Where ­Giants Roam the Earth

Heavyweight vehicles in a strip mine

Getting at the Earth’s mineral resources – whether coal or copper, gold or iron ore – requires some seriously heavy-duty equipment. Excavators the size of a house and dump trucks as heavy as ships do the hard work today in mines around the globe.

When the steel colossus plunges its gigantic shovel into the ground, the earth literally trembles. In a single scoop, the excavator can move 45 cubic meters of material – enough to fill 400 bathtubs to the brim. Weighing in at over 810 tons, the R 9800 excavator from Liebherr numbers among the world’s heaviest hydraulic excavators. Other members of this elite circle of super excavators are made by Komatsu and Hitachi of Japan and Caterpillar in the USA.

Their natural habitat is the strip mine. In mines and quarries from Australia to Uganda, hydraulic excavators and giant dump trucks work in tandem, moving hundreds of tons of rock each day. The performance figures for these trucks are equally astonishing: The Belorussian-made BelAZ-75710, with a payload of 450 tons, tops the charts when it comes to load-carrying capacity. Its two MTU diesel engines, with 65 liters of cubic capacity each and a joint output of 4,600 HP, give the 20-meter-long behemoth a top speed of 64 km/h. Output is directly transmitted via four Siemens electric motors located directly at the axles. 

This kind of performance has its price – reflected chiefly in an insatiable appetite for diesel. For this reason, innovative companies around the world are working to develop more sustainable drive concepts. The “eDumper”, developed by a consortium consisting of Bern University of Applied Sciences, Interstate University of Applied Sciences of Technology in Buchs, Switzerland, the EMPA Research Institute for Material Sciences and Technology, Kuhn Schweiz AG, and Lithium Storage GmbH, is leading the pack. The Swiss have developed a completely electric vehicle based on a Komatsu dump truck, which has been operating in a quarry owned by cement maker Vigier Ciment in the Jura Mountains ever since May 2018. Like its diesel-powered brethren, the eDumper is a record-setter: Not only is it the world’s largest wheeled e-vehicle, it also features the heaviest battery ever built into an electric vehicle. The battery weighs 4.5 tons – that’s more than two medium-sized cars.