Largest Iron Ore Producers in Australia Collaborate in Decarbonization Efforts

iron pieces of a bridge structure

(Credit: Unsplash)

by | Feb 12, 2024

Rio Tinto and BHP — Australia’s largest iron ore producers — have teamed up with steelmaker BlueScope to develop a new pilot plant that aims to emit less greenhouse gas emissions.

The trio has agreed to investigate the development of the first ironmaking electric smelting furnace (ESF) pilot plant in Australia. The plant would demonstrate how the “production of molten iron from Pilbara ores is feasible using renewable power when combined with direct reduced iron (DRI) process technology,” the companies said. The pilot plant could create a pathway toward near-zero GHG emission-intensity operations for steelmakers that use Australian iron ore.

The mining industry is a carbon-intensive industry, and total iron and steel emissions have risen over the years due to increasing global demand, according to the International Energy Agency. The industry is also looking at carbon capture and storage as a possible solution to decarbonize. However, the solution does not look at the underlying emissions produced in the manufacturing process.

Related Content: Steelmaker Nucor Sets Sights on Net-Zero Emissions Targets

“The carbon intensity of iron and steelmaking requires profound change to meet the needs of our planet and our climate objectives,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott said in a statement. “We must find better ways to enable these materials to be made more sustainably through leveraging technology.”

The three companies will assess several locations in Australia for the proposed pilot plant, considering several factors, including supporting infrastructure, available workforce, access to target industry and supply chain partners, and suitability for operational trials. The trio expects to complete the pre-feasibility study work program by the end of the year, with a target date of 2027 for commissioning the pilot facility, if approved.

“We believe DRI is the most prospective technology to decarbonize our Australian business, and the development of ESF technology is key to unlocking Australia’s unique advantages in this decarbonization journey – and, more importantly, has the potential for wider adaptation across the global steel industry,” said Tania Archibald, BlueScope chief executive Australia. “We believe that this collaboration where we can contribute BlueScope’s unique experience in operating an ESF will be key to cracking the code for Pilbara ores in low emission-intensity ironmaking.”

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