Rio Tinto Group, the world’s biggest producer of iron ore, will deploy zero-emissions trains at its Pilbara mines in Australia from 2023 under a deal with American manufacturer Wabtec Corp.
Wabtec will supply four of its battery-electric FLXdrive locomotives for use at Rio’s mine sites and to transport ore to ports on the West Australian coast. Rio, which has a fleet of around 220 trains in the Pilbara, said the deal would help to meet its target for a 50% reduction in operational emissions by 2030.
“These four trains are part of the journey to understand and build knowledge and capability to be ready to replace and upgrade over time,” said Richard Cohen, managing director of Rio’s port, rail and core services. The group would look to step up its replacement of diesel trains—which make up around a third of Rio’s total diesel use—from 2025, he said.
The FLXdrive, which Wabtec says is the world’s first fully battery-powered locomotive, has the potential to cut Rio’s fuel costs and emissions by double digits in percentage terms per train, the companies said in a joint release.
Rio joins other Pilbara ore producers in looking to decarbonize their operations. Wabtec announced in September a deal to supply trains to Roy Hill Holdings Pty Ltd., majority-owned by Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart. Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. said last week that it would buy two battery-electric trains from Caterpillar Inc., also to be delivered in 2023.
Rio said in October it would spend $7.5 billion over the next decade on decarbonization projects, including a plan to build a gigawatt of renewable power for its Pilbara mines and exploring the use of battery-powered trucks.
The company, headquartered in London, is also under pressure from investors to cut Scope 3 emissions, generated by its customers in the steel industry, which accounts for about 7% of global emissions. Rio is targeting a reduction in the emissions intensity of its steel-making customers by 30% over the next decade. That’s in line with rival BHP Group, although not as ambitious as Fortescue, which is aiming for net-zero Scope 3 emissions by 2040.