How Andrew Forrest will achieve his net zero emissions goals at FMG’s Pilbara operations

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“For that, we need to run trucks, trains, ships, carbon-free explosives, we need reliable electrons 24/7,” Schweizer said.

There are three ways to continually match variable wind and solar resources to Fortescue’s energy needs: overbuild renewable capacity so that its minimum output is sufficient; store energy when too much is generated and use it later; or the so-called demand side management, where mines would occasionally reduce their energy consumption.

The solution may be a combination of all three, but the primary focus is storage. The likely solution is batteries, not producing green hydrogen for later use; despite Andrew Forrest’s evangelism for clean fuel, he can’t do it all.

“For short duration things, hydrogen is very inefficient, you’re much better off with a battery, even for a few days,” Schweizer said.

However, hydrogen, along with hydroelectricity, can play a role in storing large amounts of energy for occasional use. Its main use is probably heat for industry and to power heavy transport, including shipping.

Fortescue will commit to a storage solution in a few years, hoping that technological advancements will reduce costs.

Many companies are aiming for net zero by relying on renewable energy but occasionally burning gas and offsetting emissions by planting trees. For Fortescue, offsets are a last resort.

“Even if you covered the entire surface of the Earth with rainforest, that wouldn’t be enough,” Schweizer said.

“So we can’t rely on reforestation, for more than the hardest 1%.”

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While storage can wait, progress on more stable wind and solar technologies cannot.

In February, Fortescue submitted plans for environmental approval for up to 340 wind turbines and 25 square kilometers of solar panels on cattle ranches in Pilbara, WA.

The Uaroo Renewable Energy Center south of the Fortescue Mines will provide all the electrical energy the mines need as well as electricity to make green hydrogen from water to power equipment that does not cannot be electrified.

Fortescue has another goal for 2030 that will require many hubs like Uaroo around the world: to produce 15 million tons of green hydrogen per year.

Schweizer said this would require around 5 million hectares of wind farms, or 2% of WA’s area, but 97% of that space could still be used for agriculture.

For land in WA, Fortescue is seeking help from the state government in three areas: ongoing land reforms to allow pastoral land to be used for different purposes, more efficient approval processes and support for competitors to share infrastructure.

Schweizer does not want to repeat its experience in Queensland where three small LNG plants have been built side by side near Gladstone, all supplied with gas from separate pipelines, at a cost of several billion dollars.

Unfortunately, the Pilbara iron ore industry fared little better, with the big three miners: Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue all having separate rail networks.

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