Revolutionizing Canada’s mining industry with electric vehicles

- Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Thanks to NRC-IRAP support, Saskatoon’s PapaBravo Innovations developed a line of rechargeable electric vehicles for the mining sector to replace the diesel-guzzling trucks currently in use – eliminating noxious fumes in the process.

Working underground in mining often means breathing air that can be less than fresh.

Miners in Canada typically rely on heavy machinery – diesel-powered and emission-generating – that leave the air thick with pollutants. But thanks to PapaBravo Innovations and its rechargeable, exhaust-free vehicles, workers across the industry can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The Saskatoon company (since purchased by Prairie Machine & Parts) was the force behind an impressive variety of rechargeable electric-battery vehicle (EV) technologies. PapaBravo’s cutting-edge mining vehicles, in particular, are especially popular for underground operations because, unlike gas or diesel vehicles, there are no toxic emissions.

Focussing on electric vehicles for mining

In recognition of its contribution to Saskatchewan innovation, PapaBravo’s original prototype, the Gofer-EV beta unit, is on permanent display at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon (Photo: Western Development Museum, Saskatoon)

It all started in early 2008, when PapaBravo’s parent company, SBC Case Industries, began an electric vehicles R&D project, investigating their feasibility on regular, open-air roads. The research progressed to the development of EVs specifically for underground mines. Rapid success in this field quickly dwarfed the company’s original core business.

PapaBravo first contacted the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) in late 2008. At the time, it was experimenting with EV technology, but didn’t yet have a concrete business model in place. NRC-IRAP assisted the company with developing a focused R&D technology plan which would speak directly to the requirements of industry.

"NRC-IRAP first encouraged us to harness our technical horsepower," said Patric Byrns, PapaBravo’s CEO. "From there, the funding we received allowed us to bring on additional qualified personnel, including well-experienced engineers, to expand our technical abilities to tackle bigger projects."

Working from the underground-up

PapaBravo’s first venture into the harsh underground mining environment was with an electric personnel carrier, the Gofer-EV beta unit. The 4-seater people mover was developed with support from NRC-IRAP’s youth employment program. Once a prototype was completed, it exceeded expectations both above and below ground. After it was launched, the company immediately received requests for additional variant models to address similar technical, environmental and ergonomic challenges.

Success led to the development of a suite of state-of-the-art vehicles, including the Marmot-EV, a second-generation truck with advanced features, including 4-wheel independent electric propulsion with regenerative braking, further allowing the utility vehicle to function in environments beyond the province’s potash mines. These EVs can travel 120 kilometres per charge, using batteries that recharge in less than an hour. This allowed them to meet the rigorous demands of open pit and hard rock mines, which call for prolonged power requirements to overcome steep entry ramps.

"PapaBravo developed a rechargeable electric-battery platform similar to the everyday cordless drill," said Aman Abid, Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) with NRC-IRAP.

"Our assistance provided the company with a substantial toolbox of knowledge and direction, such as the EV Technology Roadmap and strategic market intelligence data, allowing them to take on larger and more complex projects."

Finding EV synergies

Since working with NRC-IRAP, PapaBravo’s business has exploded, requiring the firm to move to a facility four times larger. It’s been recognized with numerous industry awards for its fresh take on clean technologies and its clean, environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional mining machinery. In recognition of its contribution to innovation in Saskatchewan, PapaBravo’s original prototype model, the Gofer-EV beta unit, is on permanent display at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon. (pictured)

"Really, the sky’s the limit, and that needs to be credited back to IRAP support. We wouldn’t have been able to bring on the people we needed at the times we needed them if IRAP hadn’t been there to help us."

"We came so far in four years. There is no denying that our success was attributable to projects that NRC-IRAP supported," said Byrns.

PapaBravo went from a start-up to a global competitor in the EV mining sector. The firm was fielding inquiries from across Canada as well as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, when it captured the attention of fellow Saskatoon firm PM&P, which acquired PapaBravo in January 2015. Recognizing the potential with Byrns as a key R&D advisor, it added the fleet of PapaBravo electrically driven transport vehicles to its own roster, planning to eventually convert all its current and future mobile mining equipment to PapaBravo’s rechargeable electric-battery technology.

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