It’s not simply ‘plug ‘n’ play’ for BEVs: evolving risks in the mining industry

The technology powering battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is continually evolving and in order to protect operations, modern mining companies need to go ‘back to basics’.

Marcello Sanchez, global sales manager – mining, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection – reviews the evolving risks arising from the industry’s shift to BEVs and discusses how operators and OEMs can minimise these risks effectively.

The mining and resources industry is seeing a surge in mobile equipment fires. However, several key factors can help to improve how the industry understands fire prevention measures.

Mobile equipment fires can:

  • Cause significant risks for mining staff
  • Create major consequences in underground operations
  • Increase wider issues for operators and equipment owners
  • Have stringent reporting measures in some mining jurisdictions
  • Be intensively analysed due to regulators expecting operators to improve mobile equipment fire management performance.
Implementing low-carbon mines

Over the last few years, the mining industry has been looking for sustainable substitutes to keep up with global environmental targets. This is escalating an industry-wide shift away from diesel-powered machinery and internal combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles.

BEVs are considered to be more suitable than ICE in underground mines as they don’t produce fumes, excess heat or noise. Therefore, BEVs can minimise the need for the installation of costly ventilation, improving the overall mine environment for workers and reducing costs.

Detecting battery failure and taking immediate action

All heat produced within a battery is generated via the current flow (Joule effect), with temperature management impacted by its battery management system (BMS). This system monitors the battery pack’s average temperature and the individual cells. Normally, high- temperature conditions will arise due to an external heat source or voltages and/or out of range currents.

If the internal temperature of a battery becomes too high, separator failure can take place, which can lead to internal short-circuiting. In some battery chemistries, this short-circuiting can bring about thermal runaway, which is a process where the venting of dangerous flames, gases, and even explosions can occur.

When in thermal runaway, batteries can create their own source of oxygen, self-sustaining the fire from inside. Thermal runaway makes fire suppression even more challenging. In order to minimise these types of fires, a unique solution is required to effectively minimise risks. Detecting potential battery failure quickly and taking immediate action, in the event of thermal runaway, is key to preventing potential consequences to life and mining operations.

Introducing BEVs into mining operations

If you’re arranging to introduce BEVs into your operations, you must consider:

  • Battery chemistry and any associated fire suppression methods
  • Whether the fire detection and suppression solution installed is suitable for the battery chemistry
  • Ensuring all operators and local emergency services have received the appropriate training
  • In a mixed fleet:
  • If the battery chemistry of the vehicle can be identified from a distance
  • If mine operators have been trained to recognise the battery chemistry and how they should respond.
Minimising fire risk

As well as implementing general best practice to minimise fire risk, there are additional key steps operators can take:

  1. Risk assessment

By incorporating control measures into the design of EV batteries used in underground mines, OEMs can minimise fire risks. Fire prevention specialists also provide end-users with all the information they need to implement any necessary emergency strategies in the case of a fire.

There should always be a full risk assessment of new processes and equipment before they’re integrated into mining operations. This should include reviewing how machinery will be used in the operating environment as a whole, rather than in isolation, and it should also explore how risks can evolve during a battery’s lifecycle.

  1. Choose a system that meets individual risks

As soon as risks are identified, mine operators can implement additional control measures to ensure maximum safety and effective management. Any fire suppression solutions should be adapted to the individual site environment and its individual risks. This will also minimise false system activations, ensuring efficient operational uptime.

  1. Choose your fire suppression system carefully

The BEVs in your mine should all feature fire suppression systems which match the battery chemistry and the vehicle type. A site’s risk assessment or a site’s local regulations might require automatic systems. In these instances, the system should also be able to be manually activated. All mine workers should receive training and be given fire-fighting information appropriate to their environment.

For OEMs, integrating an effective fire suppression system throughout the manufacturing stage can help to ensure the protection of BEVs from the beginning, as well as ensuring all applicable regulations are adhered to.

For operators of BEVs currently onsite, the suitable suppression systems can be retrofitted to the vehicle to improve safety. The overall vehicle maintenance routine should also include the maintenance of the fire suppression system in your BEV.

Protecting future mining operations

As the mining industry develops, it’s important to modernise existing systems and processes to keep up with the new and changing risks. Any fire suppression system should integrate seamlessly into a mine’s operating environment to save lives and ensure maximum operational uptime.

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