BHP, Rio Tinto trial new battery-electric haul trucks in WA mining

Australia’s two largest mining companies are set to trial new battery-electric haul trucks at their sprawling Pilbara operations, in what one energy analyst has called a “massive opportunity” for the nation’s industrial future.

BHP and Rio Tinto will begin testing the performance and productivity of electric trucks in the iron-ore rich Pilbara region in WA alongside manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsu, part of a larger net zero push from the behemoths to lower their operational emissions.

“Operational decarbonisation relies on breakthroughs in technology and partnerships like this will help drive our industry forward,” BHP President Australia Geraldine Slattery said on Monday.

“Replacing diesel as a fuel source requires us to develop a whole new operational ecosystem to surround the fleet.

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“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.

“This is why trials are so critical to our success as we test and learn how these new technologies could work and integrate into our mines.”

Two CAT 793 haul trucks will be trialled from the second half of 2024 and two Komatsu 930 haul trucks will be tested from 2026.

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BHP and Rio Tinto are moving to transform their haul truck fleets to battery-electric. Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Caterpillar and Komatsu will each provide one truck to both BHP and Rio Tinto for the trials.

BHP will trial the Caterpillar trucks, while Rio Tinto will trial Komatsu.

The results of the trials will be shared between the companies and will inform the potential rollout of more battery-electric trucks across each company’s operations.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said there was “no clear path” to net zero without zero-emissions haulage.

“It’s important that we work together to get there as quickly and efficiently as we can,” he said.

“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.

“As we work to repower our Pilbara operations with renewable energy, collaborations like this move us closer to solving the shared challenge of decarbonising our operations and meeting our net zero commitments.”

Climate Energy Finance senior analyst Tim Buckley heralded the announcement as a “massive opportunity” for Australia’s mining and industrial future.

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BHP and Rio Tinto boast vast iron ore operations across WA: NCA NewsWire / Sharon Smith Credit: Supplied

“This is a massive opportunity for Australia to lead the world,” he told NewsWire.

“For us to deploy and derisk new technology and that does require collaboration.

“BHP and Rio can be rivals in selling iron ore, but we need them to collaborate on supply chains to really derisk and get the benefit of common buying and scale.”

He said the spending power of miners like BHP, Rio, Fortescue and Glencore could potentially attract Komatsu and Caterpillar to build a factory in Australia.

“We know they will need a massive amount of trucks and it could underwrite a factory,” he said.

“Four or five of the biggest mining companies in the world are in Australia and that is a competitive advantage.

“Let’s extend that comparative advantage by encouraging a world leader like Caterpillar or Komatsu or Liebherr to come and build a factory here.”

The trial follows a MOU between BHP and Toyota Australia from August last year to electrify mining giant’s fleet of 5000 vehicles.

BHP mine sites host predominantly diesel-powered Toyota LandCruisers and HiLuxes.

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