It is a demonstration prototype of the conversion of a diesel mining vehicle to a fully electric one, through the use of fuel cells based on the use of hydrogen.

 The project, led by the UTFSM, would become the first prototype of this type worldwide.

 With the objective of solving two major challenges that the mining industry has, which are the reduction of CO2 emissions and excessive fuel costs, in 2018 an international consortium led by the UTFSM was awarded a Corfo project that seeks to shift from the use of diesel in mining operations to give way to mining electromobility.

 Dr. Patricio Valdivia, academic of the USM and alternate director of the technological program tells us more details of this innovative program, unique worldwide.

 What is the fuel cell project for mobile mining equipment?
The technological program of mining electromobility through fuel cells, consists mainly of developing a demonstration prototype of a medium-power mining vehicle that operates on a diesel basis to a fully electric one, through the use of hydrogen-based fuel cells.

Who participates in the project?
This is a high-level international consortium led by the UTFSM and its Electrical Engineering department together with the National Hydrogen Center of Spain, the Hydrogen Foundation of Aragon, Ballard, Fraunhofer Chile and the Energy Sustainability Agency. As partners, that is, the industrial entities involved in the initiative, we have Codelco el Teniente, Sierra Gorda, Ancares Energy Ltda., Bozzo Energy, and Linde.

Additionally, there are different interested entities, such as the CNE, the INN, ACERA, Komatsu among others.

What are the benefits for the mining industry?
The mining industry has two challenges to solve in the medium term: one, the reduction of CO2 emissions associated with the operation of diesel vehicles with a view to extracting a more sustainable mineral; and two, the excessive fuel costs of the fleets of mining vehicles. This technological program partially resolves both mining challenges because it seeks to displace diesel use from mining operations to give way to more sustainable mining and the introduction of mining electromobility.

 Since when are they working on it?
This program was awarded by Corfo in February 2018 and formalized in September of the same year, consequently it has 1 year and 3 months of formal work, however we are working together with the partners and mining companies on the subject since September 2017.

 What is the progress you have so far?
To date, and technically, we have a preliminary and 100% electric propulsion train design that efficiently balances the energy requirements from the fuel cell, batteries and supercapacitors.

From the regulatory point of view, we have made progress in achieving a comprehensive review of the regulations and regulations required in Chile to operate electric vehicles powered by hydrogen-based fuel cells.

Regarding the formation of human capital, to date there is a masters degree, three candidates for this masters degree and approximately five engineering memorists specialized in the use of hydrogen-based fuel cells.

When do you expect to be able to implement it?
The first demonstration prototype should be in mining operation by 2021.

What are the main challenges facing the project?
1.- The efficient design of an adequate propulsion train to the load profile of the vehicle to be converted, which is intrinsic to each mining task
2.- incorporate the necessary norms and regulations to operate this technology in Chile.
3.-To train the enabling technological capabilities necessary to massify electromobility based on hydrogen batteries in mining and different productive sectors.

Internationally, is there a country that has a project like this in operation?
There is evidence of demonstration pilots in Canada, USA and Australia, but commercially and mass deployment, nothing. We hope that from Chile we will permeate the know-how of massive implementation of mining electromobility through the use of hydrogen batteries and the design of a hybrid propulsion train system.