Fuel cell versus diesel loader operation: Cost-benefit analysis study

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 98, No. 1087, 2005

M.C. Bétournay, P. Laliberté, R. Lacroix, C. Kocsis, S. Hardcastle, G. Desrivières, P. Mousset-Jones and G. Righettini

Over the last few years, a number of research projects to prove out the concept of applying fuel cell technology to underground mining vehicles have been managed by Vehicle Projects LLC for the Fuelcell Propulsion Institute. These have been carried out with the support of mining companies, trade unions, regulatory agencies, equipment manufacturers, research laboratories, technology developers, universities, and consultants. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is clean and produces only water and electricity. This yields several advantages in the health area (by eliminating diesel emissions and reducing noise generation) in supporting better mine vehicle automation and in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emission production. A study on the economic advantages of using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles was initiated to quantify the costs associated with operating fuel cell vehicles and diesel vehicles. A complete and detailed analysis of operational and capital cost elements was undertaken in order to provide the mining industry with factual information in considering the changeover from one technology to another. This paper outlines the results of the investigations defining the costs/benefits associated with capital purchases, operations (electrical/diesel, mine air heating fuel, ventilation, openings, surface and underground infrastructure, maintenance, labour, etc.), delivery of energy, regulatory obligations, and mine production. Considerations are given to the type and size of a mining operation, the depth, and location in North America. With respect to relative economics, the area where fuel cells are most beneficial is in reducing the operating cost of the primary ventilation system that provides the bulk flow through the mine. This is due to a cubic relationship between flow and power. The next best area is in mine heating, which is linearly related to airflow. The area least affected is in auxiliary fan power consumption. The reasons for this are twofold: first, it would be very expensive for a mine to totally replace its auxiliary fan inventory with smaller units, whereas primary fans are normally flexible in their delivery; and second, for blast fume clearance, a high-capacity flow may need to be retained. However, even in those mines where the ventilation economic advantage is relatively small, it must be remembered that fuel cells will be beneficial to the health of the underground workforce through the removal/reduction of diesel contaminants, especially diesel particulate matter (DPM), highly suspected as a carcinogen. As DPM regulations are expected to become very strict in the near term, the current operating procedures will have to be modified to incorporate higher ventilation and larger capital and operating costs in control measures for diesels. Fuel cell power would be the clean solution of choice, also beneficial in reducing equipment noise and heat production levels. It will also decrease a mine’s attributable GHG emissions through reduced combustion of diesel fuel and fuel to heat the mine air (26% of the primary Canadian mining extraction sector emissions) given no diesel vehicle operating underground. While ventilation savings are clearly an advantage, capital costs are higher for fuel cell vehicles at this time. Considerable examination will be required on a case-by-case basis to see if the operating savings will be sufficient to offset equipment capitalization costs. With the intensification of manufacturing, it is anticipated that the high cost of fuel cells will be reduced significantly in the near future.
Keywords: Fuel cell, Diesel, Costs, Benefits