ZERO Automotive was founded in 2018 to provide a solution for a market need of a zero-emissions light vehicle for mining operations, particularly underground mining. Its founder and Managing Director, Dave Mitchell, had 20 years' experience running his own business, High Performance Diesel, that designs and manufactures aftermarket components to enhance the performance of diesel vehicles. He understood the desire of mining companies to improve underground working conditions and to contribute to a better world through their emissions reduction targets, and by 2019 he had launched the ADR compliant ZED70, based on NCM (Nickel Cobalt Manganese) battery technology.
Mitchell said, "Our target is to provide a vehicle that is superior overall than what our customers are currently using. We understand that the industry is pretty hazardous to the lifespan of vehicles, and the chassis in particular are prone to body integrity issues, especially in underground conditions. Couple that with the maintenance required to keep what is under the chassis operating properly, and the cost of fuel to run the engine, producing unhealthy by-products, and the total cost to operate a single vehicle over a decade is substantial. While initially more expensive than a diesel light vehicle, in certain use cases we can match or even beat the equivalent diesel light vehicle total cost of ownership, and will continue to make design improvements based on customer feedback to extend the life of the battery electric drive system and the vehicle mechanical systems."
Late that year OZ Minerals went to tender for a pilot bELV which ZERO Automotive won based on specific evaluation criteria including safety, performance, quality, cost, collaboration, agility to change, and local support - being Australian made. A subsequent risk analysis uncovered a need to move to a safer battery chemistry for underground operations, and this led to the selection of Toshiba Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) batteries, which were subsequently tested by the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service to verify their lack of harmful reactions to extreme accident events. This new version was called the ZED70 Ti. These batteries gave the ZED70 Ti a number of different characteristics from the ZED70 besides being inherently safer, including longer life and shorter charging times at the expense of longer range.
A key component of any company moving to battery electric vehicles is the change management component of getting the workforce comfortable with the safety and operational aspects of these vehicles. To that end the ZED70 was sent to OZ Mineral's Carrapateena mine site and test driven by a significant percentage of the workforce, with their comments being fed back to a combined team for review and addressing. In addition, both vehicles were test driven by employees based in Adelaide so they also had first-hand experience of the simplicity of the driving process and the way the vehicle could be programmed to enhance the operability and longevity of the investment. At the beginning of 2021, the ZED70 Ti was sent to site and successfully completed its commissioning requirements on the second day, including 4 trips in and out of the mine without a recharge, and was duly certified for underground operations.
"The collaborative and agile approach used by OZ Minerals on this pilot project was instrumental in getting the ZED70 Ti designed, built, tested, commissioned and certified successfully in such a short period of time," said Mitchell.
ZERO Automotive now have two more ZED70 Ti vehicles on order for OZ Minerals, and three on order for Barminco, which will all incorporate a 22kW AC charger and DC-DC fast charging capability. ZERO Automotive is currently a partner on the Electrification Consortium and along with OZ Minerals and Barminco, who are also members, are trying to contribute to a ‘best value' approach to mining charging infrastructure. These next five vehicles will incorporate the CCS Combo2 (CCS2) socket to facilitate the use of AC and DC charging infrastructure above and underground, with the intent to better understand how the system will be scaled in the most user-friendly and cost-effective manner. Three of ZERO Automotive's personnel are working with the Consortia's team to navigate through this, with many more in the background implementing the design changes to the vehicles. The workforce has also seen recent additions in mining operations, engineering and workshop technicians in readiness for the launch into full scale production in 2022, where a target of 200 vehicles per year capacity is the aim, rising rapidly to 500 per year and beyond. ZERO Automotive plan to stay close to tertiary motorsport clubs and local trade colleges for internship and hiring opportunities to meet their forecasted skills needs. Senior hires have generally been referred to the company and come on board due to their alignment with the company philosophy.
"We are always on the lookout and excited to team up with companies that have similar goals to ours," Dan Taylor, the Business Development Manager said. "That includes moving towards Zero emissions because that's better for the health of the workforce and better for the environment. In the mining industry, that's not an easy journey to start. We decided we wanted to help kick start that journey by providing a small, simple and meaningful step toward a Zero-emissions future. If you're a passionate leader that wants to start that journey, we'd love to hear from you."