An agreement to jointly develop an electric smelting furnace pilot plant, a first-of-its-kind steel production method that, if successful, would pave the path for low CO2 steelmaking, has been inked by BHP and the international engineering firm Hatch.
BHP’s Pilbara iron ore will be used in the experimental program. With a longer-term objective of expediting the scale-up of electric smelting furnace (ESF) technology, the small-scale demonstration plant would be used to work with steel producers and technology providers to evaluate the process.
About two tonnes of CO2 are produced for every one tonne of steel, a process that requires high temperatures to remove oxygen from iron ore in order to produce pure iron. According to estimates, the industry contributes 7% of world emissions.
Australia is a major producer of steel, turning out about 3.5 million tonnes yearly. More significantly, though, Australia exports up to 900 million tonnes of iron ore annually to be smelted into steel somewhere else.
Decarbonizing steelmaking, however, has been challenging. When used in conjunction with a step from the more conventional direct reduced iron (DRI) technique of converting iron ore into iron, ESFs are furnaces that can make steel from iron ore using electricity and hydrogen.
Theoretically, this new furnace type may conceivably achieve CO2 emissions reductions of more than 80%, according to BHP and Hatch.
ESFs also get around a significant issue with Pilbara ores: unlike other low-emission technologies like electric arc furnaces, which need ores with low levels of impurities, they can accept ores with a wider range of impurities and raw materials.
Following the pilot, the two businesses will evaluate several sites around Australia for the planned facility based on the available infrastructure, talent, and local collaboration opportunities.