Electrifying mining: Volvo’s journey to net-zero

In the latest episode of the Green Guardians series, Mr. Yuvraj Sarda, Head – Electromobility Solutions at Volvo Construction Equipment, shares his insights on the electrifying mining and construction equipments to facilitate the transition to net-zero emissions.

Mr. Sarda is a seasoned professional in sustainable mobility with over a decade of expertise in electric vehicles. Currently leading business development for zero-emission construction equipment at Volvo, he began his career at Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles. He has played an active role in shaping EV policies, collaborating with policymakers on initiatives such as NEMP 2020, FAME, and state EV policies in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Delhi. Recognized as one of e-mobility’s top 40 under 40, he is committed to advancing eco-friendly transportation solutions.

yuvraj sarda - tpci

India Business & Trade: Can you give us an overview of Volvo’s effort to electrify its construction and mining equipment and how does sustainability fit into the vision?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: Volvo Construction Equipment, part of the Volvo Group, is driven by our values and a strong commitment to sustainability. Our goal is to achieve net zero emissions across our entire value chain by 2040, making sustainability the core of our business. To support this, we’re developing products and optimizing our value chain to meet both net zero and circular economy goals. By 2030, we aim for 35% of our global sales to come from electric or zero-emission construction machines.

Our holistic approach to sustainability covers how we treat employees, our commitment to diversity, and managing the value chain from suppliers to customers. We enable customers to return used batteries, fostering a circular economy. We’ve established Volvo Energy to manage the battery ecosystem and invested in battery manufacturing plants in Changwan and Koliya. Today, Volvo Group leads globally in electric truck fleets, with over 5,000 electric trucks sold.

In construction equipment, we have the broadest portfolio of electric or zero-emission machines globally. In India, our portfolio includes three electric excavators and two electric wheel loaders, all zero-emission. No other company in the country matches our investment in this range. We’re committed to leading the industry towards a sustainable and emission-free future. This is just a snapshot of our broader strategy, and we look forward to discussing more as we delve deeper into this topic.

India Business & Trade: What specific challenges do companies face in electrifying their fleets or heavy-duty machinery, and how do you ensure these electric machines perform on par with traditional diesel vehicles?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: When it comes to heavy-duty machines or vehicles, most are used for commercial applications, making them very cost-sensitive. Unlike cars, where you can sell a Tesla at one end and a Nixon at the other, our target segments need to keep costs down due to their commercial use. We’re working on several technological innovations to meet these cost targets and make electric machines appealing to our customers.

Another challenge is the harsh environments in which these machines operate. The equipment faces tough conditions, so safety and robustness are crucial. Customers expect electric machines to match or exceed the performance and durability of diesel ones. Engineering such robust products is challenging and costly, but we are committed to ensuring that our electric products do not compromise on performance or reliability. Innovation helps us package the same level of robustness, reliability, and safety at a competitive cost.

Additionally, different sites have varied requirements. Unlike buses with uniform applications, construction equipment like excavators is used for diverse tasks such as digging, transporting materials, and mining. Each application has its own challenges. For instance, in mines, access to electricity for charging infrastructure can be limited. Excavators often stay in the mine, continually digging deeper, without the opportunity to return for charging.

These site-specific challenges must be addressed to encourage the adoption of electric machines. Customers cannot compromise on performance and productivity, so we ensure our electric solutions meet these stringent demands.

India Business & Trade: How do you see the market demand for electric construction and mining equipment evolving in both developed and emerging economies and what economic factors are driving the shift?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: This is an interesting question. Let’s break it down into parts.

Developed Economies-

In developed economies, there’s high maturity and willingness among organizations and individuals to invest in zero-emission products. Governments in countries like Norway and the Netherlands offer incentives to support the electrification of construction equipment. This has created significant momentum due to product availability, government support, and a mature mindset open to paying extra for electric solutions.

Emerging Economies-

Emerging economies like India are growing in mining and construction infrastructure, increasing the demand for electric machines. Corporates with sustainability goals show high interest, considering pilots or long-term use. They compare total operational costs with diesel machines, and if the cost difference is small (5-10%), adoption is likely. Larger differences (30-40%) raise feasibility concerns.

Demand continues to grow on the corporate side, and retail customers are expected to follow. In high-utilization applications, customers are considering electric over diesel machines. Areas with significant fuel theft also see electric machines as a solution due to their transparency and digital nature.

We are confident that the market for electric machines will grow steadily and soon reach rapid expansion.

India Business & Trade: Are there policies in place to support the development of electric construction and mining equipment? If yes, are they sufficient?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: In the Indian ecosystem, we haven’t seen specific policies for zero-emission construction machines yet, unlike the comprehensive FAME scheme for electric vehicles which covers two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and buses. While the FAME scheme also includes a special initiative for urban transportation with plans to procure 10,000 electric buses, the construction equipment sector lacks similar focused support.

India ranks third globally in the construction equipment market and is poised to become the second-largest soon. Despite a perceived smaller volume, these machines are heavy fuel consumers, using between 5 to 50 liters of diesel per hour and operating up to 24 hours daily. Upgrading these machines to zero-emission models could yield significant savings in oil imports and contribute substantially to emission reduction, especially since many current machines lack emission norms and use outdated, polluting diesel engines.

There’s a critical opportunity for the government to drive transformation in this industry. As India continues to grow and develop its infrastructure, extensive investments are needed in ports, roads, highways, cities, and factories. This growth will significantly increase the demand for construction machines, making India a rapidly expanding market compared to more mature ones.

Key recommendations for policy intervention include:

  1. GST Parity: Lowering GST for electric construction machines to 5%, aligning with rates for electric cars and buses instead of the current 18%.
  2. Incentive Mechanisms: Introducing incentives for the initial batch of electric machines in the country, potentially supporting the first 100 units.
  3. Pilot Projects: Initiating pilot projects such as India’s first zero-emission construction or mining site, co-sponsored by the government and customers, encouraging multiple stakeholders to offer innovative solutions.
  4. Policy Mandates: Implementing mandates in government tenders requiring a percentage of machines used to be zero-emission, coordinated across ministries like Road Transport and Mining.

By implementing these measures, the government can significantly drive the adoption of zero-emission machinery, catalyzing a transformation towards sustainability in the construction equipment industry.

India Business & Trade: Considering various ideas, pilots, and initiatives the government could implement to accelerate progress, are there any innovative practices or technologies from other countries that you believe could significantly impact the construction and mining sectors in India? Alternatively, are there areas where India can innovate or improve to lead in these sectors?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: The construction and mining industries inherently face safety risks due to numerous variables and natural forces. How can technology be leveraged to introduce autonomy, enhancing safety, boosting productivity, and addressing labor cost challenges? Currently, some companies operate only two shifts due to labor costs and concerns over third-shift productivity.

Autonomous construction machines, such as dump trucks, wheel loaders, and trains, offer a solution. Technologies like Volvo Group’s autonomous hauler, known as the Tara solution, have already been demonstrated and deployed. These innovations aim to enhance safety, increase productivity, and reduce operational costs significantly by enabling 24/7 operation in mines.

China has already demonstrated the use of autonomous dump trucks in mines, achieving fully human-free operations to enhance productivity and cut costs. While implementing autonomous technology may seem challenging, focusing on specific use cases, such as autonomous waste sorting in waste management plants, can eliminate the need for human operators and optimize efficiency.

By strategically applying autonomous and electric technologies, we can innovate and improve effectiveness across various applications, making operations safer and more efficient in the construction and mining sectors.

India Business & Trade: In the context of electric mining equipment, how well do these vehicles handle the precision requirements of mining operations? Are electric vehicles capable of meeting the high precision demands inherent in mining, or is this capability a factor causing hesitation in their adoption?

Mr. Yuvraj Sarda: Precision is not affected by the transition to electric propulsion in mining equipment. The change from diesel to battery power only impacts the method of propulsion, while all other operational aspects remain unchanged. Our machines are designed with built-in precision capabilities, demonstrated by videos showing excavators delicately handling tasks like filling champagne glasses or participating in festive activities.

Whether electric or diesel, precision depends on how the machine is engineered and controlled. Electric propulsion enhances efficiency and responsiveness, notably influencing operational speed and productivity. For instance, electric wheel loaders and trucks are highly responsive to accelerator inputs, enabling operators to work more efficiently and potentially achieve higher production rates. Over time, this responsiveness can lead to noticeable productivity gains, even with machines of comparable tonnage capacities.

In summary, electric propulsion not only maintains but can enhance the precision and operational capabilities of mining equipment, contributing to improved efficiency and productivity in mining operations.

Mr. Sarda is a seasoned professional in sustainable mobility with over a decade of expertise in electric vehicles. Currently leading business development for zero-emission construction equipment at Volvo Construction Equipment , he began his career at Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles. He has played an active role in shaping EV policies, collaborating with policymakers on initiatives such as NEMP 2020, FAME, and state EV policies in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Delhi. Recognized as one of e-mobility’s top 40 under 40, he is committed to advancing eco-friendly transportation solutions.

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