Fortescue ‘green team’ goes loco for ore

Marion Rae |

The battery electric locomotives are intended to cut emissions from hauling iron ore to port.
The battery electric locomotives are intended to cut emissions from hauling iron ore to port.

“Green steel” is the ultimate prize for Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and it could start with a train ride.

Australia’s third-largest iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group says it is on track to cut emissions from transporting the ore to port with the purchase of two new battery powered locomotives.

Australia currently produces more than 40 per cent of the world’s iron ore, exporting the commodity to steelmakers around the globe.

Fortescue wants to make “zero carbon steel” by replacing coal in the furnace of a future Australian pilot plant with hydrogen, geothermal, solar, wind or hydro power.

Dr Forrest also wants to stop using diesel in the company’s truck and rail fleet. He aims to have a fleet of trucks that produce just steam as exhaust by the end of the decade and wants to develop zero-pollution trains to cut emissions in the supply chain.

Julie Shuttleworth, chief executive of green energy developer Fortescue Future Industries, said the firm’s “green team” in Hazelmere is already developing trains operating solely on green ammonia and other renewable fuels.

“The purchase of these new battery powered locomotives complements this work,” she said.

The two battery electric locomotives are intended to cut emissions, the company fuel bill and maintenance costs.

The eight-axle locomotives to be delivered in 2023 have an energy capacity of 14.5 megawatt hours and will be manufactured by Progress Rail in Brazil.

Meanwhile national rail operator Aurizon, which hauls around half of Australia’s export coal, is working with global miner Anglo American to replace some diesel trains with hydrogen fuel cells in some Queensland rail corridors.

Transport is Australia’s third largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, erasing gains made in the electricity sector as renewables replace coal-fired plants, according to the global Net Zero Tracker.

Even electric rail can be made more energy efficient, particularly high-speed passenger trains.

A team at the University of South Australia have developed smart train driving advice software to manage total power demand, which can drain electricity grids during peak periods.

Almost 6000 train drivers in France are using the Energymiser app and it is now compulsory for all new trains in the United Kingdom to have driving advice systems installed.

“If we can reduce the demand for electricity during peak periods, countries will not have to build new coal-fired stations to power their trains,” Associate Professor Peter Pudney from UniSA said. 

“We can increasingly turn to renewables.”

Dr Forrest said last year if Australia were to capture just 10 per cent of the world’s steel market, the economy could generate more than 40,000 jobs – more than what’s required to replace every job in the coal industry.