As Freeport converts mining trucks to green power, costs unclear, Auto News, ET Auto

The mining industry grapples with its paradoxical role as a supplier of copper, lithium and other building blocks of renewable technologies, even as operations contribute to global warming.

By Ernest Scheyder

Copper mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc is converting its fleet of diesel trucks and other machinery to electricity or hydrogen, a transition needed to tackle climate change although the costs are not yet known, said the chief executive Richard Adkerson in an interview with Reuters Next conference.

The mining industry grapples with its paradoxical role as a supplier of copper, lithium and other building blocks of renewable technologies, even as operations contribute to global warming.

Freeport, which operates mines in the Americas and Indonesia, has around 600 transport trucks – some of which move more than 400 tonnes (881,850 pounds) of earth per load – and plenty of other equipment.

To power those machines, Freeport bought 180 million gallons of diesel last year, according to regulatory documents, contributing to its so-called range one (direct) emissions.

“We need to make investments to reduce carbon emissions,” Adkerson said in the interview released Wednesday. “We’re going to do it. It’s going to cost money.”

The Phoenix, Arizona-based company is testing electric and hydrogen trucks and studying alternative fuel sources for its coal-fired power plant in Indonesia, where it operates the world’s second-largest copper mine.

Freeport is also participating in the Charge on Innovation Challenge with Rio Tinto Ltd, BHP Group Ltd and others to help better electrify mine sites.

It has joined hydrogen fuel consortia in South America and plans to test diesel-electric trucks from Komatsu Ltd and Caterpillar Inc. next year.

Energy accounts for about 20% of Freeport’s annual operating costs, although it’s not yet clear how that might change once the entire fleet is converted, the company said.

“There will be an impact on the offer due to the conversion of all of this,” Adkerson said. “There are more questions than answers right now.”

But Adkerson, who has been CEO since 2003, said it was “absolutely necessary” for Freeport to reduce its emissions. He cited the extreme weather conditions caused by global warming and the incongruity of copper mining creating emissions when the metal is needed for green energy solutions.

“The world is going to need copper, and yet copper mining has emissions,” he said.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), an industry trade group chaired by Adkerson, set a goal in October for all members – including Freeport – of direct and indirect net carbon emissions by 2050. or earlier, in part by removing the diesel- powered equipment.

Freeport is also exploring ways to reprocess waste rock at its mine sites to extract about 10 billion pounds or more of copper. Adkerson said it was too early to say how much copper could possibly be produced using this method, but added, “Our tech team are really excited about this.”

In Spain, Freeport recycles electronic waste in one of its foundries. The operation is not expected to become a major focus for the company, which prefers to focus on operating large mines, Adkerson said.

“This scrap (of copper) will be needed because of what I believe is the real copper shortage to come,” he said. “We just don’t see (recycling) as a business opportunity for Freeport.”

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