Tying up loose ends

Well, it’s finally here. Like it or not, we are in the last few weeks of 2023, a time to wrap up projects, assess the status of others, and for some, to look introspectively at what’s to come. There are a number of newsworthy turns in the industry that involved parties did a great job of keeping details under wraps until just recently, a couple of which may alter how the industry views itself – and how others view it – in 2024 and beyond.

One was confirmed in early November, when Freeport-McMoRan said its Bagdad operation in Arizona will become the first copper mine in the United States to implement a fully autonomous haulage system. Its entire fleet of 33 Cat 793 haul trucks will be converted to utilize Cat MineStar Command for hauling. 

It’s worth noting that Caterpillar has more than 620 autonomous trucks in active use with 15 customers on three continents.

The announcement comes just a handful of months after Komatsu and Toyota made a joint statement in June that they were testing an autonomous light vehicle at the OEM’s proving grounds that will operate with Komatsu’s autonomous haulage system. Komatsu has, as of May 2023, deployed over 650 trucks at 22 sites in five countries in terms of autonomous haulage.

Could 2024 be the year autonomous haulage takes its rightful place at the forefront of tomorrow’s mining in North America? Only time will tell, but the indicators certainly look like we’re getting closer; we hopefully will see the proof of its ongoing success in boosted safety for all.

On the post-use front, innovators have been hard at work, and operators are sharing in the momentum. Also in early November, just before press time, coal producer Ramaco Resources said it, after years of working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), acquired a patent for the commercial development of a coal-to-products technology that uses coal as feedstock to help create vehicle batteries, construction and infrastructure materials, and more.

The process involves a conversion of coal and coal-related mining waste to graphene for composite materials as well as an add-in for battery electrode performance. NETL and Ramaco first began their partnership in June 2018, when the pair inked a cooperative research and development agreement to discover new uses for coal.

Kentucky-based Ramaco Resources has met mines in southwestern Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Ah – the perfect segue to one last note to close out the year. When you return from holiday break, there will be just under three months remaining until the first-ever West Virginia Coal Show, being held in conjunction with the West Virginia Coal Association Symposium, its 50th annual gathering. At press time, booth reservation opportunities were dwindling, so check out wvcoalshow.com as soon as possible to get your application and pick your placement. 

Here’s to a solid close to everyone’s year, a joyous holiday season, and the best start to 2024 for you and your organizations. Happy New Year.

Donna Schmidt, [email protected]

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