The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Electrifying mining's green revolution

Metal Tech News - November 27, 2023

With no Plan(et) B, Wabtec is pushing ahead with tech to electrify trains and trucks for net-zero emissions mines.

From electric trains delivering Western Australia iron ore to the next generation of zero-emissions mining trucks, Wabtec Corp. is committed to providing the decarbonizing electrification solutions that will allow the mining industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

"What we are working on today is making sure that all of our solutions are geared towards helping mines achieve this goal through electrification," said Wabtec Vice President of Technology Joy Mazumdar. "Mines are targeting to achieve that in 2050, but we have to take steps towards making our solutions meet zero emissions for the OEMs before that."

Wabtec's race to provide the mining sector with low-carbon transportation solutions is based on one primary premise – "there is no Plan(et) B!"

Plan A for curbing the warming of Planet A is a global push for low carbon dioxide-emitting energy and transportation technologies. These technologies, however, require enormous new supplies of minerals and metals to build the electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, and supporting infrastructure needed for the shift from pipelines to powerlines for delivering global energy needs.

Wabtec says the answer to efficiently moving the requisite huge volumes of mined commodities the world needs for the energy transition is to create tech solutions that enable productivity, safety, and sustainability.

"It's a fresh blueprint for success: mine safer and smarter, tread lighter, and be future-ready," Wabtec penned in a release outlining its blueprint.

Electric trains deliver iron

Wabtec is already providing solutions that are assisting some of the world's largest mining companies in achieving their steep carbon dioxide emission reduction targets.

In two separate deals announced early in 2022, Rio Tinto and BHP ordered FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives from Wabtec to deliver iron ore from mines in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto was the first, with an order for two Wabtec battery-electric locomotives to replace the diesel-electric locomotives that have traditionally pulled trains loaded with iron to Western Australia ports.

Rio Tinto estimates that a complete swap from diesel to electric rail transport will reduce its diesel-related carbon emissions in the Pilbara region of Western Australia by around 30%.

"Our partnership with Wabtec is an investment in innovation and an acknowledgment of the need to increase the pace of our decarbonization efforts," Richard Cohen, managing director of port, rail, and core services – iron ore at Rio Tinto, said when the locomotives were ordered.

As an added bonus, the electric drive, which can add charge to the batteries during the generally downhill trek of pulling cars to sea level, is expected to significantly lower fuel costs.

Right behind Rio Tinto, BHP put in an order for four Wabtec FLXdrive locomotives to pull its iron ore-loaded trains in Western Australia.

"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.

The first FLXdrive locomotive for mainline service in the Pilbara region, however, will deliver ore from Roy Hill's iron mines.

The FLXdrive locomotive, which is slated for delivery in 2024, will work with Wabtec diesel-electric locomotives to form a hybrid system for pulling 33,000 metric tons of iron ore per trip to the coast.

"By using regenerative braking, it will charge its battery on the 344 kilometer (214 mile) downhill run from our mine to port facility and use that stored energy to return to the mine, starting the cycle all over again," said Gerhard Veldsman, CEO of Hancock Prospecting Group Operations, a private company that owns Roy Hill. "This will not only enable us to realize energy efficiencies but also lower operating costs."

Adopting tech for mining trucks

Taking what it has learned from the early success of its FLXdrive locomotives, Wabtec is now developing a battery-electric mining truck to haul ore and other materials within the mines.

While these industrial applications for battery-electric drives have many similarities, it is not a one-to-one technology transfer. Batteries for mining haul trucks must store more energy in a smaller space and deliver more power than is required for their battery-electric locomotive counterparts.

Wabtec is working diligently on this problem, and "the mining truck prototype powered by batteries are coming in the very near future," according to Mazumdar.

"We plan on testing them at the end of 2024, and we expect commercial production to begin around 12 months from the completion of testing in mid-2025," the Wabtec Technology VP added.

To help lower the emissions and improve the efficiency of diesel mining trucks currently in service, Wabtec has developed trolley assist technology, which uses electric motors connected to an overhead line to tow diesel and even battery electric trucks up steep grades faster and more efficiently than they are able to under their own power.

Diesel trucks save about 90% fuel while being pulled up a grade with a trolley. This technology also has the potential to assist electric trucks up the most battery-draining section of their circuit – climbing a steep grade with a full load of ore. Whether diesel or battery, trolly assist makes the climb out of a mining pit much faster.

Wabtec believes that its work to revolutionize and electrify the freight train and mining truck industries with cutting-edge tech solutions is pivotal for a sustainable future in mining.

"The work we do here is transformational, and our engineering team brings these industry-leading breakthroughs to the marketplace. Ultimately, we're focused on meeting the market's zero emissions expectation," says Mazumdar.

For Wabtec, there is no Plan B.

"There are interim goals for the reduction of 30% by 2030, and 40% by 2040, but by 2050 it has to be zero. No emissions," the technology VP added.

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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