BHP joins the party on electric rail

BHP

Newman train. Image: BHP

BHP will add four battery-electric locomotives to its Western Australian rail network, becoming the fourth major miner to improve rail decarbonisation efforts in Australia since mid-December.

Of the four locomotives, two will be provided by BHP’s current manufacturer and Caterpillar company, Progress Rail, while American equipment provided Wabtec will also provide two of its own FLXdrive locomotives.

Each locomotive with be eight axle, 14.5-megawatt-hour units and BHP will investigate energy recapture technology on downhill slopes, taking advantage of the Pilbara’s topography.

All four units will be delivered by 2023 as BHP powers towards total electrification of its iron ore rail fleet between its Pilbara mines and the Port Hedland export facility which includes more than 180 locomotives.

BHP asset president for Western Australian Iron Ore (WAIO) Brandon Craig recognised the importance of decarbonising this part of BHP to ensure its continued operations.

“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 said.

“Trialling battery-electric locomotives in collaboration with Progress Rail and Wabtec has great potential to support our operational emissions reductions targets and goals.”

Once complete, this full transition to battery-electric locomotives should reduce BHP’s WA iron ore diesel-related carbon emissions by about 30 per cent.

BHP group procurement officer James Agar said this was only the beginning of the company’s efforts to remove diesel from its rail fleet.

“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,” Agar said.

“This is a good first step with significant potential.”

In December, fellow major miner Anglo American partnered with leading rail freight company Aurizon to implement the former’s hydrogen fuel cell technology into Aurizon locomotives.

Early January then saw Fortescue Metals Group purchase two of its own eight axle battery-electric locomotives from Progress Rail which are being manufactured at a Brazilian facility.

Most recently, Rio Tinto ordered four seven-megawatt-hour FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives from Wabtec as part of its strategy to halve its carbon emissions by 2030.

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