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BHP orders battery electric locomotives

To be tested at its Western Australia Iron Ore rail network Metal Tech News - January 18, 2022

On the heels of Rio Tinto's order for four battery-electric locomotives to pull trains of iron ore in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, BHP has placed an order for four of its own battery-electric locomotives to be trialed on its Western Australia Iron Ore rail network.

Both of these global miners see electrification of mining and transport equipment as an important facet of achieving their steep carbon dioxide emission reduction targets moving forward.

"Replacing diesel-powered vehicles with electric technology is a key part of our plans to reduce operational emissions, as is partnering with a broad range of global equipment manufacturers and technology providers," said BHP Group Procurement Officer James Agar.

BHP calculates that a full transition to battery-electric locomotives would reduce diesel-related carbon dioxide emissions at its Western Australia iron ore operations by roughly 30% annually. This is identical to Rio Tinto estimates that the rail transport of iron ore from mine to port accounts for 30% of CO2 emissions at its iron operations in the Pilbara region.

Read more about Rio Tinto's plans to trial battery-electric locomotives to lower the carbon emissions of transporting iron ore from its Pilbara mines at Electric trains to haul Rio Tinto iron in the January 12, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.

"WA Iron Ore is significant within BHP's global operations, and I am pleased we can play a leading role in helping to develop new and innovative solutions with potential to shape our business for a cleaner future," said Brandon Craig, asset president at BHP's Western Australia Iron Ore.

BHP ordered two of its battery-electric locomotives from Progress Rail, the rail division of Caterpillar and BHP's current supplier of rail products and services, and two from Wabtec, the transportation solutions company that is also supplying Rio Tinto with its electric locomotives.

"Rail is the fundamental link in our pit-to-port value chain, and the power required to deliver fully-laden iron ore wagons from the Pilbara to Port Hedland is significant," Craig added. "Trialing battery-electric locomotives in collaboration with Progress Rail and Wabtec has great potential to support our operational emissions reductions targets and goals."

Progress Rail will be delivering two EMD Joules, its new battery-electric locomotive, to BHP.

"We are excited to support BHP with our EMD Joule locomotives for deployment on its Pilbara railway," said Progress Rail President and CEO Marty Haycraft. "Equipped with the latest technology, our eight-axle, 14.5-MWh (megawatt-hour) battery capacity locomotives provide optimal levels of energy regeneration and will play a pivotal role in helping BHP reach its sustainability goals."

Wabtec is providing two FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives that are similar to the four it is delivering to Rio Tinto.

"The rail and mining industries are on the cusp of technological advancements to equip customers with zero-emission locomotive fleets," said Wabtec President of Freight Rogerio Mendonca. "The FLXdrive is a major step toward eventually achieving that vision. It will provide BHP with the tractive effort, fuel savings, emissions reductions and reliability to cost effectively run their rail operations."

Once the four battery-electric locomotives are delivered, which is slated for late in 2023, BHP will test their performance and emissions reduction capabilities while transporting iron ore from its Pilbara mines to Port Hedland, where the iron ore is loaded on ships bound for international markets.

A fully laden BHP Western Australia iron ore train typically has four diesel-electric locomotives pulling approximately 270 cars carrying a total of 38,000 tons of iron ore. It is expected that during the trials, the battery-electric locomotives will work alongside the diesel locomotives to form a type of hybrid locomotive system.

In addition to providing a real-world test of the performance of these battery-electric locomotives, the trials will test unique 'energy recapture' opportunities using the rail network's natural topography to further reduce the trains' overall power demand. On the way to port, battery-electric locomotives can capture energy from braking on downhill slopes – energy that would otherwise be lost – and use it to help power empty trains back to the mines at Pilbara.

While testing both Progress Rail and Wabtec locomotives during this trial will provide BHP a head-to-head comparison of the battery-electric technologies offered by both companies, testing two electric locomotive brands may be more about supply diversification than competition for the global mining company.

BHP currently has 180 locomotives in its iron ore haulage fleet, which the company plans to transition away from diesel over the coming years. This could result in major battery-electric locomotive orders for both manufacturers – on top of the growing number of battery-electric locomotive orders both rail suppliers are expected to receive from other mining companies and the wider rail markets.

"By working with two global leaders in Progress Rail and Wabtec, we can broaden the scope of our trials and be better informed as we prepare for the planned replacement of our diesel-powered iron ore rail fleet," said Agar. "This is a good first step with significant potential."

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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