Victorian-based designer and developer of underground mining equipment Safescape has impressed miners in Western Australia’s Kambalda nickel district with its Bortana EV, which is designed to handle the difficult operating environment of underground mines.
First unveiled in May 2019, the Bortana EV uses the chassis of a diesel-powered Agrale Marruá, electric technology from 3ME, with Safescape design and engineering to provide what is quickly becoming ground-breaking and expectation-breaking performance.
Designed for the mining sector, Safescape’s Bortana EV is also suitable for industries such as the military, agriculture, forestry, and firefighting.
Safescape says the lithium-ion battery technology used in the Bortana EV – supplied by 3MW Technology – has been designed specifically for use in the mining industry, with a focus on being “maintenance-free,” equipped for rapid charging and high energy density.
Safescape is currently planning to begin production of the Bortana EV in the third quarter of 2020.
After a successful four-month test at Kirkland Lake Gold’s Fosterville mine in Victoria, last year, Safescape took their Bortana EV to Western Australia’s Kambalda nickel district, starting with Mincor’s Long nickel mine.
“Long is a large mine that is currently on care and maintenance, but with plans to be back in production as part of Mincor’s restart of nickel mining,” said Mincor COO, Dean Will, as quoted by International Mining (IM).
Mincor is planning to reinvigorate its Kambalda nickel mines as a hedge against a lack of new nickel sulphide projects and the subsequent expected price increase in nickel – in part due to the rise of lithium-ion batteries which use nickel sulphate.
Mincor is also looking to incorporate all-electric underground light vehicles in the restart of its Western Australian mines, seeking to act as a “global showcase” for the role electric vehicles can play in underground mining. In lieu of this ambition, Mincor hosted the Bortana EV for a demonstration of the vehicle’s capabilities.
“We were able to define a course through the [mine] workings taking the vehicle from surface to 1,100 metres underground via a range of road conditions including an area we were able to moisten down to create extremely slippery conditions that would challenge any four-wheel-drive vehicle,” Dean Will told IM.
“The performance of the vehicle generally, and in particular through the worse road conditions, far exceeded our expectations.
“The Bortana includes onboard 1,000 V charging capability, which was tested multiple times throughout the trial period. We also love the angle that the Bortana EV battery contains a high content of nickel and we are planning on utilising these vehicles underground to mine our high-grade nickel which is ultimately destined for the EV market.”
Martin Kime, COO of 3ME Technology, was similarly in attendance for the trial of the Bortana EV at the Long mine.
“The opportunity to present the vehicle to several groups from leading mining and contracting companies over a short period in Kambalda was incredible,” Kime said.
“Because this technology is so new it is difficult to explain it without some physical reference point. Companies were able to experience the Bortana vehicle in realistic terrain and then ask questions about how we are able to deliver such smooth and efficient operation.
“3ME typically works directly with our OEM customers to create electric vehicles but it’s important that our team understand the application and, as such, we’ve all attended various underground and open-pit mine sites supporting Safescape,” he said.
“We find all of these mines want the same thing: safer, healthier mine environments with improved costs but without adding new risks or hazards to their operation.”
Safescape’s Managing Director, Steve Durkin, said one of the favourite parts of his job was visiting mine sites and seeing “experienced professional miners exposed to a piece of new technology that they want to understand” but might also have reservations about.
“The process of transformation over one or two hours driving in and snooping around the Bortana is awesome to watch,” Durkin said.
“The entire team at Safescape get a kick out of this and we’re really looking forward to continuing the journey to familiarise more miners with EV technology.
“Whether it is the Bortana, Tembo, Voltra or Kovatera, battery-electric light vehicles for mining is inevitable,” Durkin said.
“The benefits are just too large. We will look to do our part and continue to wish our competitors around the world the best of luck. This is a big job and together we’ll put a dent in the DPM issue underground.”