BHP, Rio Tinto trial battery-electric haul trucks

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Australia’s two biggest mining companies are set to test new battery-powered dump trucks at their sprawling operations in Australia’s Pilbara region, in what one energy analyst has described as a “huge opportunity” for the country’s industrial future.

BHP and Rio Tinto, along with manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsu, will begin testing the performance and productivity of electric trucks in the iron ore-rich Pilbara region of Western Australia, part of a larger initiative by the two companies to reduce their operational emissions towards net zero.

“Operational decarbonisation relies on technological breakthroughs and partnerships like this will help drive our industry forward,” BHP Australia President Geraldine Slattery said on Monday.

“To replace diesel as a fuel source, we need to develop a completely new operating ecosystem around the fleet.

“We need to rethink the way we plan our mines and operate our transportation networks, and we need to consider the additional safety and operational aspects that these changes bring.

“That’s why trials are so critical to our success as we test and learn how these new technologies work and integrate into our mines.”

Two CAT 793 dump trucks will be tested from the second half of 2024 and two Komatsu 930 dump trucks from 2026.

Caterpillar and Komatsu will each provide BHP and Rio Tinto with a truck for the tests.

BHP will test Caterpillar dump trucks, while Rio Tinto will test Komatsu.

The results of the tests will be exchanged between the companies and will serve as a basis for the possible introduction of additional battery-powered trucks in the two companies’ operations.

Simon Trott, chief executive of Rio Tinto Iron Ore, said without zero-emissions transport there was “no clear path” to net zero.

“It is important that we work together to achieve this goal as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said.

“Testing two types of battery-powered electric dump trucks in Pilbara conditions will provide better data and by combining our efforts with BHP we will accelerate the learning process.

“As we work to power our Pilbara operations with renewable energy, collaborations like this bring us closer to solving the shared challenge of decarbonising our operations and meeting our carbon neutrality commitments.”

Tim Buckley, senior analyst at Climate Energy Finance, called the announcement a “huge opportunity” for Australia’s mining and industrial future.

“This is a huge opportunity for Australia to take a global leadership role,” he told NewsWire.

“Introducing new technologies and minimising their risks requires cooperation.

“BHP and Rio may be rivals in the sale of iron ore, but we need them to work together on supply chains to truly minimise risks and reap the benefits of joint purchasing and economies of scale.”

He said the purchasing power of mining companies such as BHP, Rio, Fortescue and Glencore could potentially persuade Komatsu and Caterpillar to build a factory in Australia.

“We know they will need a huge amount of trucks and that this could enable the financing of a factory,” he said.

“Four or five of the largest mining companies in the world are in Australia and that is a competitive advantage.

“Let’s build on this comparative advantage by encouraging global market leaders like Caterpillar, Komatsu or Liebherr to come here and build a factory.”

The test follows a memorandum of understanding between BHP and Toyota Australia in August last year to electrify the mining giant’s 5,000-vehicle fleet.

BHP’s mining sites primarily produce diesel-powered Toyota LandCruisers and HiLuxes.

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