Vale, a global mining company, signed a partnership agreement with Wabtec to supply three FLXdrive battery locomotives and to collaborate to test ammonia as a potential clean, alternative fuel to replace diesel. The new locomotives are expected to be delivered in 2026.
The three 100% battery powered FLXdrive locomotives will be used on the Carajás Railroad (EFC) in Brazil, which runs the world’s largest iron ore train consisting of 330 railcars transporting 45,000 tons. Today, three to four diesel locomotives pull the train.
Once delivered, the FLXdrives will join the diesel locomotives to form Brazil’s first hybrid consist pulling the train uphill for 140 km in Açailândia, in the state of Maranhão, where fuel consumption is the highest. The FLXdrives will replace the two diesel locomotives, known as “dynamic helpers,” that are used to pull the train uphill today.
The FLXdrive battery locomotives will be built at Wabtec’s plant in Contagem, in the state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil.
The FLXdrive locomotive’s energy management system recharges the batteries along the route as the train brakes. “It’s what we call regenerative energy produced by dynamic braking. Today, that energy is lost when a traditional locomotive brakes. In the downhill sections, we will be able to recharge the batteries, without having to stop the train’s operation,” Alexandre Silva, Manager of Vale’s Powershift Programme said.
Vale introduced the Powershift Programme to study alternative technologies to replace fossil fuels with clean sources in the company’s operations.
The FLXdrive locomotives are estimated to save 25 million litres of diesel per year, considering the consumption of all the railway’s trains that use the dynamic helper. This savings would reduce carbon emissions by approximately 63,000 tons, the equivalent emissions of around 14,000 passenger cars per year.
“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 fueled by ammonia. This way, we would have a clean operation at EFC,” Vale’s Director of Energy, Ludmila Nascimento said.
The two companies will work together on a study to use ammonia as a clean alternative fuel, which does not emit CO2. The study will initially be carried out as lab tests to validate performance, emission reductions, and feasibility. Among the advantages of ammonia is the fact that it allows the locomotive a longer range than other carbon-free fuels. In addition, ammonia has a high-octane rating and an established large-scale distribution infrastructure. The two companies will carry out the study in a laboratory over the next two years.
In 2020, Vale announced an investment of between USD 4 and 6 billion to reduce its direct and indirect emissions by 33% by 2030. Currently, Vale’s rail network represents 10% of the company’s carbon emissions. The initiative is one more step towards achieving the goal of zero emissions net carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the ambition of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to below 2°C by the end of the century.
The company also committed to reducing its net emissions from its value chain by 15% by 2035.