That will take more time. It will certainly be significantly later than our battery solution.

"Hydrogen will have its place but it is very application dependent."

Zero emission target

Komatsu is also part of the Greenhouse Gas Alliance, a collection of its customers it is collaborating with to produce power systems that minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're collaborating on the journey towards zero emissions fleets," Salditt said.

While Komatsu is working to make its trucks emit less as they operate it is not rushing to make them from greener steel.

At least one OEM has started down this path. Salditt is not convinced the demand is there.

"We've not seen a big pull on green steel as yet," he said.

"It's not been a priority for us.

"On Scope 1, there's been a lot of effort on the sustainability side in our factories. We're building a brand new facility for our P&H products in Milwaukee that focuses on renewable energy and those sort of things.

"The biggest impact we can make is in making our products more efficient.

"Scope 1 has a lot of focus but most important is the focus on products. Fuel consumption is the most important."

To help reduce fuel consumption and equipment costs some miners have been kicking around the idea of using smaller trucks. Rio Tinto, for example, has been trialling Scania 40t trucks as a haulage solution.

That is not a path Komatsu is looking to head down.

"Smaller trucks are a unique approach," Salditt said.

"We have some small trucks that could play a part but that comes with its own complexities.

"Of you have a large operation with a lot of tonnage it increases the complexity of managing that fleet rapidly.

"It's only doable if you have a dispatch system to manage that fleet effectively.

"It could be part of the solution and I have an open mind to that but it's hard to see it working on very large mines."

Supply chains have been challenging even for the conventional equipment Komatsu already has on offer.

The company is certainly no outlier there with most other OEMs reporting similar difficulties.

It seems things are getting better.

"The lead times are longer than we would like," Salditt said.

"But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"We're seeing demand right across the board including coal. Energy is in demand.

"The market is recalibrating itself with Russia sanctions. Coal remains important and needs some investment.

"Electrification brings all the opportunities around copper, nickel, cobalt and so forth.

"In terms of the bulk minerals, particularly copper."

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Magazine Intelligence team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Magazine Intelligence team.


Mining Magazine Intelligence Future Fleets Report 2024

The report paints a picture of the equipment landscape and includes detailed profiles of mines that are employing these fleets


Mining Magazine Intelligence Digitalisation Report 2023

An in-depth review of operations that use digitalisation technology to drive improvements across all areas of mining production


Mining Magazine Intelligence Automation Report 2023

An in-depth review of operations using autonomous solutions in every region and sector, including analysis of the factors driving investment decisions


Mining Magazine Intelligence Exploration Report 2023 (feat. Opaxe data)

A comprehensive review of current exploration rates, trending exploration technologies, a ranking of top drill intercepts and a catalog of 2022 Initial Resource Estimates and recent discovery successes.