The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Rio Tinto aims to slash steelmaking CO2

Metal Tech News - June 5, 2024

Global mining company is investing $143 million into BioIron, a tech that uses biomass to reduce ironmaking carbon emissions by 95%.

From paper clips and surgical scalpels to skyscrapers and cargo ships, steel is a durable and abundant material that forms the framework for modern living. The process of transforming raw iron ore into steel, however, is responsible for around 8% of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

Toward the ultimate goal of decarbonizing steelmaking, Rio Tinto is investing $143 million into developing a research and development facility in Western Australia to help commercialize BioIron, a process that uses biomass to dramatically reduce the CO2 emissions of upgrading iron ore into metallic iron, which is one of the first steps in the steelmaking process.

"The world needs low-carbon steel to reach net zero, and we are working to make this a reality by finding better ways to turn our Pilbara ores into steel," said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott. "BioIron is a world-first technology that has the potential to play a significant role in a low-carbon steel future."

This green technology uses raw biomass and microwave energy in place of coking coal to convert iron ore to metallic iron for steel.

The biomass serves as a source of carbon that is mixed with iron ore and fluxes and a fuel for initial heating, while microwaves offer the energy to finalize the transformation of iron ore into direct reduced iron, a metallic form of iron used to make steel.

Rio Tinto plans to use non-edible parts of agricultural products, such as the straw from wheat and barley or rice stalks, as the source of biomass for this process.

When combined with the use of renewable energy and the carbon-circulation offered by fast-growing plants that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they grow into the next food-biomass crop, BioIron has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 95% compared with the current blast furnace method for producing iron.

Rio Tinto

Scaling BioIron in Australia

Rio Tinto, which has been studying BioIron at a research facility in Germany, is taking this low-carbon ironmaking technology to the next level, closer to the source of the iron ore the company produces in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

"Rio Tinto has been in the Pilbara for decades and we intend to be here for decades more. So, we need to make sure Pilbara iron ore is well positioned for green steel," Trott penned in a LinkedIn post.

To be built in the Rockingham Strategic Industrial Area, south of Perth, the BioIron Research and Development Facility will include a semi-industrial scale pilot plant with the capacity to produce one metric ton of the direct reduced iron used for steelmaking per hour.

The data collected during this pilot will help determine the next stage of BioIron development, which is expected to involve scaling the technology up to a demonstration plant.

"This research and development facility will further test the BioIron process, showcase Western Australian innovation capability, and further demonstrates Rio Tinto's commitment to supporting and enabling the decarbonization of the steel industry," said Trott.

In addition to providing the world with cutting-edge technology to lower CO2 emissions, Western Australian Premier Roger Cook says the BioIron process will diversify and strengthen the state's economy.

"As one of the world's largest iron ore producers, it just makes sense for WA to lead the world when it comes to low-emission steelmaking," he said. "Our plan to turn WA into a renewable energy powerhouse opens up massive economic opportunities for the future, like producing low-emission steel right here at home."

The Biomass research and development facility will initially provide around 30 full-time jobs while also supporting the development of a highly skilled steel decarbonization workforce, universities, and research organizations in Western Australia.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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