The world's largest zero-emission haul truck, the nuGen, was recently revealed to the world by mining giant Anglo American.
The enormous hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion battery powerplant that powers the truck was designed and developed by First Mode, a creative engineering company based in Seattle, whose mission is to help the world transition to cleaner solutions.
In an interview with IE, First Mode CEO Chris Voorhees said "one of the big projects that we've been working on is the decarbonization of mining activities."
The paradox of the green energy transition
Paradoxically, mining, with its poor environmental track record, will be vital in the fight against climate change.
According to the World Economic Forum, the transition to clean energy, required to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change, may need as much as 3 billion tons of metals for the development of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and other machinery.
First Mode's Voorhees highlighted this point to IE. Though mining is a "pretty dirty industry with a pretty checkered past that has had a lot of problems and has done a lot of environmental damage in history, it is also vital to society," he explained.
"And so from a standpoint of decarbonization, you need to start at the source. If you cannot get material in a sustainable way and in a zero-emission fashion, then to some extent it's fruit from a poison tree," Voorhees explained, referring to electric vehicles that require materials that are sometimes mined unethically or in a way that is damaging to the environment.
A massive 2MW hydrogen powerplant
Anglo American's internal combustion ultra-class haul truck burned thousands of gallons of diesel fuel every year. The truck is as tall as a three-story building and weighs 200 tons when it's empty and it can carry a further 290 tons of mining materials. Now, thanks to the 2MW hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion battery powerplant developed by First Mode, it's emission-free.
On its website, First Mode explains that "one of the challenges in developing the powerplant was that the building blocks of a zero-emission truck are fundamentally larger than the building blocks of a diesel truck." The 2MW powerplant provides electrical power to the wheels via the vehicle's drive electronics and also supports the vehicle's auxiliary systems, including its steering and hydraulics.
The system also allows the truck to store energy from regenerative braking, meaning it can generate electricity as it drives downhill toward the mines.
The new emission-free truck, according to Anglo American, will keep 700 cars' worth of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. The mining company explained that large trucks currently account for 70-80 percent of diesel fuel consumption at its mining sites.
The mining industry as a whole accounts for roughly 7 percent of global carbon emissions, and diesel haul trucks represent up to 50 percent of the total energy use at mine sites. Tackling those emissions will be key to not only stopping further harm to our planet, but also allowing for the sustainable procurement of the materials required for a green energy transition.