Electric vehicle purpose-built for deep mining
Tracks and Wheels personnel carrier: more than a conversion
Tracks and Wheels Equipment Brokers Inc. is on schedule to launch a purpose designed fully-electric personnel carrier for operation in ultra-deep mines at depths of 2,500 metres or more.
“What most companies have done to date is take an existing machine and convert it to battery power,” said Mike Gougeon, president of Tracks and Wheels. “This isn’t a conversion. We started from scratch, allowing us to design a machine that’s best in class and best for an electric machine versus taking a conventional personnel carrier and converting it to electric power.”
Tracks and Wheels is working with Laurentian University and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation’s Ultra Deep Mining Network, which is overseeing multiple research and development projects focused on rock stress, energy reduction, human health, material transportation and productivity. It’s also a member of the Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Group, which has an electric mine project aimed at developing guidelines for the use of battery electric vehicles in underground mines.
The EV Commander will feature a fully-enclosed, air-conditioned cab and accommodate five people with a cargo box in the rear. In future, it can be easily converted to serve as a mechanic’s or electrician’s truck, and equipped with a scissor lift or aerial boom.
“It has all the features required to operate at depth,” said engineering manager John Le, including an efficient cooling system, a rugged frame and a suspension system designed for driver and passenger comfort.
However, it’s the powertrain that really stands out as being different and unique, said Le.
“Some manufacturers put a big electric motor in front of the transmission and run two drive shafts to the axles. Our EV Commander has two electric motors – one on the front axle and one on the rear axle, so they’re fully independent. If one fails, you can use the other one to drive to a service bay. They’re also smaller, easier to service and less expensive to replace.
“To remove the electric motor on other machines, you have to remove many components. With our design, you just remove a few bolts.”
Tracks and Wheels chose a lithium-iron-phosphate battery because of its stable chemistry and track record for risk free operation. It, too, is designed for ease of service.
“If the battery management system tells you there’s a problem with cell 56, you can check the schematic to see where it is, pull it out and replace it,” said Le. “It’s quick and easy.”
3-D software was used to design the placement of every nut and bolt, giving the design team total freedom to configure and optimize the assembly. Le and his team also used finite element analysis to ensure the vehicle would be able to withstand the loads and stresses, and operate safely and efficiently at elevated temperatures.
The length of time the battery will maintain a charge will vary depending on its use. It will provide five to six hours of operation on relatively level ground, one hour upramp fully loaded and three to four hours for a superintendent driving up and down to check in with crews on different levels.
The vehicle is equipped with an onboard charging system that plugs into a 600-volt outlet. “Our competition uses transformers to reduce the voltage to the required lower voltage,” said Le. “We don’t need a transformer. We use a different technology to reduce the voltage.”
In the future, once mines are further along in the conversion to battery power and begin installing supercharger stations, the EV Commander won’t require an onboard charging system, increasing the carrying capacity of the vehicle by 500 to 600 pounds. Battery size can also be trimmed, reducing the cost of the machine, said Le.
A prototype will be ready for testing in June.
Tracks and Wheels also manufactures and modifies a wide range of underground mining equipment, including a diesel-powered version of the Commander personnel carrier, the Minemaster R20S articulating forklift, the light-duty RTV personnel carrier, and the Minemaster Torquematic Gen 111, a tractor-style utility vehicle with a variety of different configurations.
Tracks and Wheels has its head office and manufacturing facilities in Sudbury with branches in Timmins and North Bay.