Meet the People: Haley-Anna Blinn

Working as a young, female BEV applications engineer for Sandvik has provided Haley-Anna Blinn with extensive knowledge and experience, going forward into the battery-dominated mining industry.

HALEY-ANNA BLINN IS based in Ontario, Canada, but works out of the Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions facilities in Camarillo, California. Her work is currently focused on helping mines understand the economic and technical feasibility of implementing battery- electric vehicle fleets. She also recognizes that there’s no one-solution-fits-all, and welcomes creative electrification ideas.

“We’re seeing lots of other creative solutions outside of BEV-centered electrification as well,” Blinn says. “One example is Glencore’s Raglan Mine in Canada, where they’ve built a hydrogen loop for long-term energy storage paired with a 3 MW wind turbine for energy generation. This was built in an effort to reduce the remote site’s dependence on diesel-based power generation.”

Blinn never thought she would be working in the mining industry. Her education is in astrophysics and math. “I began working at Artisan while I was a student, as a research and development intern. That allowed me to do research on electrochemical cells and their degradation mechanisms.”

She then transferred to a customer site in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, that operated the largest BEV fleet at the time, mostly utilizing Sandvik equipment.

“That enabled me to develop a lot of working knowledge on the technology itself, specifically Sandvik technology. Then, in 2022, I decided that I wanted to pursue working for Sandvik as I felt the battery world was what interested me the most, and I wanted to stay in it,” Blinn says.

Working with BEV applications and having experience from customer mine sites has enabled her to understand why mine sites have different needs and concerns when it comes to adopting a BEV fleet.

We’re going to be seeing a lot more of diversified clean energy solutions in the industry

Is there a certain skepticism connected to making the shift to BEV fleets?

“With the introduction of new technologies, the mining industry is rightfully a bit apprehensive to adopt it quickly. In my experience, mining is very stringent on safety, and being able to quantify the risks associated with any task in the operation is critical. Batteries are not so simple and the industry does not possess the working knowledge to feel as comfortable as they do with more traditional technologies. Batteries are electrochemical objects that complete chemical reactions to deliver and store energy. The storage and distribution of energy, when you’re referring to traditional electrical systems outside the battery, is something that mines have strict regulations on and standards to follow. Thus, companies are not very eager to adopt it right away, without understanding every facet of that technology.”

So how does Sandvik work to ensure that the batteries coming from you are safer than only a couple of years ago?

“It’s taken a long time to educate and provide materials in order to understand what we’ve done. One of the most significant choices we’ve made to mitigate safety hazards is the choice of chemistry in our batteries. Our cells are lithium-iron phosphate, which is a subset of lithium-ion batteries. Not many people are familiar with subsets of lithium-ion batteries, but we chose lithium-iron phosphate as our particular chemistry because it is very stable. It has a relatively high tolerance for thermal runaway, and low heat release rate (HRR), as compared to other lithium-ion cells. Thermal runaway is the uncontrolled release of heat and energy from the cell, caused by the cell internal temperature exceeding critical limits. Other types of lithium-ion chemistries engage in thermal runaway at lower tempera- tures than ours, which would lead to issues in the hot and humid underground environments our vehicles are deployed in. Furthermore, lithium-iron phosphate chemistry has a low heat release rate compared to most chemistries, meaning that if a cell were to undergo thermal runaway, it wouldn’t ignite as easily and it wouldn’t release the stored energy as violently as other chemistries. A chemistry with a higher heat release rate would more readily experience cell off-gassing, bursting or ignition – things you wouldn’t want happening in your battery, and certainly not within the confines of an underground environment.”

What is the biggest challenge for you and your team right now?

“My role right now involves aiding mine sites in the pre-sale stage, understanding the economic and technical feasibility of imple- menting a battery fleet at their operation. So, I’d say the biggest challenge is that every mine site has different parameters that would make battery operation more or less feasible. For instance, we see mine sites who are more willing to adopt because their local governing body has imposed regulations that have made it economically unfeasible to operate diesel, so BEVs are a prudent choice. In British Columbia, Canada, there’s existing regulation, and suspected to be more coming, that would really restrict the use of diesel engines in underground mines. Also, in many regions diesel prices are very high, which makes the argument for BEVs a lot easier. We also look at the mine design, as BEVs may unlock potential production areas in some cases, or may require extra infrastructure in others. In terms of supply, a lot of companies are recognizing that this is a new technology to the mining industry and our factory production levels aren’t yet at peak, so they’re going to have to get involved early if they want to have a fleet in the next five years available to them. However, the hardest part of these projects is definitely assessing the mine site and all of the micro and macroeconomic factors that affect it, and trying to model how feasible the fleet implementation will be from an economic standpoint since it’s different every time.”

What about the concern of diminishing raw materials?

“I genuinely believe things like asteroid mining might become a feasible endeavor in the future, even though it may not be taken very seriously by most people at the moment.”