Brazil’s Vale has ordered three Wabtec Corporation battery locomotives and entered a partnership with the US company to test non-diesel fuels in its iron ore trains.
New York-listed Wabtec expects to supply the three FLXdrive battery-powered locomotives to Vale in 2026 for use on its Carajas Railroad (EFC), where up to four diesel locomotives pull 330 railcars and circa-45,000 tonnes of iron ore in the world’s largest ore train.
A 140km, uphill section in Maranhao is where diesel locomotives burn the most fuel. Vale wants to use battery locos as “dynamic helpers” to pull trains uphill, eliminating up to 25 million litres of diesel use and circa-63,000t of carbon emissions per year.
It says its rail network contributes about 10% of its carbon emissions.
The world’s largest iron ore producer said in 2020 it would spend more than US$4 billion to cut its scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by one-third by 2030.
It also aims to test ammonia-based fuels over the next two years.
“Initially, we are maximising energy efficiency, replacing the diesel locomotives in the dynamic helper with battery ones, but the idea is that, in the future, the other locomotives on the train can be fuelled by ammonia,” Vale’s director of energy, Ludmila Nascimento, said.
“This way, we would have a clean operation at EFC.
“This agreement is the first of many that we are seeking in order to accelerate the decarbonization of our railway operation.”
She said non-CO2-emitting ammonia fuels had high octane ratings and established large-scale distribution infrastructure.
Wabtec says its FLXdrive locomotive’s energy management system recharges batteries along the route as the train brakes.
“Technological advances in battery power and alternative fuels are accelerating the decarbonisation journey for railroads,” the company’s Latin America general manager, Danilo Miyasato, said.