Eyes on the road: in pursuit of safer, cleaner mining vehicles

5 February 2019 (Last Updated February 5th, 2019 07:08)

Mining is a highly profitable yet destructive industry, with mining vehicles often to blame for pollution and accidents. A new collaborative project led by the International Council on Mining and Metals sets out to make these vehicles safer and less damaging to the environment, so how will it work?

Eyes on the road: in pursuit of safer, cleaner mining vehicles
For example, Caterpillar has committed its significant financial resources to its Proximity Awareness system, a vehicle detection and collision avoidance network that can be applied to a range of vehicles. Credit: Courtesy of CAT

While mining remains a hugely profitable venture for many of the world’s largest companies, providing a source of income for miners around the world, the industry suffers from a range of environmental and safety concerns, including mining vehicle safety.

Statista reports that, in 2016, just ten of the world’s mining companies were responsible for 211 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, and accidents involving transport and mobile equipment accounted for 22% of fatalities at operations owned by members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) in 2017.

To help the global mining industry deal clean up its operations, and its safety record, the ICMM has launched the Innovation for Cleaner Safer Vehicles (ICSV), an ambitious collaboration between all 27 member companies and some of the industry’s most influential equipment suppliers, including Caterpillar, Hitachi and Komatsu, to develop solutions to these problems.

The initiative has three goals: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at mining operations, with a view to achieving greenhouse gas-free surface operations by 2040; to reduce emissions of diesel particulate matter and to minimise its impacts at underground operations by 2025; and to make collision avoidance technology more effective and available to mining companies by 2025.

By working towards these long-term goals with a range of companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the ICMM hopes to make a difference on a global scale and improve the mining industry for all involved.

A collaborative approach

“I think what’s new and exciting about this particular programme is that it’s bringing together the ICMM’s 27 member companies and organisations with key suppliers of those vehicles,” says Paul Taylor, environmental stewardship manager at the ICMM. “You would expect that you’d be able to accelerate progress on those three topics.

“If the OEMs are getting a coherent message from the member companies, that allows them to focus their attention on where the technology needs to move to; and for the member companies to better understand, and work with the OEMs, on how new technology can be implemented.”

It is hoped that this collaborative approach will address the environmental and safety concerns the initiative was formed in response to in a manner that improves the mining industry as a whole, rather than the financial performance of a few companies and OEMs.

Taylor explains that, for OEMs, the initiative is “completely open to whoever wants to participate,” fostering an environment of sharing knowledge and understanding that he calls an “ecosystem of innovation”.

By combining the expertise of a range of OEMs, the ICMM also hopes that each manufacturer will be able to provide unique solutions to the issues of emissions and unsafe operations, tackling the aims of the initiative from a number of angles.

For example, Caterpillar has committed its significant financial resources to its Proximity Awareness system, a vehicle detection and collision avoidance network that can be applied to a range of vehicles. Komatsu, meanwhile, has developed seven electric trucks for carrying mined materials, a more specialised solution, but one that will help the ICMM meet the ICSV targets.

Taylor adds that while the ICMM had not considered the potential role of other mining houses in the project, the council would be open to working with other miners on a case-by-case basis. While he concedes that other miners would first have to satisfy the conditions for ICMM membership before collaborating with the council, the organisation’s role, as one to guide and monitor the global mining industry, ensures the ICMM has at least a passing interest in the environmental and safety records of companies and manufacturers beyond its membership.

Delivering the project

The ICSV features a clear governance structure and regular meetings between the parties involved, to ensure the initiative’s aims are delivered on time. In August 2018, the ICMM met with all working groups, including companies and OEMs, to establish plans for each group’s work, covering the technology they would be working on and the timescale for each project.

Work will begin on the projects in January, with milestones for each project agreed upon for the next three years to guide and measure progress on the level of individual projects. While the original aims of the ICSV are relatively long-term, with the distance to milestones measured in decades rather than years, Taylor is keen for the programme to produce results quickly to convince the parties involved that the initiative can work.

“I think that really what’s important right now is that we start strongly in January, and we get the activities off and running, and that we start to see results coming through quite quickly,” he says, emphasising the ICMM’s role in convening regular meetings between OEMs and mining companies, to ensure the ICSV maintains its collaborative focus. “A lot of that work – the quick wins – are around knowledge share and creating business cases to transition to new technology.”

The ICSV includes a number of regulating groups, containing members from companies and OEMs, to monitor progress of the working groups; what Taylor calls a “steering group” brings together senior figures to monitor the progress of their colleagues, while a “CEO advisory group”, where CEOs are encouraged to meet and ensure groups are working effectively and communicating with one another.

It is hoped the seniority of the people involved will also provide the working groups with consistent oversight for extended periods of time and contribute to achieving the initiative’s long-term goals.

Ensuring competition

One of the most significant challenges for the ICMM is ensuring competition between the groups working on the ICSV goals. Many of the OEMs involved in the project produce similar devices and pieces of machinery, with all but one of the 11 companies – the PBE Group, which focuses on monitoring and tracking systems – already commercially producing mining trucks.

Balancing the ICMM’s ideal of a collaborative working environment, and the need for these companies to protect their products and ensure they remain distinct from their competitors, will be a challenge to the basis of the ICSV.

Taylor believes that the fact that all member companies have signed onto the initiative demonstrates their commitment to the project’s goals, and is hopeful that the influence and role of the ICMM will ensure the targets are met. However, he admits that producing results quickly will be integral to demonstrating the effectiveness of the scheme.

“I think that for any scheme of this size, it’s important to show quick wins, that we get some scores quickly, for progress towards longer-term ambitions,” he says. “I think that – and this is what comes through from the CEOs – we need to have a sense of urgency if we’re going to hit the targets, [and] build trust and a way of working across the whole programme, OEMs and member companies.”

Yet he remains optimistic about the feasibility of the scheme. “We’re really excited about working not only with members, but also of course the OEMs, starting from January. Hopefully what’s come through is working together collaboratively is going to accelerate progress on these three topic areas, and there’s a clear signal from both sides that they want to do that. Clearly, there’s a case for working together.”