Big Boys Toy — 240 Tonne Electric Vehicle

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It has been a rough week for one of Australia’s richest men — Twiggy Forest. He has had a widely reported difference of opinion with fellow billionaire Mike Canon-Brookes over their massive Sun Cable project. Opinions range from seeing it as a spat over governance to those who think that the project is non-viable. An article is pending on this one.

It is great to see the man get a late Christmas present to cheer him up, a 240-tonne big boys toy. We reported on Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) electrifying large vehicles early last year and its purchase of Williams Advanced Engineering in order to use its battery technology to power huge mining trucks. Now, this is coming to fruition.

It is a fitting symbol of the race to decarbonize heavy haulage and stop the planet from “cooking.” It brings together leading thinkers and engineers under one family brand to drive progress and combat climate change, a partnership between Formula One and heavy industry. Or will it lead to Mad Max on steroids, the racing of 240-tonne trucks through the outback?

Fortescue Founder and Chairman Andrew Forrest AO said at the time: “This is a major milestone in the future of our Company as we welcome WAE to the Fortescue family. FFI and WAE will work together to decarbonise Fortescue — and in turn the global heavy industry and hard to abate sectors — for the good of our planet, and the benefit of our shareholders. Today’s announcement builds on our commitment to remove fossil fuel powered machinery from our operations and to replace it with zero carbon emission technology, powered by FFI green electricity, green hydrogen and green ammonia.”

Electrification of mining has been around for some time, and there has been significant movement of late as miners seek to reduce their emissions and fight climate change. FFI presents this truck as a significant step forward.

As per Fortescue Futures media release:

“Fortescue’s decarbonisation journey has taken a major step forward today, with WAE Technologies (WAE) completing and delivering to Australia the largest battery of its kind, ready to be installed in a prototype zero-emission battery electric mining haul truck that Fortescue it is developing with Liebherr.

“The state-of-the-art 1.4MWh prototype power system sets the pace for ground-breaking innovation in heavy industry and is a bespoke design intended for integration into a 240-tonne mining haul truck.

“The battery will be integral to Fortescue’s US$6.2 billion decarbonisation strategy to help eliminate fossil fuels from its terrestrial iron ore operations, which includes replacing its existing diesel-fuelled fleet with battery electric and green hydrogen powered haul trucks.

“A team of 50 engineers and technicians are responsible for developing the pioneering power system, which weighs 15 tonnes, measures 3.6m long, 1.6m wide and 2.4m high, and is made up of eight sub-packs, each with 36 modules, all individually cooled and each with its own battery management system.

“It is a massive achievement that has been completed in record time and marks several firsts for an electric mining haul truck battery, with energy storage of 1.4MWH, the ability to fast-charge in 30 minutes and capacity to regenerate power as it drives downhill.

“Fortescue Future Industries CEO Mark Hutchinson said, ‘WAE and Fortescue are working together to seek to decarbonise faster and more effectively than any other major industrial company in the world. The battery system, designed for our zero emission battery electric mining haul trucks is an important part of our strategy to reach real zero terrestrial emissions (Scope 1 and 2) across our iron operations by 2030; WAE’s battery expertise compliments FFI’s green hydrogen projects and cements Fortescue as a leader in the technologies needed for the green energy transition.’

“The battery has now arrived at Fortescue’s workshop in Perth, Western Australia, and will be assembled and installed, before its transported to the Pilbara for world-leading testing on site in 2023. […]

“This system is the first of many technologies that can help enable Fortescue to realise its industry leading 2030 net-zero target. Powered solely by renewable energy, it will help prevent enormous amounts of fossil fuel from being used in the mining industry, with the goal to not compromise the vehicle’s load capacity. This is an inspiring example of what can be achieved combining Fortescue’s pioneering green energy vision for its global vehicles and WAE’s extensive expertise in advanced batteries.”

From the perspective of WAE Technologies CEO Craig Wilson: “Today marks the latest milestone in the rapid development of state-of-the-art zero emission technology for Fortescue’s mining trucks. This high-performance power system not only boasts the highest energy storage of its kind, but will also be the first to offer 30-min fast charging.”

As FFI comments above, in some situations, mining trucks like this don’t have to recharge at all. Gravity and regen braking will do it for them. If you are driving uphill to the mine, the empty truck just needs enough charge to climb the hill. It can load at the top, and regenerate on the way down. Easing a massive load down a long incline will refill the battery. As trials are undertaken, real-world data will inform this view.

Twiggy’s eDump truck is not the first big boys toy to be employed in the mining industry. Swiss company Kuhn Schweitz unveiled the Elektro dumper in 2019.

“Komatsu Elektro Dumper has currently been deployed by Kuhn Schweiz at a quarry in Switzerland. The vehicle transports 65 tonnes of limestone and marly rocks from a hilltop to a unit stored at the base of the hill in one trip. The company has noted that its e-dumper also uses regenerative braking, which essentially rotates the electric motor in reverse direction every time the brakes are applied. This leads to energy generation which is stored in the battery back. Using this technology the Komatsu e-dumper, over a days work, generates enough power to charge its battery completely and even supply the remaining surplus energy to the power grid.”

Mine owners globally will be keen to save on fuel costs by moving in the same direction as FFI. Huge mining trucks are very thirsty, consuming hundreds of liters of diesel a day. Caterpillar and Volvo already have full EV stuff working underground. FFI’s new truck will be for topside duty. Underground work might be the harshest environment of all (short of marine).

Hopefully this will spark a competition — “my truck is bigger than your truck” … “my truck charges faster than your truck” — and the rEVolution electrifying the mining industry will intensify. Don’t get distracted, Dr Forest. We don’t want Sun Cable to be Twiggy’s Twitter.




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