Rio Tinto targets low-carbon steel production with new technology



Melbourne, Australia – (COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Rio Tinto is developing an innovative new technology to produce low carbon steel, using sustainable biomass instead of coking coal in the steelmaking process, in a potentially profitable option for reduce industry carbon emissions.

Over the past decade, Rio Tinto has developed a laboratory-proven process that combines the use of raw, sustainable biomass with microwave technology to convert iron ore to metallic iron during the manufacturing process. steel. The patent-pending process, one of many avenues the company is taking to try to reduce emissions in the steel value chain, is currently being tested at a small-scale pilot plant.

If this and larger scale tests are successful, it is possible that over time this technology will be scaled commercially to process Rio Tinto’s iron ore fines.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Managing Director Simon Trott said: “We are encouraged by the early test results of this new process, which could provide a cost effective way to produce low carbon steel from our Pilbara iron ore.

“More than 70% of Rio Tinto’s Scope 3 emissions are generated by customers processing our iron ore into steel, which is essential for urbanization and infrastructure development as global economies decarbonize. So while it is still in its early stages and there is much more research and other work to be done, we are eager to explore further development of this technology.

Rio Tinto’s process uses plant material known as lignocellulosic biomass, instead of carbon, primarily as a chemical reducer. Biomass is mixed with iron ore and heated by a combination of gas released from biomass and high efficiency microwaves that can be powered by renewable energy.

Rio Tinto researchers are working with the multidisciplinary team of the Microwave Process Engineering group at the University of Nottingham to further develop the process.

The head of the department of chemical and environmental engineering at the university, Professor Chris Dodds, said: “It is really exciting to have the opportunity to be part of a great team working on a technology which, if it is is developed on a commercial scale, has the potential to have a global impact through the decarbonization of key elements of the steel production process.

Using raw biomass in Rio Tinto’s process could also avoid the inefficiencies and associated costs of other biomass-based technologies that first convert biomass to charcoal or biogas.

Lignocellulosic biomass includes agricultural by-products (i.e. wheat straw, corn stalks, barley straw, sugarcane bagasse) and specially designed crops, which would be sustainable sources for the process.

Importantly, the process cannot use foods such as sugar or corn, and Rio Tinto would not use biomass sources that support the exploitation of old growth forests.

Simon Trott said: “We know that there are complex issues involved in the supply and use of biomass and there is still a lot of work to be done to make this a truly sustainable solution for the manufacture of biomass. ‘steel. We will continue to work with others to better understand these concerns and the availability of sustainable biomass. ”

If further developed, the technology would be accompanied by a robust and independently accredited certification process for sustainable sources of biomass.



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