Mining firm digs Australia's first electric excavator

Australia's first electric excavator has been deployed in Western Australia in a development designed to cut carbon emissions from mining operations. 

Fortescue announced the Australian first on Thursday, revealing the electrically powered Liebherr R9400E was operating at its Cloudbreak mine site in the Pilbara. 

The machine, which is powered by renewable energy, is the first of three commissioned for the site over the next year and will be part of the company's plan to eliminate the use of fossil fuels from its iron ore operations by 2030.

The electric excavator operates using two kilometres of high-voltage cable.

Fortescue Metals chief executive Dino Otranto said the company's collaboration with other firms to reduce mining transport pollution had made it possible to convert the vehicle.

"It's a true demonstration of industry collaboration where we've been fortunate enough to work with industry experts who have been using trailing cable for decades and then repurpose this in our own operations as part of our decarbonisation journey," he said. 

"The commissioning of this fully electric excavator is a massive achievement by the team."

Mr Otranto said the three electric excavators would use renewable electricity "once we decarbonise our electricity grid".

"Already our Chichester operations, which include Cloudbreak, run partially off solar, enabling this first excavator to be powered using renewable electricity," he said. 

The new model comes in addition to another retrofitted diesel excavator being tested in Fortescue operations.

Liebherr Australia mining managing director Trent Wehr said the launch of the low-emission vehicle was a significant milestone and an extension of its decarbonisation plans with Fortescue. 

"The debut of Australia's first operational electric excavator is a big achievement for our local team who will provide ongoing service and support for these machines," he said. 

"We're excited to see what the future holds."

One of Australia's big five mining firms, Fortescue in 2023 committed to eliminate the use of fossil fuel from its iron ore operations by the end of the decade.

In 2021, the Minerals Council of Australia announced an industry-wide plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Other mining firms to invest in electric vehicles include Mineral Resources, which ordered electric Toyota HiLux utes from MEVCO, and BHP, which trialled electric Toyota LandCruisers at its Nikel West operation in Western Australia. 

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