Tuesday, September 23

Can A Mining Truck Be Carbon Neutral?

A dumptruck-load of iron for a wind turbine will provide energy for more than 100 years: now Caterpillar will dig it up with a giant EV

While it's not the pleasantest prospect for a treehugger like me to dwell on, there is stuff we need to dig out of the earth, even to build the clean power economy.

I am not thinking here of tar-sands, oil or coal, because we can substitute clean power for these environmental disasters.

But to put solar panels on more roofs, we need to mine silicon. To build the batteries to run an electric vehicle nation we will need to mine lithium. To build more wind turbines we need...you get the picture.

Initially at least, to build turbines and solar panels, the raw materials like steel and silicon needed to make clean energy are dug out of the earth, just like the dirty energy supplies of fossil fuels like oil and coal.

The huge difference is that a dumptruck-load of steel for a wind turbine will provide energy for more than 100 years, but a dumptruck-load of tar-sand, coal or oil will just goes up in smoke in a few hours.

Making mining eco-friendlier is going to be part of a carbon-neutral world. In response to this need, this week at the Nevada mining truck expo, Caterpillar is unveiling a 345 ton all-electric-power mining truck, the worlds largest EV to date.

It will go into production in 2010. They will also display another one at a mere 250 tons, presumably for moving smaller vast piles of dirt, that one will be available in either electric or combustion engine options. 80 year old Caterpillar has a corner on this market: no other manufacturer is attempting to build mining trucks over 200 tons with an electric motor rather than using the 100 year old internal combustion engine. That may have something to do with Caterpillar joining the carbon-responsible industry group USCAP.

In the late 1960s Caterpillar was one of the first manufacturers to try electric-drive trucks but abandoned that line of vehicles with the end of the Age Of Aquarius, but now that we are counting our carbon emissions, Caterpillar has opted for a building a climate friendlier mining industry.

To be environmentally friendlier, electric powered mining trucks would need to be charged using clean power, say from wind, solar, geothermal etc. Currently, mining silicon is dirty because of mining truck diesel emissions.

Frequently wind's greatest potential is out where people don't live (they don't live there because it's too windy) but there is still mining to be done there. Solar is best where the solar radiation is so intense that there's now evaporated seas-full of lithium that will need to be mined there to run all our EVs. Think of the salt deposits of Nevada.

But what if an industrial scale solar or wind farm in those areas supplied the charging power for electric mining trucks. I wonder how much this would reduce at least the carbon costs of mining?

For Matter Network

Photo By Philip Greenspun