The sales of China’s coal mining robots has reached close to 1 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion), despite an incipient and highly fragmented market for these contraptions, an industry report says.
China’s Social Sciences Academic Press (SSAP) published a study last week on the country’s robotic industry between 2022 and 2023, indicating that the nation’s coal mining robots, a specialized segment, have been growing rapidly due to heightened concerns about coal mine safety.
The study point out that in 2021, the country counted 368 companies focusing on the manufacturing of coal mine robots, up 25.17% year on year.
Coal is one of China’s major sources of energy, despite its efforts to diversify away from it.
Coal mining robots are thus increasingly sought after to replace human miners in highly dangerous environments, as deadly coal mine accidents and high mortality rates are a long-standing scourge of the industry.
China’s research on coal mine robots began in 1980s, and nowadays there is a complete set of technical protocol for the gadgets, such as the standards they are subject to.
In 2019, China’s National Mine Safety Administration issued a catalog of robots worth developing for coal mine applications.
The catalog lists 38 types of robots across five categories that can be tasked with fulfilling “crucial yet risky” work under mine shaft. It also sets forward requirements they must meet.
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Worldwide, the sales of coal mine robot amounted to some US$384 million in 2021, an increase of US$68 million over the previous year and making up 1.32% of global robot sales during the same year, according to the study released by SSAP.
China’s coal production in 2022 totaled 430 million tons, up 10.5% from a year earlier. Ren Lixin, an official with National Energy Administration, told a press conference in April this year that coal will continue to occupy a “beckrock” position in China’s energy mix.
Therefore, it will be vital for coal mine operation to become more intelligent, he added.
“The production of coal is accompanied by such hazards as flooding, fire, gas leak, geopressure and powdered dust,” said Ren. “If coal mines were to become smarter, at least half of the dangerous jobs could be eliminated, and even unmanned mining could become a reality.”
According to Huang Jinsheng, director of National Mine Safety Administration, 200 billion yuan worth of investments have been pledged into the smart transition of mines nationwide, with half of the sums already going into actual projects.
Altogether some 1,000 coal mine robots across 31 types have been adopted at mining sites. Around 300 autonomous mining vehicles have been put to test at over 30 open-pit coal mines, he explained.
The SSAP study forecasts China’s demand for coal mine inspection robot to hit 902 units, with a corresponding market size of 759 million yuan by 2027.
Meanwhile, another 692 units of coal digging robot are expected to be sold by 2027, generating 2.76 billion yuan in revenue, the study predicts.