Destination Zero: Cracking the carbon code

Miners in Australia take up the sustainability challenge and join Cummins on the path to zero emissions.

The high-horsepower diesel engine is just one aspect of many in the complex picture of sustainability in the mining industry.

It’s an important one, nonetheless, due to its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric pollutants while powering the mighty machines involved in the extraction of natural resources as the global demand for minerals and energy rises.

The willingness of mining companies around the world to reduce their environmental footprint is seeing massive changes in the pipeline as decarbonisation gathers momentum.

And in Australia, the efforts of major iron ore and coal miners in reducing their carbon footprint are well documented.

Cummins’ stance is clear, as outlined by chief executive officer Jennifer Rumsey.

“We recognise that Cummins and our industry contribute to the need to address climate change,” she said. “With 12 million engines in the field today, we (at Cummins) have an opportunity to make a significant impact by being part of the solution.”

With its Destination Zero strategy, Cummins is committed to net-zero carbon by 2050.

The strategy calls for improving the company’s core products today to reduce carbon while bringing to market the zero-carbon technologies that will power tomorrow. Among the goals is a 25 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from newly sold products by 2030.

Rumsey emphasised that making existing technologies more efficient is an important step in getting to net-zero.

“We can make a big difference by improving the efficiency of diesel engines in the next decade,” she said.

“Those products will be out there for many years beyond that. We shouldn’t just focus on zero only; we need a combination of advancing zero and improving the engine-based products that we have today.”

The majority of high-horsepower Cummins engines sold into mining in Australia today have Tier 4 architecture, meaning industry-leading reductions in CO2 and diesel particulate emissions.

Diesel engines certified to Tier 4 meet the most stringent off-highway emissions in the world.

While exhaust emissions from off-highway equipment are still unregulated in Australia, Cummins has developed a double-edged solution for its latest generation high horsepower engines like the QSK50 and QSK60.

Both are available with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment technology for Tier 4 compliance. Even without SCR, the engines retain Cummins’ advanced Tier 4 architecture, which means a host of product improvements, the company said, mainly to improve combustion efficiency and reduce emissions.

According to Cummins, the cleanest high-horsepower diesel engines operating in mining in Australia today are its QSK50 and QSK60 Tier 4 units powering haul trucks and excavators in the NSW Hunter Valley. These are the only high-horsepower engines operating in Australia with full Tier 4 compliance.

In fact, Cummins’ entire high-horsepower QSK range spanning 19L, 23L, 30L, 38L, 50L, 60L, 78L and 95L is now offered with Tier 4 compliance using SCR technology.

Cummins also recently announced that its top-rated engine, the 4400hp QSK95, can safely be used with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) – or ‘renewable diesel’ – without affecting its Tier 4 emissions compliance. Cummins’ full range of high-horsepower engines is expected to be approved for HVO use in 2023.

HVO is made from vegetable oils and animal fats and oils, reducing well-to-work carbon intensity by up to 90 per cent compared to conventional diesel fuel. HVO’s chemical and physical properties are like those of diesel fuel, but its fossil-free composition and low carbon content provides a simple and efficient alternative to diesel.

This initiative is a strong example of Cummins’ overall commitment to develop decarbonisation solutions and proactively advance the company’s current technology to achieve emissions reductions.

The challenge for Cummins is developing a wide variety of carbon-reduction solutions that meet the unique needs of its customers across many markets. These solutions include internal combustion (clean diesel, hydrogen and natural gas), alternative fuels, hybrid, battery-electric and fuel-cell electric.

Cummins is a strong advocate of hydrogen fuel technology and is collaborating with major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to advance the development of zero-emission mining haul trucks using hydrogen fuel cells.

The company has already deployed several thousand fuel cells in on-highway and off-highway applications and has hundreds of active electrolysers around the globe, turning water into hydrogen through the process called electrolysis.

The company recently announced it will supply a 90-megawatt proton exchange membrane electrolyser system for Varennes Carbon Recycling’s plant in Quebec, Canada.

The project, which will be the largest electrolyser project Cummins has announced to date and a key step in advancing North America’s hydrogen-based economy, will help turn non-recyclable waste into biofuels and circular chemicals.

This feature appeared in the June 2023 issue of Australian Mining.

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