BHP punts on unproven tech to cut emissions

BHP has warned its carbon emissions will rise in the short term as it looks to hit its 2050 net zero target, with Australia’s largest miner punting on unproven technology to switch its heavy machinery from diesel to electric and capture leaking methane from its coal mines.

Diversified mining companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto use huge amounts of energy to extract minerals from the ground, running 24-hour operations with heavy haulage trucks, crushing systems, conveyors, blasting and other mining equipment, much of it using fossil fuels.

Graham Winkelman says BHP’s path to net zero will be “non-linear”.
Graham Winkelman says BHP’s path to net zero will be “non-linear”.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

They face enormous challenges to convert vehicles, train lines and other mine equipment to electricity or other non-polluting sources.

BHP head of carbon management, sustainability and climate change Graham Winkelman said the miner was banking on considerable improvements to available technology to help it fully decarbonise its operations, warning the company’s pathway to net zero will be lumpy and “non-linear”.

“Our emissions profile is now weighted towards diesel. And while technology solutions for diesel displacement are emerging, many are not yet available at scale. In addition, our business activity is expected to grow to financial year 2030, which under the current circumstances would lead to some growth in emissions,” he said.

“To move faster than our decarbonisation pathway, we will be reliant on the availability of technology that is still under development.”

BHP intends by 2030 to reduce emissions by 30 per cent on 2020 levels, and has allocated $4 billion to achieve that. 
BHP intends by 2030 to reduce emissions by 30 per cent on 2020 levels, and has allocated $4 billion to achieve that. Credit: AFP

BHP’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions are primarily generated by its operations, and can be roughly broken down to 40 per cent from power use, 40 per cent from diesel fuel and 20 per cent from areas such as fugitive emissions from its coal operations.

The miner said its operational greenhouse gas emissions in the 2022 financial year were equivalent to 11 million tonnes of CO2, a sharp decline of 24 per cent from its baseline year of 2020 – a result largely driven by introducing renewable electricity across many of its sites, most notably at its huge Escondida copper mine in Chile. Power purchase agreements for renewable energy will eliminate BHP’s emissions from electrical sources by 2030, it said.


The $233 billion ASX-listed mining giant intends by 2030 to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent on 2020 levels, and has allocated $4 billion to achieve that goal.

It has already announced plans to progressively replace its heavy-haul diesel trucks – vehicles the size of a modest two-storey house that carry mineral loads between 220 and 400 tonnes – with diesel-electric engines by 2030 before fully switching to electric trolley and battery-driven trucks in a two-stage operation that will make its fleet 100 per cent electric by 2040.

“Each year, our Australian operations use roughly 1500 megalitres of diesel in over 1000 pieces of equipment,” Anna Wiley, BHP’s Australian vice president of planning and technical, said.

BHP maintains that electrification, rather than hydrogen, is the most efficient way to replace polluting diesel. “Our view is that an electrified mining fleet is more economic and achievable than the alternative fuel sources,” Wiley said.

The miner faces considerable challenges, including the development of moveable electric trolley infrastructure, like the overhead cables that run trams, extended battery life for heavy vehicles and cost-effective mine-wide static and dynamic charging sources that have standards compatible with other mining companies.

“As the technology evolves we will continue to refine our modelling, optimising our concept of operation per site, the battery size and specification, the number and size of trucks, the location and configurations of steady and dynamic charging systems,” Wiley added.

Methane is released as part of the coal mining process and has higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. In underground mines, methane is captured and burnt off above ground. Dealing with the gas in open-cut systems is more complex, but BHP expects to extract up to 50 per cent of methane in coal seams before mining.

The company has been approached by businesses wanting to partner with it to extract methane from coal seams to use the gas, Wiley said.

Meanwhile, rival miner Rio Tinto on Wednesday said it will boost investment by $US498 million ($733 million) at its Kennecott copper operation near Salt Lake City in Utah. It will build underground infrastructure at the open-cut mine to extract a further 250,000 tonnes of copper over the next 10 years, alongside its open-cut operations.

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