Questions have been asked about a new fuel being trialled as an emissions-reduction measure by BHP. 

Mining giant BHP has begun a trial for renewable diesel fuel at its Pilbara iron ore mine to decrease carbon emissions, though an environmental engineer believes the company may be better served with actual renewable energy. 

BP will supply hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) blended with diesel to power mining equipment, such as bulldozers, loaders, and haul trucks. 

BHP's general manager of operations at Yandi, Yanni Kotsos, stated that the trial was part of the company's efforts to lessen diesel fuel carbon emissions while waiting for battery electric equipment to become available. 

“Ultimately our goal is to reach electrification, but while that transition is happening this could be a promising alternative to reduce our emissions in the near term,” Kotsos said. 

Associate Professor James Hopeward of the University of South Australia praised the companies for the trial, stating; “At the local scale... this is really good that people are having a serious conversation about the energy transition, reducing carbon emissions, and transitioning to a zero-carbon future”.

But Hopeward, an environmental engineer, also raised concerns about the environmental impact of producing renewable diesel, which he believed was 10 times that of producing the same amount of energy through solar or wind farms. 

He claimed that the overall environmental benefit of the trial may not be as substantial as some might expect.

Mining corporations worldwide are looking for battery electric alternatives to meet their net-zero targets, but haul trucks are still years away from availability. 

Mr Kotsos says BHP's Western Australian iron ore business will receive a “learner” battery electric haul truck in 2024, but the vehicles would not be commercially available until “later in the decade”. 

BHP plans to replace its haul truck fleet gradually, with all replacements scheduled for completion in the mid-2030s, Kotsos said. 

In the meantime, Dr Hopeward believes that mining companies should explore ways to reduce diesel consumption by enhancing efficiency and offsetting emissions by undertaking environmentally beneficial activities such as large-scale revegetation.

“To offset that carbon through environmentally beneficial activities like large-scale revegetation… should certainly be in the mix of how we make this transition,” he said. 

BHP will decide whether to expand the use of renewable diesel throughout its sites more broadly following the three-month HVO trial.