BHP, Rio Tinto, BlueScope to partner on steel decarbonisation

Wednesday, 14 February, 2024

BHP, Rio Tinto, BlueScope to partner on steel decarbonisation

BHP has announced that it has entered into a partnership with Rio Tinto and BlueScope Steel in an effort 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 and Rio Tinto’s deep knowledge of Pilbara iron ores with BlueScope’s unique operating experience in ESF technology.

BHP said 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.

“The carbon intensity of iron- and steelmaking requires profound change to meet the needs of our planet and our climate objectives,” said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott. “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 said: “We are thrilled to partner with Rio Tinto and BlueScope to progress what we see as a potential breakthrough in reducing carbon emissions from steel production. Collaborations like this are so important for the success of these technologies and build on our work on blast furnace abatement projects, and our ongoing research and development projects with leading steelmakers, research institutes and technology providers around the world.”

“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,” said BlueScope Chief Executive Australia Tania Archibald. “Building a pathway to low emission-intensity iron- and steelmaking in Australia is a key priority for our business.

“We believe DRI is the most prospective technology to decarbonise our Australian business, and the development of ESF technology is key to unlocking Australia’s unique advantages in this decarbonisation journey — and, more importantly, has the potential for wider adaptation across the global steel industry.”

Image caption: (L-R) Tim Day (BHP), Tania Archibald (Bluescope) and Simon Trott (Rio Tinto).

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