Mark Hutchinson, the head of Fortescue Energy, says the company’s “green fleet” team is now testing a 240 tonne mining haul truck that was developed with Liebherr, which uses a 1.4MWh battery (which itself weighs 15 tonnes) that has been developed by Fortescue’s Williams Advanced Engineering team.
Hutchinson also revealed that the company is also commissioning a prototype a 3MW fast-charger to re-charge the truck, which is operating at the Christmas Creek mine that is partly powered by a nearby 60MW solar farm.
“We’re on track to begin testing (the fast charger) on site this quarter,” Hutchinson told analysts and media on a call to discuss the company’s latest quarterly production results. “This will help us to understand and develop whole truck duty and charging cycles. To have developed and gotten ready and delivered technology of this scale for on-site testing is a huge feat. This is really exciting progress.”
To put the size of these electric trucks, batteries and fast chargers into perspective, electric passenger cars have weights of one to two tonnes, feature batteries that range from 50kWh to 100kWh in capacity, and generally plug into fast chargers that range from 50kw to 350kW.
Fortescue is also testing the first of its hydrogen fuel cell trucks at the mine, which fits into its big global plans for green hydrogen, but may not be able to compete with battery electric trucks at mine sites. “We are putting both technologies on site this calendar year, so we can figure out the round-trip efficiency and use those insights to make final decision on what our fleets will be in the future,” says Christiaan Heyning, the head of decarbonisation.
Mining companies such as BHP and Rio have already flagged that battery electric beats hydrogen on costs, although trials will continue as the world watches how the costs in battery and electrolyser and fuel cell technologies develop in coming years.
Hutchinson says Fortescue is continuing its research and development into battery electric vehicles and the batteries themselves at WAE, including for trains such as the so-called “infinity train” that it is hoping to deploy at its Pilbara mines. This train is based on the idea that a fully laden train going downhill from the mines to the port will effectively charge the batteries – through regeneration – enough to take the empty trains back to the mine. And so on.
But it is also trialling its first “dual-fuel” trains that use green ammonia – mainly for other customers that may not have the advantage of the height difference needed to make the infinity train concept work.