The group’s design, secret until now, recently received provisional patent protection.
That burst of innovation — and the pace of improvement at Fortescue and elsewhere — is one of many factors bolstering Dr. Forrest’s optimism. He believes Fortescue can take advantage of technologies that have come down in price (around solar 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 things going for him,” said Malcolm Turnbull, a former Australian prime minister, who has known Dr. Forrest for 25 years and recently teamed up with him to support green hydrogen. “One, he’s passionately committed to the energy transformation. Two, he’s got enormous financial resources. More than a few people can tick those boxes, but the third box is that he is the founder and chairman of a company that has engineering and construction in its DNA.”
Dr. Forrest studied commerce at university and worked as a stockbroker in the 1980s, but at Fortescue, he put a priority on the innovation of things, from covered conveyor belts to driverless trucks. Similarly, since forming 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 with renewable energy, is the Fortescue moonshot.
“It will be a winner-take-all market,” said Saul Griffith, an electrification expert (and MacArthur fellow) who started his career at an Australian steel mill. “You can’t spend enough in the race to have the first electrochemistry pathway to steel.”
But scaling up is the problem not just there; it’s the challenge with everything Dr. Forrest is trying to accomplish, including Fortescue’s most immediate hurdle — transportation. Half the company’s emissions come from its diesel-guzzling fleet.
At a giant garage in an industrial area called Hazelmere near Perth’s airport, around 100 experts in engines and energy are trying to eliminate all that carbon by turning a mining company into a clean, green version of Caterpillar or John Deere.
When I visited, Dr. Forrest had asked a few new employees and people who work with his charity, the Minderoo Foundation, to come along. Everyone was especially excited to see the same thing: the hydrogen-fueled haul truck. When it pulled into the midday sun, painted blue and white, it looked far too clean but as imposing as any other truck, with a few alterations.