Sep 21

Mining Giant Fortescue Metals Buys F1 Battery Unit

Theo Normanton
Jan 25, 2022
The battery and technology unit of Williams Formula 1 team will help the iron ore company develop batteries for its vehicles and machinery.
Image: Alberto G Rovi via Wikimedia Commons.

Australian iron ore company Fortescue Metals is buying the battery and technology arm of Formula 1 team Williams for $222.2 million, it announced on Monday.

As part of its plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, Fortescue Metals hopes to replace mining machinery powered by fossil fuels with battery-powered vehicles and equipment. Williams Advanced Engineering will now be incorporated into the Fortescue Future Industries clean energy unit, where it will help develop battery technology for use in mining.

Williams Advanced Engineering will also help the mining giant develop an electric train project to help cut emissions.

Craig Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Williams Advanced Engineering, said: “High performance battery and electrification systems are at the core of what we do at WAE and this acquisition and investment will facilitate the company’s further growth to support the delivery of zero emission products and services across existing sectors – such as automotive, motorsport and off-highway – and new sectors too.”

This deal represents a significant step forward in the high-tech approach to decarbonisation. But it isn’t the first time that a carbon-intensive company has invested in the development of emissions-reducing technologies. Rio Tinto, one of Fortescue’s biggest competitors in the mining industry, bought four battery-powered trains to transport ore from its mines to ports.

And Russian steelmaker Metalloinvest has begun constructing the world’s biggest facility for Hot Briquetted Iron, the raw material for low-carbon steel production. The $600 million facility will have the capacity to switch to hydrogen as a reducing agent, further reducing carbon emissions.

Fortescue’s founder and Chairman Andrew Forrest is Australia’s richest man, with an estimated net worth exceeding $18 billion. He is known for investing in sustainable energy projects.

“This announcement is the key to unlocking the formula for removing fossil-fuel powered machinery and replacing it with zero carbon emission technology,” Forrest said in a statement.

There is a precedent for innovations from high-tech sporting fields being incorporated into industry to increase efficiency. This is known as the Trickle-Down Effect. Traction control and anti-lock brakes made their way from elite sports cars to the everyday automobile this way. Meanwhile, sailing’s America’s Cup introduced winged keels to commercial boats and brought fuel-saving wing sails to cargo ships.

The innovation approach to decarbonisation will undoubtedly help companies to reduce their emissions in the long-term. However, it isn’t enough to help polluting industries like metallurgy reach net zero. The latter will require a complex blend of supply chain re-shuffling, carbon offsetting, efficiency optimisation, and simple carbon footprint reduction.

Fortescue’s acquisition is a good start for Australia’s fourth biggest iron ore producer, but achieving its target of net zero by 2030 will be no easy ride.

Theo Normanton

Theo Normanton covers tech, ESG and the circular economy, with a particular interest in the markets of Russia and the CIS.

Tweets at: @TheoNormanton

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