US construction equipment company Caterpillar has unveiled its first electric underground loader, which will use lithium ion batteries.

The new LHD vehicle, the R1700 XE, will be based on the R1700, a 15-tonne loader that was itself a step towards cleaner operations when it was launched in 2018. The original R1700 was 34% more fuel efficient than previous Caterpillar loaders. The XE will incorporate a number of the R1700’s features, including a 65% increase in lift force over previous models.

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Because it will use lithium ion batteries, this model sees a ten-fold decrease in total energy costs and an eight-fold drop in heat generated, compared to entirely the diesel-powered R1300. The XE will use a standalone fast charging system that will allow for onboard charging of the batteries.

“For underground mining specifically, this electrification experience was reinforced by the development of a proof of concept machine,” said Caterpillar in a statement. “Caterpillar converted a conventional diesel Cat LHD into a battery electric platform.

“Both the loader and charging system saw substantial testing at Caterpillar’s Peoria proving grounds, and that was followed by weeks of operation and testing at a customer’s mine in Canada.”

The loader was tested at Glencore’s Sudbury nickel mine in Ontario, which mined more than two million tonnes of nickel ore in 2018 across two operations, demonstrating its effectiveness at a large-scale project. The technology could be of interest to Glencore, which is under pressure from shareholders, including the Church of England, to cut down on its carbon emissions, following a year in which it produced close to 130m tonnes of coal.

The XE is the latest all-electric vehicle to join Caterpillar’s fleet, following the announcement of a prototype 26-tonne excavator developed with Pon Equipment. This vehicle is powered by a 330kWh battery pack that weighs 3.4 tonnes. The company also unveiled two new all-electric trucks in November 2018.

Caterpillar’s commitment to electrification could have significant impacts on the wider mining industry, with the equipment manufacturer supplying vehicles and technology to thousands of mining and construction companies from 226 dealers. The company’s market capitalisation has also increased dramatically over the last decade, from a low of $10.52bn in 2009 to $84.14bn ten years later, according to Macro Trends.

“In designing the R1700 XE, Caterpillar is relying on a wealth of experience in designing electrified machines and power generation components and solutions,” said Caterpillar. “Caterpillar has used the insight gained from its proof of concept testing to develop the R1700 XE and the MEC 500 charging system as a safe and productive option for mines going to battery electric fleets.”