Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Uncovering the Heart of the New Afton Mine

For some, the mention of a mining operation might evoke images of dark tunnels, heavy machinery, and loud, diesel-guzzling engines. But today, as part of the Pole to Pole EV expedition, we’re telling a different story. We visited the New Afton Mine, a location that’s not only been in operation for over a decade but one that’s striving to rewrite the narrative around traditional industries and sustainability.

Delving into the Depths

The New Afton Mine has been operational since 2012, extracting copper, gold, and a small quantity of silver. With a network of tunnels stretching more than 3.5 kilometres horizontally and plunging to depths of 780 metres, the scale of this operation is truly humbling. As we ventured below, it was the future of heavy machinery and industrial equipment that truly captured our imagination. We weren’t met with the diesel-guzzling machines traditionally associated with the mining industry but instead found a fleet of fully electric vehicles (EVs) that have become the backbone of the New Afton operation.

Facing the Unexpected: Chris’s Shaving Saga

Before diving into our journey underground, let’s address the unexpected adventure we had above ground. Chris, known for his impressively bushy beard, faced a challenge he never anticipated: the shave of all shaves!

Now, you might ask, what’s a beard got to do with mining? Well, a lot when safety is at stake. Miners, and those merely visiting like us, must wear Respirator Protective Equipment (RPE) to guard against not-so-friendly silica dust and other chemicals. And here’s the twist: RPE and beards, they’re not the best of friends. A clean-shaven face ensures the protective mask fits snugly to prevent any hazardous particles from sneaking in.

So, as a requirement to enter the New Afton Mine, Chris had to say farewell to his beloved beard. We’ve included a fun before-and-after photo for your enjoyment, showing Chris’s transformation from a rugged adventurer to a smooth-faced spelunker. It was a light-hearted moment that reminded us of the lengths we go for safety, even in the quest for sustainability. And let’s be honest, Chris now looks at least five years younger!

Powering the Future Underground

Comprising of one Sandvik LH518B loader, two Sandvik Z50 50-tonne haul trucks, and a MacLean BT3 boomtruck, the four-vehicle electric fleet is an astonishing sight to behold. To give you a sense of scale, when fully loaded, these machines can weigh up to a whopping 70,000 to 98,192 kgs! Despite these massive figures, what struck us was the quiet efficiency with which these electric giants worked. Powered by enormous battery packs each weighing around 10 tons, the loader and trucks can operate for approximately 2.5 hours before needing a swap out, a process that takes just over 2 hours.

The Advantages of Going Electric

The benefits of this electrification are multi-fold. Not only are these EVs more efficient – they outperform their diesel counterparts in speed, hauling up the ramp at a speedy 16km/hr compared to the diesel’s 6km/hr – but they also significantly improve the workplace environment. With no tailpipe emissions, there’s a marked reduction in harmful gases like CO and NO2, not to mention the reduction in heat and dust. This transformation is not just about mining more effectively; it’s about creating a safer, healthier workplace and showing that traditional industries can change their ways to better care for the planet.

A Glimpse of Challenges and Opportunities

However, the journey towards a more sustainable mining operation is not without challenges. As the industry undergoes this rapid transition, the training and education for heavy-duty mechanics are still playing catch-up. With increased operating hours, familiarity with these electric giants’ unique needs and failure modes will improve, leading to reduced troubleshooting time. Recognising this need, Canadian colleges are now offering training programs to upgrade mechanical skills for these new BEV vehicles. This growing expertise bodes well for the future of mining and other heavy industries.

A Reflection from the Depths

Venturing into the depths of New Afton Mine we got a real sense of this tough balancing act. Seeing the big electric machines working hard in the dim tunnels was quite something. At the same time, it was a stark wake-up call to how far we go to meet our increasing need for resources.

But, you know what? Amidst this gritty reality, it was uplifting to see that the folks at New Afton Mine aren’t just sitting on their hands. They’re taking real action to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. Their switch to electric vehicles is a big leap towards cutting down on emissions and giving their miners a breath of fresher air. More than that, by welcoming EVs into their world, they’re showing they’re not afraid to shake hands with new tech and take steps towards a cleaner, greener way of getting the job done.

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