Australia’s largest rail freight operator, Aurizon, and global miner Anglo American are planning to work together on a feasibility study to assess the introduction of hydrogen-powered trains for bulk freight.

The two companies will explore the application of Anglo American’s proprietary hydrogen fuel cell and battery hybrid power units in heavy-haul freight rail operations. If the feasibility study is successful, the agreement between the two companies could be extended to further phases of collaboration, which could include detailed engineering and the development of a hydrogen-fueled heavy-haul locomotive prototype.

The study will focus on the potential deployment of Anglo American’s hydrogen power technology on Aurizon’s Moura rail corridor that operates between Anglo American’s Dawson metallurgical coal mine and the Gladstone Port, and the Mount Isa rail corridor that operates between the North West Minerals Province to Townsville Port, via Aurizon’s Stuart Terminal.

Anglo American has already embraced development of green hydrogen solutions for its ultra-class 290-metric ton-payload mine haul truck fleet. The company said its unique combination of powertrain technologies, designed to operate safely and effectively in real-world mine conditions, will displace the use of the majority of diesel at its mining operations, with an advanced trial of the prototype truck at its Mogalakwena platinum group metals mine in South Africa.

Aurizon has also commenced research and development for battery-powered trains with a number of industry parties and Australian universities.

Tony O’Neill, technical director of Anglo American, said: “Our agreement with Aurizon marks the first time our hydrogen power technology could be tested beyond our existing mine haul truck program. Displacing our use of diesel is critical to eliminating emissions at our sites and along our value chain. We believe that our innovative hydrogen-led technology provides a versatile solution, whether for trucks or trains or other forms of heavy duty transport.”

The North West Mineral Province contains about 75% of Queensland’s base metal and minerals, including copper, lead, zinc, silver, gold, cobalt and phosphate deposits. The province also has the potential to become a globally significant supplier of high-quality vanadium to the energy storage and steel markets with a number of projects under assessment.

The 180-km Moura rail corridor from Dawson to the Gladstone port, and the 977-km Mount Isa rail corridor from Mount Isa to Townsville Port both use diesel fueled locomotives.