Sudbury attracts electric drive manufacturer
Vancouver-based company bets on mining
FVT Research Inc., a Vancouver area manufacturer of battery-electric drive systems, has committed to opening a service and support office in Sudbury to serve mining companies and original equipment manufacturers transitioning to battery-electric power.
One of only a few battery-electric drive system manufacturers in Canada, FVT Research has been working with Sudbury-based Industrial Fabrication for several years on the development of its battery-powered utility vehicles and sees opportunity to broaden its customer base in the Sudbury mining cluster.
“We specialize in big, heavy stuff,” said Todd Pratt, FVT Research president. “Our vehicles are all going to be five tons and heavier. That works well for mining equipment, garbage trucks, transport trucks and transit buses. We can retrofit a piece of equipment or we can do an OEM brand new install like we do with Industrial Fabrication.”
Unlike its U.S. competitor, Artisan Vehicle Systems, FVT Research “doesn’t build the vehicles. We build what makes them move,” said Pratt. “We want our customers to be confident that we’re not going to be competing with them, so we only focus on drive systems.”
FVT has also worked closely with the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation’s Ultra-Deep Mining Network and came to the conclusion through its work in Sudbury “that it’s one thing to build a system and something else entirely to be able to service and support it.”
Until now, the company has been flying technicians from Vancouver to Sudbury at considerable expense.
“One of our techs was in Sudbury 198 days last year,” said Pratt. “That’s too much, so we hired our first Sudbury tech and he’s here in British Columbia training right now.”
FVT stands apart from most other battery-electric drive system manufacturers in that it develops all of its components in house.
“That’s what makes us different,” said Pratt. “Most of the other companies in this sphere are purchasing off-the-shelf solutions from other companies and then integrating them. We actually develop the technologies from the ground up, including our own chargers, our own converters, our own central vehicle controllers and our own battery management systems.
“They have been designed specifically for mining and the cool thing is once they’re designed for mining, they can be used anywhere because an underground mine is one of the ugliest places in the world to be operating a vehicle.”
FVT is in the process of converting a transit bus to battery-electric power and also sees opportunity for concrete mixer trucks.
The company uses lithium-ion batteries, but the exact chemistry can vary depending on the application.
“The limiting factor is not power,” said Pratt. “Electric motors have more power than diesel because of the amount of torque they put out. That’s why the big haul trucks on surface are essentially diesel over electric. The electric motors do the driving and it’s the diesel that gives the electric power to them.”
The limiting factor to date is the battery technology, which still isn’t at the point where it can power a Class A truck driving across Canada. “We could do it,” said Pratt, “but you’d have to fill the 53-footer with batteries, so our focus is on less than 300 kilometres per day and right up to 25 tons. We think we will be able to go up to 50 tons by 2019.”
FVT will also work with mining companies planning to transition to battery-electric equipment.
“Mining companies need help and guidance in the best way to implement an electric vehicle fleet, so we’re helping them with charging strategies and operations,” said Pratt. “For example, in designing a new mine for battery-electric equipment, it makes sense to go downhill full and uphill empty. That way, we can look at big haul trucks as well that would otherwise be impossible to go electric.”
Using two-way telematics, FVT technicians can make adjustments to a battery-electric vehicle underground anywhere in Canada or beyond, “but you still have to have boots on the ground,” said Pratt.