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Ahead of the curve on battery power

If copper, nickel, gold and all the other minerals we rely on for the necessities and conveniences of modern civilization were piled in giant heaps on the Earth’s surface and freely available for the taking, we might all be fat, lazy and simple-minde
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If copper, nickel, gold and all the other minerals we rely on for the necessities and conveniences of modern civilization were piled in giant heaps on the Earth’s surface and freely available for the taking, we might all be fat, lazy and simple-minded.

Confined as they are in worthless rock kilometres underground at infinitesimal concentrations exercises our intellect, fires our neurons and equips us with the brainpower required to extract and refine them.

Nowhere is this brainpower more in evidence than in Northern Ontario.

Confronted with the challenge of moving heavy material from one location to another, some genius years ago came up with the idea of the wheelbarrow. The wheels have been turning ever since thanks to the invention of the internal combustion engine, and now we are on the cusp of another major change in locomotion: battery power.

Earlier this year, a global equipment manufacturer erred in distributing a press release claiming to have introduced the first battery-powered loader for the underground mining industry. In fact, the accolade belongs to a much smaller Sudbury-area equipment manufacturer, RDH Mining Equipment, which sold its first battery-powered load-haul-dump machine to Kirkland Lake Gold five years ago.

Since 2011, RDH has sold 17 battery-powered machines – 12 loaders and three haul trucks to Kirkland Lake Gold, three six-yard loaders to a mine in Russia, an eight-yard loader to a mine in the U.S. and a telehandler to a potash mine. At MINExpo in September, RDH will have two battery-powered machines on display – a 1.5-yard loader for narrow vein applications and a scissor lift truck.

Like the genius who invented the wheelbarrow, RDH founder Rick Lemiuex began with a problem – in this case, the deleterious effects of diesel particulate on the health of miners and the exorbitant cost of ventilating underground mines as they go deeper and expand into new ore zones.

Converting from diesel to battery power is a huge change for the mining industry and one that both global equipment manufacturers and multinational mining companies have been slow to embrace.

It’s hardly surprising that a mid-tier miner like Kirkland Lake Gold and a small but progressive equipment manufacturer like RDH in a region that lives and breathes mining were ahead of the curve. Hampered by large bureaucracies, bigger companies are often less able to execute as quickly, as our cover story this issue also demonstrates.

RDH is not the only mining supplier in Northern Ontario to make the move to battery power. Earlier this year, Industrial Fabrication introduced a battery-powered personnel carrier, the UT150EMV, and MacLean Engineering has commenced a fleet electrification program, beginning with a bolter and a boom truck.

As RDH co-owner Neil Edward tells us on Page 20, all this is “a real tribute to the innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit of the Northern Ontario mining cluster.”

The two RDH machines, the MacLean Engineering boom truck and Industrial Fabrication’s UT150EMV will be on display at MINExpo, September 26 to 28.