Aiming for emission-free sites

Masters of innovation and research development, Sweden is renowned for being at the forefront of technological and sustainable developments. Pushing the boundaries of engineering, automation and electrification, Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) and Skanska Sweden have teamed up to create a potential blueprint for the world’s first emission-free quarry. 

The research project began in October 2015 at Skanska’s Vikan Kross quarry near Gothenburg, Sweden. Dubbed the Electric Site, the project recently began a 10-week operational trial to examine the concept. 

Following the trial, Volvo CE will examine the project results to see if the concept is viable for the industry. 

Speaking to National Mining Chronicle, Volvo CE Head of Sales in Australia and Vice President for Sales Support and Dealer Development in the Asia Pacific region AM Muralidharan said the groundbreaking project would feed future product and development plans and have a positive impact in terms of efficiency, safety and environmental benefits. 

The forward-thinking project has two main targets; to reduce carbon emissions by up to 95 per cent and reduce running costs by 25 per cent. 

“Electric Site incorporates electrification, automation and connectivity of machinery, interacting to manage one stage at the quarry,” Mr Muralidharan said. “This stage includes excavation at primary crushing and then transport onwards to secondary crushing. 

“We expect a site running with autonomous vehicles to operate more efficiently than a site with conventional equipment driven by operators.” 

Challenging traditional ways of working in the quarrying industry, Volvo CE and Skanska have built and developed new machines, work methods and site management systems. The Electric Site uses three new vehicles; the EX1 excavator, HX2 load carrier and LX1 wheel loader. 

The site is controlled by a management system called Site Assist, which tracks the vehicles and ensures efficient equipment flow and safe operations. The system provides key performance indications and can show how much material is being produced. 

Site Assist acts as the integration point of data between the various units and systems being used onsite. 

EX1 excavator 

Volvo CE’s EX1 is a 70-tonne, dual-powered, cable- connected excavator prototype. The excavator operates the same way as a conventional excavator, but emits no carbon whatsoever. 

The base machine for the EX1 is a Volvo EC750 crawler excavator that has been upgraded to incorporate an electric motor in addition to the diesel engine. Fitting the new components in the machine without increasing its size required a significant amount of repackaging work. 

The EX1 also comes fitted with an updated version of Volvo’s Co-Pilot that supports the Dig Assist system connected to the site management system, as well as any HX machines. 

Onsite, the EX1’s primary role is to load blasted rock into a mobile crusher before it’s transported to the secondary crusher and processed. 

HX2 load carrier 

The HX2 is an autonomous, battery-electric load carrier fitted with a new drivetrain to allow it to take full advantage of further electromobility developments. 

The load carrier was a second-generation concept machine from Volvo CE that was designed to incorporate shared technologies and components from the Volvo Group, such as electric motors, batteries and power electronics. 

The HX2 features a vision system, which allows the machine to detect humans and obstacles in its vicinity. 

The machine is extremely manoeuvrable and delivers the same performance as a traditional load carrier. 

The HX2 is more energy efficient than a standard load carrier and can recuperate energy when travelling downhill or braking. 

LX1 wheel loader 

The LX1 wheel loader from Volvo CE is a series hybrid. The electric part of the vehicle’s drivetrain consists of electric motors mounted at the wheels and electric hydraulics, as well as a battery storage system. 

Tests from the Redwood Landfill and Recycling Center in California showed an average improvement of 50 per cent in fuel efficiency. In addition, the LX1 offers a significant reduction in noise pollution compared to its conventional counterparts. 

Site assist 

Focused on improving operational performance, productivity and efficiency, Mr Muralidharan said Volvo CE’s innovative approach with the Electric Site had the potential to transform the industry. 

“It is a truth that equipment that runs more efficiently has lower emissions levels,” he said. 

“With automation, much more of the operational work is planned and coordinated. By definition, this should increase efficiency, while ongoing analysis of on-the-job performance will allow improvements to be made faster.” 

Mr Muralidharan said he believed mining companies needed the help of manufacturers like Volvo CE to develop robust new equipment and technology to reduce their carbon footprint. 

“In our opinion, most major mine operators are extremely committed to improving both efficiency and carbon emissions levels,” he said. 

“Equally, they are interested in bringing greater automation and safety to their operations. Mine owners already have highly developed processes for understanding productivity and we expect to see that evolve as new technologies are introduced.” 

Whether or not the prototypes actually reach the market remains to be seen, however, Mr Muralidharan said he was excited to see Volvo CE challenging traditional ways of working and looking towards finding new solutions. 

“This is our first attempt, so we’re interested to learn from it and use our experience to build and stretch our competence,” he said. “There’s potentially a very positive impact for our customer, the environment and society in general.” 

While much remains uncertain, Mr Muralidharan said he thought the drive towards automation and electrification would play an important part in the future of mining. 

Skanska Sweden CEO Gunnar Hagman said the concept was entirely new and had never been attempted in the quarrying industry. 

“If successful, Electric Site could serve as a blueprint for transforming the efficiency, safety and environmental impact of quarries around the world,” he said. 

“Volvo CE is constantly developing technologies connected to electromobility, as well as intelligent construction equipment and total site solutions that will bene t both customers and the environment by contributing to increased machine performance, productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability."

Results from the 10-week research project at Skanska’s Vikan Kross quarry will be released by the end of this year. 

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