Australia’s two largest iron ore producers and its biggest steelmaker have partnered in their efforts to accelerate the decarbonisation of steelmaking by agreeing to jointly investigate the development of the country’s first ironmaking electric smelting furnace (ESF) pilot plant.
Under a new framework agreement, Rio Tinto, BHP and BlueScope will consolidate the work each party has completed to date, leveraging both BHP’s and Rio Tinto’s deep knowledge of Pilbara iron ores with BlueScope’s unique operating experience in ESF technology.
The collaboration provides a platform to develop and potentially invest in a pilot facility and aims to demonstrate that production of molten iron from Pilbara ores is feasible using renewable power when combined with Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) process technology.
If successful, it could help open a potential pathway to near-zero greenhouse gas emission-intensity operations for steelmakers that rely on Australian iron ore to meet global steel demand.
The parties will assess several locations in Australia for the proposed pilot facility, and will consider factors like supporting infrastructure, available workforce, access to target industry and supply chain partners, and suitability for operational trials. The pre-feasibility study work program is expected to conclude at year-end. If approved, the pilot facility could be commissioned as early as 2027.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott said: “The carbon intensity of iron and steelmaking requires profound change to meet the needs of our planet and our climate objectives. We must find better ways to enable these materials to be made more sustainably through leveraging technology.”
BlueScope Chief Executive Australia, Tania Archibald added: “We have a clear vision for BlueScope in Australia as a vibrant, modern and sustainable manufacturer with a clear role to play in enabling Australia’s energy transition. Building a pathway to low emission-intensity iron and steelmaking in Australia is a key priority for our business.”