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Electric mine truck giants join forces

Metal Tech News - May 27, 2024

BHP, Rio Tinto, Komatsu, and Caterpillar forge an alliance to accelerate deployment of battery-electric haul trucks.

With all paths to net-zero-emissions mining leading through the ability to move rock without emitting carbon, two global mining companies are teaming up with two of the world's largest heavy equipment manufacturers to accelerate the development and deployment of battery-electric haul trucks.

This landmark collaboration between BHP, Rio Tinto, Komatsu, and Caterpillar supports all four companies' shared ambitions of achieving net-zero operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"This collaboration brings together two leading global miners with two of the world's biggest manufacturers of haul trucks to work on solving the critical challenge of zero-emissions haulage," said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott. "There is no clear path to net zero without zero-emissions haulage, so it's important that we work together to get there as quickly and efficiently as we can."

To accomplish this, Rio Tinto will test a battery electric version of Komatsu's 930 haul truck and BHP will trial an electric Cat 793 haul truck at the two mining companies' respective iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

"Operational decarbonization relies on breakthroughs in technology and partnerships like this will help drive our industry forward," said BHP President Australia Geraldine Slattery. "We are thrilled to work with Rio Tinto, Caterpillar and Komatsu on these trials."

Caterpillar Early Learners

BHP and Rio Tinto have both been working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through the electrification of their mining fleets. This includes working with other mining companies and equipment manufacturers to accelerate the development of battery-electric mining trucks and the infrastructure required to shift away from diesel-fueled equipment.

In 2022, the two mining giants and other industry leaders joined Caterpillar's Early Learner, a program focused on accelerating the development and validation of Cat battery electric mining trucks.

Attendees of the program were the first to witness a live demonstration of the prototype Cat 793 Electric haul truck running a 4.3-mile test track at Caterpillar's proving grounds south of Tucson, Arizona.

Roughly as tall as a two-story building and capable of carrying more than half a million pounds (265 tons) of rock per load, the 793 class Cat truck represents the type of heavy haulers used to effectively and efficiently move ore at global mines.

Caterpillar

BHP will begin testing the Cat 793 Electric haul truck at its Pilbara iron ore mining operations this year.

Transitioning mining operations configured for trucks that fuel up with diesel to those that charge batteries with ions is a much larger endeavor than just retiring the old truck for a new battery-powered version.

Understanding that mining's net-zero transition will require complete reconfiguration of mining sites, Caterpillar is installing renewable energy sources, optimized charging solutions, and energy management systems at its Tucson proving grounds.

"We know it will take an integrated, site-level solution for miners to achieve their carbon-reduction goals, and we're here to help as they redefine the way they mine for generations to come," said Caterpillar Resource Industries Group President Denise Johnson.

Komatsu GHG Alliance

Rio Tinto and BHP are also founding members of the Komatsu Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Alliance, which was created to bring together mining industry leaders to work toward a shared goal of delivering zero-emissions equipment solutions.

Upon the formation of the Komatsu GHG Alliance in 2021, Rio Tinto offered to test Komatsu's zero-emissions haulage concepts at its mines.

Over the nearly three years since the alliance was formed, Komatsu has been advancing its "power-agnostic" approach to decarbonizing mine haulage. This all-of-the-above strategy includes looking into the advantages of various zero-emission solutions, including diesel-electric, trolly, battery-electric, and hydrogen fuel cells.

During a 2023 event at the Komatsu Arizona Proving Grounds, Komatsu GHG Alliance members were able to witness Komatsu's battery-electric truck running a circuit on battery, static charging of the battery with the truck hooked up to the trolley line, and the battery being charged as the truck more quickly ran up a steep climb due to assistance from the trolley.

Toward its power-agnostic approach to net-zero mining trucks, Komatsu is working with General Motors to develop a hydrogen fuel cell power module for Komatsu's 930E electric drive mining truck.

It will be a battery-electric version of this truck capable of hauling 640,000 lb (320 tons) per load that will be tested at Rio Tinto's iron ore mines in Western Australia.

Pilbara testing begins this year

Under the battery-electric mine haul truck collaboration, BHP will begin testing Caterpillar's 793 haul truck this year and Rio Tinto will start its trials of the Komatsu 930E truck in 2024.

The two mining companies will swap notes on the outcomes of this first stage of battery-electric haul truck testing at their Pilbara iron ore operations.

"Testing two types of battery-electric haul trucks in Pilbara conditions will provide better data, and by combining our efforts with BHP we will accelerate learning," said Trott.

The data from the tests will also help Caterpillar and Komatsu refine truck and battery designs.

As the technologies for the trucks and supporting infrastructure are improved upon under the collaboration, the two mining companies expect to test larger numbers of battery-electric trucks at their operations, with the ultimate goal of transition of their fleets and mine sites to electric.

"Replacing diesel as a fuel source requires us to develop a whole new operational ecosystem to surround the fleet. We need to address the way we plan our mines, operate our haulage networks, and consider the additional safety and operational considerations that these changes will bring," said Slattery. "This is why trials are so critical to our success as we seek to test and learn how these new technologies will work in practice and integrate into our mines."

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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