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Miners Embracing Autonomous Trucks for a Carbon-Neutral Future

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Rio Tinto plc RIO and Caterpillar, Inc. CAT recently joined forces to develop zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks for use at one of Rio Tinto’s Western Australian mining operations. This marks a significant step in Rio Tinto’s mine automation and digitalization program, and the target of attaining net zero emissions by 2050. The move also highlights Caterpillar’s efforts in developing autonomous solutions for customers.

Both of the parties will work together to advance the development of Caterpillar’s future 220-ton 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul truck including the validation of Caterpillar’s emerging zero-emissions technology. Prototypes will be developed, tested, and undergo pre-production trials. It is anticipated that the world’s first operational deployment of approximately 35 new Caterpillar 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks will be at Gudai-Darri, which is Rio Tinto’s most technically advanced iron ore mine in the Pilbara region, Western Australia. Rio Tinto intends to make Gudai-Darri one of the world’s most technologically advanced mines. Construction at Gudai-Darri continues to progress with production ramp-up on track for early 2022. Once completed, the mine will have an annual capacity of 43 million tons.

Earlier in June, Rio Tinto announced that it will deploy the world’s first fully autonomous water truck at its Gudai-Darri mine in partnership with Caterpillar. Water spraying is a vital part of mining operations and this new technology will enhance productivity by enabling digital tracking of water consumption, while cutting down water wastage. Rio Tinto has earmarked approximately $1 billion in investments over the next five years to get its operations down to net zero emissions by 2050.

Rio Tinto’s existing Autonomous Haulage System has improved safety by reducing the risks associated with operators working around heavy machinery. With the help of technology and automation, miners are bringing radical changes to mining operations to increase productivity, reduce cost and improve frontline safety. These efforts will help the industry meet its sustainability target by cutting down on carbon emissions, which is the need of the hour considering the severity of climate change.

Earlier this month, Brazilian miner Vale S.A VALE announced that it has started operating six autonomous haul trucks in Carajás — its largest iron ore complex in Brazil and plans to take it up to 10 vehicles by this year-end. This follows the success of the autonomous operation at Vale’s second largest mine, Brucutu, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2016. Last month, BHP Group BHP announced a partnership with Caterpillar to develop and deploy zero-emissions mining trucks at BHP sites to reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year, Newmont Mining Corporation NEM announced investment in implementation of the Autonomous Haulage System at Boddington mine in Australia to enhance safety and productivity, while extending mine life. Once operational, Boddington will be the first open pit gold mine in the world with a fully autonomous haul truck fleet.

Given its benefits to the miners, the driverless fleet is becoming increasingly popular among miners. The number of autonomous trucks is expected to surge over the next few years, thanks to major investments by miners globally. Capitalizing on this demand, Caterpillar is enhancing its autonomous capabilities and bringing innovative products into markets that provide it with a competitive edge in mining. The intensifying global focus on shifting from fossil fuels to zero emissions will require a huge amount of commodities. This is a win-win situation for both miners and mining equipment makers.

Caterpillar and Newmont currently carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). BHP, Vale and Rio Tinto carry a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.


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