Freight Rail, Rail Supply, Research & Development, Events, Major Projects & Infrastructure, Rollingstock & Manufacturing, Sustainability

Call for industry to unite in decarbonisation



The chief operating officer for Fortescue Metals Group’s iron ore operations, Dino Otranto, has called on the industry to rally together in facing the challenges posed by climate change.

Presenting the keynote address at the 12th annual Heavy Haul Rail conference in Perth, he said it was important for all stakeholders to play their part in decarbonisation.

The event showcased the best in local and international project expertise in the sector, giving attendees an understanding of the strategic directions of major industry players, as well as trends, innovation and developments to ensure efficient, safe and reliable operations.

Otranto said Fortescue, like its peers in the industry, was currently completely reliant on fossil fuels.

“If you’re a believer or not in climate change, for us as an organisation, the effects of the changes in weather patterns are real,” he said.

“We’re part of the problem but we can also be part of the solution.

“For me, there’s a dichotomy that we all need to address, as proponents in this room.

“We fundamentally have contributed to the problem, and I think it’s incumbent on all of us that we are actually the solution to prevent global warming.”

Otranto said Fortescue currently ranks fourth in global procurement global supply of seaborne iron ore in hematite, and will start commissioning a new product, magnetite, in the next few weeks.

“But actually our major export is not iron ore. They are in fact the carbon emissions that our products generate,” he said.

“The Fortescue rail fleet currently consists of 70 locos, 16 rakes each three kilometres long, and 244 ore cars, and from the mine to port, it can be about a 500 kilometre round trip for some of our operations. A total of about 760 kilometres of heavy haul rail.

“Even though our portfolio generates between two to three million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, when we convert the iron to steel, we’re talking about 200 million tonnes plus.

“And for us, that’s the existential issue that we face, and is incumbent on us to solve.”

Otranto reminded delegates that Fortescue had recently taken the initiative, venturing into the energy market and investigating various decarbonisation solutions.

“First off, I completely acknowledge all the steps everybody’s taking in this space and and I’ve been part of organisations that have been talking about decarbonisation for a long time and taking steps towards it,” he said.

“But what I see are targets that are reflective of the 2050s and the 2060s. And for me, that’s a target that goes beyond my generation in this industry. It’s not real.

“It keeps coming back to this group of people in this on what are we going to do about that?”

Otranto said Fortescue has been criticised for its aggressive and “probably ostentatious” target of completely eliminating the need for fossil fuels across its mine sites in seven years.

“It will mean the complete overhaul of our organisation as we know it, a reconfiguration of our entire network,” he said.

“And we need to reach out and work with folks like yourselves to solve those problems, because we can’t do this alone.

“For our part, we are going to commit and invest a number north of US$6 billion to convert our entire terrestrial operations.

“It means diesel, it means gas and for us we’re talking real zero, which also means no more carbon credits.”

Otranto said this conviction has spawned a green energy, technology and development company called Fortescue Future Industries, committed to producing zero-emission green hydrogen from 100 per cent renewable sources.

“We want to get on this right away. We may not have the best technology, the best manufacturing processes in the world. But we’re giving it a crack.”

Otranto said Fortescue was working on three different initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

The first was the world first, zero-emission so-called Infinity Train, adapted from racing car technology. The regenerating battery electric iron ore train project will use gravitational energy to fully recharge its battery electric systems without any additional charging requirements for the return trip to reload.

Fortescue’s rail operations consumed 82 million litres of diesel in financial year 2021, accounting for 11 per cent of its Scope 1 emissions. This diesel consumption and associated emissions will be eliminated once the Infinity Train is fully implemented across Fortescue’s operations, significantly contributing to Fortescue’s target to be diesel-free by 2030.

Otranto said the second plan involved using more off-the-shelf solutions.

“Our notion is not to be cutting edge in terms of research and development. We want to take production-ready solutions, but group them together in different applications,” he said.

“So in terms of more immediate action, we’ve now procured two battery electric locos, eight axle locomotives that have an energy capacity of 14.5 MW hours.

“Therefore we already are replacing our diesel fuel locomotives with battery sources now.

“But the one that’s got the most excitement to date is our ammonia-fuelled loco.

“We developed two ammonium prototype engines at our own research and development facility here in Perth, successfully burning ammonia through a bunch of stages of blending ratios with diesel.

“Our end goal is to be 100 per cent ammonia-based and we’ve had quite a lot of people registering an interest in this particular application.”

Otranto described the third development as the pièce de résistance  of Fortescue’s work over the past six months: the company’s first battery pack stack, which has been transplanted into the heart of an old Terex 4400 truck chassis.

“It’s production ready. Along with it comes a fast-charging station which can recharge this in less than 30 minutes.

“In the next couple of months, we’ll see this travelling up the sites.”

In closing, Otranto reiterated the need for all industry members to start taking action.

“We honestly believe the technology exists to meet the challenges, and most of it is already off the shelf in other industries,” he said.

“I’m urging us all to start collaborating with each other, collaborate with us.

“We need help, we need people to come forward to believe, to have something different and bespoke that can help us solve some of these problems.

“Without us all uniting on this, I don’t really see a future to address the two to four degree warming our planet is currently seeing.”

The conference is organised by Informa Australia.