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Electric Locomotive Supports Sustainable Mining in Australia

Four next-generation battery-powered electric locomotives will come online in 2023 to help reduce emissions and provide fuel savings at a giant iron ore mine in Australia.

Kevin Clemens

January 24, 2022

3 Min Read
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Mining giant Rio Tinto has ordered four FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives to support the company’s rail network in its iron mining operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The 100-percent, the battery-powered locomotive will help Rio Tinto’s effort to achieve a 50-percent reduction in its carbon emissions by 2030.

FLXdrive is US-based Wabtec’s newest development—a battery-electric freight locomotive proof-of-concept and performance testing in late 2020 on a route between Barstow and Stockton in California. Wabtec has been a leading global provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions, and value-added services for the freight and transit rail industries, as well as the mining, marine, and industrial markets for more than 150 years.

“Our partnership with Wabtec is an investment in innovation and an acknowledgment of the need to increase the pace of our decarbonization efforts,” said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Managing Director of Port, Rail and Core Services Richard Cohen in a news release. “By locking this in now, we are making progress in our efforts to reduce our Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.” 

Saving Fuel and Reducing Emissions

Rio Tinto ordered the newest version of the FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive, which features an energy capacity of 7 megawatt-hours (MWh). Based on the route from the mine to the port at Dampier in Western Australia and Rio Tinto’s mainline rail operations, the FLXdrive is anticipated to reduce the company’s fuel costs and emissions in percentage by double digits per train.

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“The FLXdrive is ideally suited to support Rio Tinto’s sustainability targets for their Pilbara system,” said Rogerio Mendonca, President of Freight Equipment for Wabtec. “This locomotive provides the tractive effort, fuel savings, and emissions reductions to cost-effectively run rail networks in the mining industry. The rapid adoption of the FLXdrive by Rio Tinto and other mining operators demonstrates the industry’s commitment to decarbonizing their operations. This solution represents a major step toward achieving zero-emission locomotive fleets in the future.”

FLXdrive Battery Locomotive at a Glance:

  • Energy Source                         Lithium-ion batteries

  • Size of battery                         20 racks consisting of approximately 20,000 cells

    • HVAC system to maintain battery temperature

    • Battery Management System (BMS)

  • Energy capacity                       2.4-megawatt-hours (MWh) (expanding to 7 MWh)

  • 4400-horsepower output           30-40 minutes (recharging during dynamic braking)

  • Emissions                                Reduces train’s emissions by at least 10%

  • Charging                                  Wayside charging station/Dynamic braking during operation

  • Maximum weight                    430,000 pounds

  • Maximum speed                     approximately 75 mph

  • Number of axles                     6: 4 are powered

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According to the company news release, Wabtec will deliver the FLXdrive battery locomotives to Rio Tinto in 2023. The mining company plans on using the locomotives in multiple applications including as a shunter in the railyard and ultimately in mainline service. In mainline operations, Rio Tinto currently uses three diesel-electric locomotives in a consist to pull trains with 240 cars hauling about 28,000 tons of iron ore. The FLXdrive will recharge during the trip through regenerative braking and at charging stations. Wabtec’s next-generation energy-management software system will determine the optimal times to discharge and recharge the batteries along to route ensuring the most fuel-efficient operation of the entire locomotive consist during the trip. 

“Rio Tinto is a progressive leader in the mining industry adopting advanced technologies necessary to drive sustainable, efficient operations that deliver results for its customers, shareholders, and communities,” said Wendy McMillan, Regional Senior Vice President Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand for Wabtec. “We are proud to continue our long-standing relationship with Rio Tinto and support their efforts to reduce emissions and operating costs with the FLXdrive battery locomotive.”

Kevin Clemens is a Senior Editor with Battery Technology.

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