Rio Tinto Rio Tinto
Rio Tinto

The companies will explore developing a pilot electrosmelting facility (ESF) in Australia

Mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Group will team up with Australian rolled steel producer BlueScope Steel to explore the development of Australia’s first pilot electric smelter (ESF) to produce green pig iron. This is stated in their joint statement.

The cooperation aims to demonstrate that pig iron production from Pilbara ore is possible using renewable energy in combination with direct reduced iron (DRI) technology.

«If successful, this could help open up a potential pathway to near-zero greenhouse gas emissions production for steelmakers who rely on Australian iron ore,» the statement said.

The parties will evaluate several locations in Australia to host the proposed pilot production. They will also consider certain factors such as supporting infrastructure, available labor, access to target industries and supply chain partners, and suitability for operational testing.

The pre-feasibility study work program is expected to be completed by the end of this year. If approved, the pilot plant could be commissioned as early as 2027.

“By combining our knowledge and experience, we hope to help accelerate the transition of steelmakers using Pilbara ores to near-zero emissions technologies. Technologies that are compatible with renewable energy sources and scalable to hundreds of millions of tons of steel production will be a significant step forward in preparing the Pilbara region’s ore and the world for a low greenhouse gas future,” commented BHP Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) Asset President Tim Day.

According to Tania Archibald, CEO of BlueScope, one of the potential goals of the project could be to produce commercial volumes of products that could then be supplied to steel producers in Asia. However, the pilot project should last several years, so this step is unlikely to happen until the 2030s.

As GMK Center reported earlier, the long-term strategies of large mining companies diverge in the context of decarbonization of steel production, according to the IEEFA study. Three of the world’s four largest miners – Vale, Rio Tinto and Fortescue – are increasingly focusing on supplying high-quality iron ore that is compatible with hydrogen-based direct reduced iron (DRI) production. At the same time, BHP continues to believe in carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) technologies.