Can Andrew Forrest of Fortescue, a carbon-emitting iron ore tycoon, save the planet?
The group’s previously secret design recently received provisional patent protection.
This explosion of innovation – and the pace of improvements at Fortescue and elsewhere – is one of the many factors that fuel Dr. Forrest’s optimism. He believes Fortescue can take advantage of technologies that have fallen in price (around solar power and batteries, for example) while pushing green development further, faster, by building equipment that the company can test. and use in its own operations.
“Andrew has three strengths going for him,” said Malcolm Turnbull, a former Australian Prime Minister, who has known Dr Forrest for 25 years and recently partnered with him to support green hydrogen. “First, he is passionately engaged in the transformation of energy. Second, he has enormous financial resources. More than a few people can tick those boxes, but the third box is that he’s the founder and president of a company that has engineering and construction in its DNA.
Dr Forrest studied business in college and worked as a stockbroker in the 1980s, but at Fortescue he prioritized innovating things from covered conveyor belts to driverless trucks. Likewise, since the founding of Fortescue Future Industries, a subsidiary funded with 10 percent of the parent company’s profits, Dr. Forrest has hired dozens of scientists and invested in their designs.
Green steel, formed entirely from renewable energy, is the Fortescue moon shot.
“It will be a win-win market,” said Saul Griffith, an electrification expert (and MacArthur member) who started his career at an Australian steel mill. “You can’t spend enough on the race to have the first electrochemical route to steel.”
But the problem is not only there; that’s the challenge with everything Dr. Forrest tries to accomplish, including Fortescue’s most immediate hurdle – transportation. Half of the company’s emissions come from its diesel-hungry fleet.
In a giant garage in an industrial estate called Hazelmere near Perth Airport, a hundred engine and energy experts are trying to remove all that carbon by turning a mining company into a clean, green version of Caterpillar or John Deere.
During my visit, Dr. Forrest had asked a few new staff and people who work with his charity, the Minderoo Foundation, to join us. Everyone was especially happy to see the same thing: the hydrogen transport truck. When he stepped into the midday sun, painted blue and white, it looked way too clean but as imposing as any other truck, with a few modifications.