Mitsui & Co., Japan’s largest trader of iron ore and oil, will partner with General Electric Co. in exploring ways to cut costs on mining operations amid the decline in commodity prices.

The initial accord will also study potential cooperation on increasing efficiencies and improving safety, GE said in an emailed statement. The two companies signed the memorandum of understanding to formalize the partnership, according to an official at the Tokyo-based Mitsui, who spoke by phone and asked not to be named due to company policy.

As part of the tie-up, the companies will also study switching to cheaper natural gas from diesel oil for power plants, locomotives and dump trucks to save fuel costs. The partnership is part of a broader move in the mining industry to seek out new ways to reduce costs.

Resource suppliers are looking to make their existing mines more competitive as companies such as BHP Billiton Ltd. and Vale SA, both of which are Mitsui partners, anticipate trimming or slowing planned expansions.

Mitsui’s business tie-up with GE has lasted for decades. Mitsui, which has long been GE’s distributor of gas turbines to Japanese power companies, formed a partnership with GE for the development of a new jet engine in 2012.

Mitsui holds stakes in iron ore, coal, and copper projects in Australia, Brazil and Chile.

Japan’s Komatsu Ltd., a major supplier of dump trucks and excavators, announced a partnership with GE in April to offer big-data analysis services for mining projects. The two have run tests at a copper mine in South America. Hitachi Ltd. has also teamed with Rio Tinto Group to save operating costs at mines in Australia’s Pilbara region.

GE is pushing to expand the so-called industrial Internet, helping customers use data collected from industrial equipment. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt has envisioned a world of smart machines that can diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

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