BHP, Rio Tinto and BlueScope have teamed up to explore the development of Australia’s first ironmaking electric smelting furnace (ESF) pilot plant.
To help develop the new steelmaking process, BHP and Rio Tinto will leverage their expertise in Pilbara iron ore fines while BlueScope will offer its knowledge of ESF technology.
The ESF pilot plant will aim to demonstrate that production of molten iron from Pilbara ores can be done using renewable power when combined with direct reduced iron (DRI) process technology.
If feasible, this could enable steelmaking operations that rely on Australian iron ore to have a near-zero carbon footprint.
“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 officer Simon Trott said.
“We must find better ways to enable these materials to be made more sustainably through leveraging technology.
“We firmly believe the best way to tackle a challenge of this scale is through collaboration with industry and importantly this new agreement will leverage the more than two years of work we have already completed with BlueScope on this technology.”
Incoming BHP Western Australia iron ore (WAIO) asset president Tim Day echoed Trott’s sentiments.
“Combining our expertise, we hope to help fast track near-zero emission-intensity pathways for steelmakers using Pilbara ores,” he said.
“Technology pathways compatible with renewable energy and scalable to the order of hundreds of millions of tonnes of steel production would be a major step forward in setting up Pilbara ores, and the world, for a low greenhouse gas emission future.”
Several locations across Australia will be assessed for the proposed pilot facility, with pre-feasibility study work to be completed by the end of 2024. This could support commissioning of the pilot plant as early as 2027.