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Opibus - Mining electric vehicle
Image courtesy OpibusOpibus — mining electric vehicle.

Clean Transport

Opibus Builds First Fully Electric African Mining Vehicle

Opibus, a Kenyan electric vehicle designer and manufacturer focused on creating products tailored for the region with quality, price and local production in mind, has just unveiled one of Africa’s first fully electric vehicles for the mining sector.

The vehicle system is based on a modular electric powertrain which makes it easy for mining operators to convert their current fleet of vehicles to electric without having to invest in new vehicles. This reduces cost as well as resource usage even though new vehicles can also be made completely electric. The first step in the conversion process is to service the vehicle to ensure that the body and chassis is in prime condition if it’s a used vehicle. Secondly, the fuel tank and engine are removed to leave space for the new electric powertrain.

Vehicles are also sent to any of Opibus’ certified partners, where the proprietary electric conversion kit is then installed. The motor is bolted on to the vehicle with an adapter (retaining 4×4 capabilities), while the front battery box and center battery box are bolted into the old component placements, meaning most of the vehicle is being used without invasive operations. This gives the new vehicle enhanced dynamics as the batteries move the center of gravity lower. Opibus also provides charging and energy solutions, as the vehicle can be charged completely with solar to lower operational costs even further and minimize diesel transport. This will be critical in areas where mines are running where there is no grid connection.

The vision for the company is to electrify Africa’s transport sector and accelerate the transition to renewable energy. The company is founded on three pillars, electric conversion systems for utility and public transport, electric motorcycles, and energy and charging solutions. The company not only builds products that are more sustainable for the environment, but is also building an end-to-end sustainable ecosystem. This creates much needed local job opportunities. Opibus is building products that make sense for local use cases, designed for Africa, in Kenya.

Opibus initially focused on the safari and tourism industry to anchor its business, converting old off-road safari and game drive vehicles to electric using its proprietary electric vehicle drivetrain. The Opibus team is very passionate about the electric vehicle conversion business and they see it as the most resource efficient way of accelerating the transition to electromobility in a less capital intensive manner. There are tens of thousands of old ICE vehicles on the continent that have their chassis and bodies still in very good condition, making them ideal for conversion. The mass transit market is also a priority market for Opibus. Opibus is converting small and high capacity buses from ICE to electric and the first deliveries will begin in October of this year. Opibus is now also scaling up production of its electric motorcycle that was fully designed and developed in-house in Kenya. You can have a look at the motorcycle and the assembly line in this video here.

The first fully electric vehicle for the mining industry whose powertrain is designed and built in Africa for Africa is a game changer.  The mining sector plays a major role in a lot of countries across the continent. For example, the mining sector in Zimbabwe accounts for about 60% of the country’s exports. The mining sector contributes significantly to government revenue and employs more than 37,000 people in formal jobs and over 200,000 artisanal and small-scale miners. In South Africa, in 2018 the mining sector contributed R351 billion ($25 billion) to the South African gross domestic product (GDP). A total of 456,438 people were employed in the mining sector in 2018 and each person employed in the mining sector has up to nine indirect dependents. In Ghana, the mining sector also plays a vital role in the economy. The mining sector is responsible for more than half of all foreign direct investment (FDI) and generates more than one-third of all export revenues.

Campus-centric businesses such as mines are perfect for electrification. Fleet managers at campus-centric businesses are generally in a position to afford new electric vehicle models as well as these converted vehicles. This makes it an industry where quick wins can be realized on the road to electrifying the transport industry. Fleet managers have a periodic fleet replacement cycle that could be taken advantage of. They offer an opportunity for high volume orders, further incentivising original equipment manufacturers.

Vehicles operating at these mining campuses generally have predetermined routes and duty cycles which makes it easy to plan charging sessions. This removes one of the major concerns highlighted by people, which is range anxiety. These predetermined/set routes of known distances allow fleet operators on these large campuses to easily adopt electric vehicles without disrupting their normal operations, as well as scheduling charging sessions using onsite EV charging points. A lot of these mines are starting to install solar to help power their operations, which means these mining vehicles will be charged with cleaner and more affordable electricity onsite, which will further improve the value proposition. EVs and PV are a match made in heaven and we will soon start to see more developments in this space in the critical mining sector.

The Opibus vehicle enables mining to become more sustainable and will also reduce the need for expensive ventilation underground as there are no emissions. Also, with electric vehicles makes the working environment safer as the risk of flammable fuels is completely gone and communication is easier with the silence of the vehicles. Charging of the vehicle can be done on the grid or completely off-grid with solar panels or other systems. Lucy Mugala, Research and Development engineer at Opibus, says “This vehicle is a game changer for the mining industry. It makes it possible to operate a mine completely without need for fuel infrastructure. Even more so if solar panels and battery backup systems are combined with the electric vehicles. It makes it possible to lower operations costs by almost 60%.”

A few facts about the vehicle:

  • Power 120 kW
  • Torque 600 Nm
  • Top speed >80 km/h can be manual speed-limited
  • Battery size 38 / 58 kWh (two different options, All LFP)
  • Range 90 / 140 km (depending on battery size)
  • High quality water- and dust-proof battery housing
  • Better vehicle dynamics with new weight distribution

All images courtesy of Opibus

 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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