14th August 2022
Fortescue Metals Group has unveiled a $50 million plan to develop a regenerating battery electric iron ore train project – dubbed the Infinity Train – in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering, the British company Fortescue it bought in January.
In an ASX announcement on Tuesday, Fortescue confirmed it had completed the acquisition of WAE, for a final sum of just over $A300 million ($US221m), and was working closely with the company’s industrial battery technology division on the zero emissions train technology.
In what it described as a world-first development, Fortescue said the train would use the gravitational energy generated on the downhill loaded sections of the iron or giant’s rail network to recharge its battery electric systems, removing the need for additional charging on the return trip to reload.
Fortescue said the self-sustaining system would increase the company’s operational efficiency, lower maintenance costs, and eliminate diesel and the associated CO2 emissions from its iron ore train network.
The project – a joint effort of Fortescue’s green industrial arm, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), and WAE – would be carried out over the next two years and classified as operating cost efficiencies.
Fortescue said its current rail operations included 54 operating locomotives that hauled 16 train sets, together with other on-track mobile equipment; each train was able to haul 34,404 tonnes of iron ore in 244 ore cars.
Currently, these rail operations consume tens of millions of litres of diesel a year – 82 million in financial year 2021 – and account for 11 per cent of Fortescue’s Scope 1 emissions.
The goal is for the diesel consumption and associated emissions to be eliminated altogether once the Infinity Train is fully implemented across Fortescue’s operations, in line with the company’s target of being diesel free by 2030.
Once that is taken care of, the next goal is to pursue the commercialisation of the Infinity Train, on a global basis.
“The Infinity Train has the capacity to be the world’s most efficient battery electric locomotive,” said Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines in a statement on Tuesday.
“The regeneration of electricity on the downhill loaded sections will remove the need for the installation of renewable energy generation and recharging infrastructure, making it a capital efficient solution for eliminating diesel and emissions from our rail operations.”
Fortescue founder and chair, Andrew Forrest said the zero emissions train technology was also about lowering the company’s operating costs, creating maintenance efficiencies and productivity opportunities.
“The Infinity Train will join Fortescue’s green fleet under development, and will contribute to Fortescue becoming a major player in the growing global market for green industrial transport equipment, providing great value for our shareholders,” Forrest said.
“The commercial opportunities for FFI as it pioneers this technology, captures its value and distributes it globally are obvious,” he added.
“Less obvious, but just as important, is that we lower our operating costs, eliminate the cost of diesel from our company and of course, our carbon emissions.
“The Infinity Train continues FFI’s inexorable march to change the world’s attitude to energy generation. To move business leaders and politicians globally to the realisation that fossil fuel is just one source of energy and there are others rapidly emerging, which are more efficient, lower cost and green. The world must, and clearly can, move on from its highly polluting, deadly if not stopped epoch of fossil fue,” Forrest said.
Fortescue’s $50 million push into electric locomotives follows similar moves by other Australian and global mining giants, including BHP, which announced in January that it was trialling four battery-electric locomotives on its Western Australia Iron Ore rail network, as part of its 2050 net zero target.
About a week earlier, that same month, Rio Tinto made a similar announcement, that it too would buy four battery-electric trains from US-based Wabtec for use at its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia, as part of its own efforts to halve its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030.