Fuel Cell Aspects and Future Developments Needed for Mining

CIM Montreal 2007
David Barnes, Marc Bétournay, Marcel Laflamme,

Arnold Miller, David Barnes, Marc Bétournay, Marcel Laflamme, Gaetan Desrivières

Several proof-of-concept projects have been successfully carried out to demonstrate the applicability of fuel cells in underground mines. This has included functionality of fuel cells under environmental and physical mining conditions, operation of vehicles with fuel cell or fuel cell-battery power plants and hydrogen storage, all functioning under successful risk-mitigated technology operating conditions.

Several other projects and studies are required to provide practical technology developments for hydrogen fuel cell technology to become specifically applicable for the mining industry.

This article will summarize the basis for current fuel cell power plant design as well as the field performance of fuel cell vehicles and other applications to date.

On the basis of this experience, industry operational requirements and anticipated fuel cell technology developments, the following considerations will be discussed.

As the technology already provides significant improvements to underground air quality, green house gas reductions and energy efficiency, the most important aspect of any future technology development for the industry, and one which may well represent the deciding incentive for making a major shift from conventional power source utilization, will be benefits to mine extraction. This includes increase in power density trends and the implications for vehicle service and new mine extraction strategies. Similarly, improvements in hydrogen storage (types and quantity) will have a significant impact on the duration of equipment availability for ore extraction, making full manless and continuous mine automation a significant possibility. This would increase productivity by 20-30%.

Technology suppliers must however be capable of providing fuel cell stacks that are warrantied and dependable for significantly more hours of service than is currently the case. This becomes a moot point if the power unit is no longer serviceable because of technological obsolescence. Decreasing unit cost aspects will be discussed with respect to technology introduction, ease of operational replacement in vehicles and comparison of capital and operating costs of power sources for underground mining vehicles (diesel and hydrogen).

This article will also present ideal power plant architecture to meet current mine vehicle operation requirements and a strategic outline of power plant development requirements to meet the discussed considerations, as well as the operational field test program which will provide the mining industry with an ideal, economic and advantageous fuel cell technology. Mine maintenance capabilities and regulatory issues will be considered factors.
Keywords: Proof of concept projects, Mining fuel cell testing program, Fuel cell technology evolution, hydrogen, Mining fuel cell power plant
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