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Komatsu Mining says its new Milwaukee plant will be part of the changeover to more renewable energy

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Chuck Quirmbach
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WUWM
A Komatsu mining shovel and truck outside the company's corporate office in Milwaukee's Harbor District.

Komatsu Mining has officially opened its new $285 million corporate offices and manufacturing plant in Milwaukee's Harbor District on E.Greenfield Ave. The Japan-based company is planning to be part of the expected shift to more renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Komatsu says it still has production workers at the facility it bought six years ago from P&H/Joy Global at the border of Milwaukee and West Milwaukee, near the Zablocki VA. But that older site will eventually be vacated and possibly sold for re-development.

Financial incentives from the city of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin helped clean up a former EPA Superfund site to build the new harbor campus.

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Chuck Quirmbach
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The new Komatsu manufacturing building at the company's Harbor District campus.

So, what are taxpayers getting in return besides the promise of hundreds of new jobs?

Komatsu Surface Mining President John Koetz says the company is hoping its huge mining shovels and other equipment made locally will increasingly be used digging up minerals like nickel, cobalt, graphite, and lithium—used in the production of renewable energy and electric cars.

"Our business is being driven by renewables. Renewable energy is mineral-intensive. Both in batteries, and when you're talking about wind power, and solar. Sustainable mining. The goal is how do we protect the planet, preserve the planet, but also create that renewable energy to power the future of the world?" Koetz says.

WUWM asked Koetz if he sees a significant future in electric cars, solar panels, etc. "Absolutely. That's why we invested here and why our employees are investing in electric vehicles and renewable energy."

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Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
Komatsu Mining's new corporate office in the Harbor District.

Komatsu says it's also aiming for a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from its products and production of its equipment by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, and a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

But as some in the mining industry, and mining-equipment makers, shift toward a new business plan, groups that monitor the mining business have a couple of requests.

Jennifer Krill of Washington D.C. based Earthworks says the transition to renewable energy should not repeat injustices of mining and extracting fossil fuels. 

"Mining, unfortunately, has a long history of human rights abuses and environmental destruction. So, our message to Komatsu and other companies involved in the mining sector is to push the mining industry to clean up its act. Accelerate the renewable energy transition, and let's honor and respect the rights of people on the front lines of mining projects, especially indigenous people, Krill told WUWM Monday.

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Screengrab from earthworks.org
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WUWM
Jennifer Krill executive director of Earthworks.

Krill says studies show indigenous communities live close to most of the known reserves of renewable energy minerals in the U.S., especially minerals needed for electric vehicles.

Krill also says recycling more of the minerals could reduce the need for mining them.

"Effective recycling. Effective repurposing of batteries at the end of life, and effective demand reduction, could reduce mineral demand for electric vehicles by up to 55% for newly-mined copper. Twenty-five percent for lithium, and 35% for cobalt and nickel."

Krill says some automakers have signed on to efforts that promote more responsible sourcing of minerals and circular economy policies.

Komatsu hopes its new facilities will operate for decades at Milwaukee's harbor. But the company's promises of going greener will have some people outside the company pushing for those targets to be met.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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