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BHP and Tata Steel to partner on low carbon iron and steelmaking tech

BHP has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with India’s Tata Steel, one of the world’s largest steelmakers, with the intention to jointly study and explore low carbon iron and steelmaking technology.

Under the partnership, BHP and Tata Steel intend to collaborate on ways to reduce the emission intensity of the blast furnace steel route, via two priority areas – the use of biomass as a source of energy, and the application of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) in steel production. The partnership aims to help both companies progress toward their respective climate change goals, and support India’s ambitions to be carbon neutral, BHP said.

The technologies explored in this partnership can potentially reduce emission intensity of integrated steel mills by up to 30%. Importantly these projects demonstrate how abatements applied to the blast furnace iron-making process, which contributes to more than 60% of India’s steel production, can materially reduce the carbon intensity of existing capacity.

Beyond these projects, BHP and Tata Steel have committed to a robust ongoing knowledge exchange that will see both parties explore further collaborations, ecosystems and business opportunities in the steel value chain, and the research and innovation sectors in both India and Australia.

BHP’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vandita Pant, said: “The partnership with Tata Steel highlights the importance of collaborations in being able to successfully identify and implement emission reduction technologies in steelmaking, including by developing abatements that can apply to the existing blast furnace process to incrementally reduce its carbon emissions intensity.”

She also highlighted how BHP can contribute to Tata Steel’s, and the broader steel industry’s role in helping to achieve India’s ambitions to be carbon neutral, particularly as India is expected to see robust steel demand growth over the next three decades, underpinned by a growing population and rising urbanisation.

“India has invested heavily in the blast furnace route for steel production, and crude steel output was 118 Mt last year,” she said. “It is, therefore, critical to innovate and demonstrate pathways to reduce emissions from the blast furnace, while alternative steel pathways emerge and low carbon energy systems scale-up.

“A greener steel industry will be integral for India’s growth and decarbonisation journey, and we intend to work hard with Tata Steel to enable this development and hopefully set a benchmark for others in the industry to emulate and learn from. Finding pathways to net zero for steelmaking is challenging and complex but we believe that by working with industry leaders like Tata Steel, together, we will find solutions more quickly to help reduce carbon emissions in steel production.”

Speaking on the partnership, Tata Steel’s Vice President, Group Strategic Procurement, Rajiv Mukerji, said: “The steel sector will play a critical role in achieving India’s net-zero commitment. Tata Steel is already working on several pilot projects focussed on the development of deep decarbonisation technologies such as CCU, hydrogen-based steelmaking, use of biomass and other alternate ironmaking routes. We believe strategic collaborations are vital in paving the way for innovations to accelerate the deployment of breakthrough technologies at scale and therefore this partnership with BHP is an important step for us.”

Tata Steel and BHP have been heavily involved in establishing partnerships with like-minded industry leaders in reducing emissions in steelmaking. BHP has, in recent years, partnered with global majors POSCO, China Baowu, JFE Steel and HBIS Group to explore greenhouse gas emissions reduction from steelmaking. The combined output of the five steel companies across Asia – in China, India, Japan and South Korea – equates to around 13% of reported global steel production, BHP says.

Vale’s Sustainable Sand wins plaudits as miner starts construction on ‘green pig iron’ plant

Vale’s sustainability efforts are continuing to be displayed to the rest of the industry, with the major miner making a significant contribution to a report on the sustainable use of sand in mining and starting construction on a ‘green pig iron’ production facility in Brazil.

On the former, the University of Queensland, through its Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI), and the University of Geneva, recently released a report indicating that sand from the ore production process may contribute to solving two important environmental issues by reducing sand extracted from the natural environment and the mining tailings generation. Vale contributed to the report and facilitated the sampling of its Sustainable Sand produced at the Brucutu mine in Minas Gerais for an independent analysis.

Vale’s Sustainable Sand is a co-product of iron ore processing. Based on adjustments in the operation, the sandy material, previously disposed in piles and dams, is now processed and transformed into a product, following the same quality controls as in the iron ore production. This year, Vale will allocate around 1 Mt of sand, between sales and donations, for use in civil construction and tests in pavement, among other uses.

The company came up with the process after seven years of research and investment of about BRL50 million ($8.9 million), it said last year.

The SMI report carried out by the universities, ‘Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mining tailings and global sand sustainability crises’, investigated whether sand from ore processing, described by the term “ore-sand”, could become a sustainable source of sand and at the same time reduce the volume of tailings generated by mining.

Material characterisation results from the report indicate that the sampled material is inert and non-toxic, and can be suitable for certain applications, either on its own or as a part of a blend, such as with coarser sand, in order to meet specific grading requirements. Separating and repurposing these sand-like materials before they are added to the waste stream would not only significantly reduce the volume of waste being generated but could also create a responsible source of sand, Vale said.

The report found that, from a technical perspective, sand from iron ore operations can be a direct substitute for sand extracted from the environment in brick making, pavement, in embankments and cement manufacturing. When mixed with coarser sand and other aggregates, it can be used in the production of concrete and mortar, drainage and soil improvement, and water treatment.

The life cycle assessment of “ore-sand”, based on the case of Vale’s Sustainable Sand, also shows that this material has the potential to present lower net carbon emissions during its production when compared with sand extracted from the environment. However, to get a better idea of the potential of this reduction, it is necessary to carry out an assessment of the product’s transport stage, which was not covered in this report, Vale added.

Last week, Vale inaugurated the first road in Brazil using “ore-sand” in all four layers of the pavement. The 425-m-long road at the Cauê mine, in Itabira, will be monitored for two years with pressure, temperature, deformation and humidity sensors. Tests carried out during five years in the laboratory showed an increase in lifespan of around 50% and a cost reduction of 20% when compared with the most commonly used materials for road construction, such as sand extracted from the environment, Vale said. In addition, each kilometre of pavement can consume up to 7,000 t of tailings.

‘Green pig iron’

Earlier in the month, Vale and the Government of the State of Pará held an event to mark the beginning of the construction works of the first commercial plant of Tecnored in Brazil. Tecnored’s technology allows the production of so-called ‘green pig iron’, by replacing metallurgical coal with biomass, thus reducing carbon emissions and contributing to the decarbonisation of the steel industry.

The unit will have an initial capacity to produce 250,000 t/y of green pig iron, with the possibility of reaching 500,000 t/y in the future. The start-up is scheduled for 2025 with an estimated investment of approximately BRL1.6 billion ($342 million).

Vale’s President, Eduardo Bartolomeo, said the implementation of Tecnored represents an important step in the transformation of mining, contributing to making the process chain increasingly sustainable.

“The Tecnored project is of great importance to Vale and to the region and will bring gains in competitiveness, environmental sustainability and development for the region,” he said.

Eduardo Bartolomeo greets the Governor of Pará, Hélder Barbalho, during the launch ceremony for the Tecnored commercial plant

In the implementation phase of the project, which will work in the area of the old Ferro-Gusa Carajás, in the industrial district of the municipality, it is estimated that around 2,000 jobs will be generated at the peak of works. In the operational phase, about 400 direct and indirect jobs should be created, according to progress and engineering studies.

The Tecnored furnace is much smaller in size than a traditional steel blast furnace and is flexible in its use of raw materials, which can range from iron ore fines and steel residues to dam sludge, Vale said.

As fuel, the furnace can be fed by carbonised biomass, such as sugarcane bagasse and eucalyptus. Both are transformed into briquettes (small compact blocks) and deposited in the furnace, generating green pig iron. The furnace also allows the use of thermal coal itself as fuel. In this first instance, fossil fuels will be used to evaluate the performance of the plant, Vale explained.

Leonardo Caputo, Tecnored’s CEO, said: “Gradually, we are going to replace coal with carbonised biomass until we reach the goal of 100% biomass.”

The flexibility in the use of fuels in the furnace allows operating costs to be reduced by up to 15% compared with a traditional blast furnace, Vale claims.

Developed over the last 35 years, Tecnored’s technology also eliminates the coke furnaces and sintering processes: stages prior to the production of steel in the steel mill that are intensive in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This also reduces capital costs by up to 15%, according to Vale.

In addition, the plant is self-sustaining in terms of energy efficiency, with all the process gas reused and a portion used for energy co-generation, the company said. The slag by-product can be used as raw material in the cement industry.

Currently, Vale maintains a demonstration plant of this technology in Pindamonhangaba, with a rated capacity of 75,000 t/y, where tests were carried out to develop the technology and technical and economic feasibility.

Tecnored’s commercial plant in Marabá is part of Vale’s effort to offer its steelmaking customers technological solutions to help decarbonise their production processes.

In 2020, the company assumed the goal of reducing Scope 3 net emissions by 15% by 2035. Of this total, the company will contribute up to 25% through a high-quality products portfolio and technological solutions, including green pig iron. Today, the steel industry represents 94% of Vale’s Scope 3 emissions.

Vale also announced the goal achieving net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050 and, to that end, it is investing between $4-6 billion, as well as committing to recover and protect another 500,000 ha of forest in Brazil.

Vale ponders investment in China Baowu’s pilot biochar plant project as part of Scope 3 emission targets

Vale says it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Baowu Steel Group Corporation Ltd in which both companies agreed to pursue opportunities to develop steelmaking solutions focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The MoU comprises the discussion to produce biochar and use it in blast furnaces in order to consume a carbon-neutral material based on biomass instead of fossil energy. The MoU also intends to discuss a possible investment by Vale into China Baowu’s pilot biochar plant project, with an indicative amount ranging from CNY60-70 million ($9.4-10.9 million).

This initiative contributes to achieving Vale’s commitment to reduce 15% of net Scope 3 emissions by 2035. Additionally, Vale seeks to reduce its absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and achieve neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement, leading the evolution process towards low carbon mining.

Rio Tinto backs accelerated Scope 1 and 2 carbon emission cuts with $7.5 billion of investments

Rio Tinto has outlined a new target to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, more than tripling its previous target. To achieve this, it is setting aside around $7.5 billion of direct investments between 2022 and 2030.

Unveiled during an investor seminar this week, Rio said a 15% reduction in emissions is now targeted for 2025, five years earlier than previously stated, relative to its 2018 baseline of 32.6 Mt (CO2 equivalent – equity basis).

In recognition of the broader carbon footprint of the commodities it produces, Rio says it will accelerate its investment in R&D and development of technologies that enable its customers to decarbonise. Working in partnership with governments, suppliers, customers, academia and others, Rio intends to continue to develop technologies like ELYSIS™ for carbon-free aluminium and multiple pathways to produce green steel.

To meet additional demand created by the global drive to net zero emissions, Rio Tinto will prioritise growth capital in commodities vital for this transition with an ambition to double growth capital expenditure to about $3 billion a year from 2023, it said.

Rio Tinto can decarbonise, pursue growth and continue to deliver attractive returns to shareholders due to its strong balance sheet, world-class assets and focus on capital discipline, it explained.

Some key points from the presentation include:

  • Decarbonisation of the Pilbara will be accelerated by targeting the rapid deployment of 1 GW of wind and solar power. This would abate around 1 Mt of CO2, replace natural gas power for plant and infrastructure and support early electrification of mining equipment;
  • Full electrification of the Pilbara system, including all trucks, mobile equipment and rail operations, will require further gigawatt-scale renewable deployment and advances in fleet technologies
  • Options to provide a greener steelmaking pathway for Pilbara iron ore are being investigated, including with biomass and hydrogen;
  • Options are progressing to switch the Boyne Island and Tomago smelters in Australia to renewable energy, which will require an estimated circa-5 GW (equity basis) of solar and wind power, along with a robust “firming solution”;
  • Development of ELYSIS to eliminate carbon emissions from the smelting process is progressing, with commercial scale technology on track for 2024.

Rio Tinto and Uni of Nottingham partner on biomass-backed low-carbon steelmaking project

Rio Tinto says it is progressing an innovative new technology to deliver low-carbon steel, using sustainable biomass in place of coking coal in the steelmaking process, in a potentially cost-effective option to cut 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 steelmaking process. The patent-pending process, one of a number of avenues the company is pursuing to try to lower emissions in the steel value chain, is now being further tested in a small-scale pilot plant.

If this and larger-scale tests are successful, there is the potential over time for this technology to be scaled commercially to process Rio Tinto’s iron ore fines, Rio said.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott, said: “We are encouraged by early testing results of this new process, which could provide a cost-efficient way to produce low-carbon steel from our Pilbara iron ore. More than 70% of Rio Tinto’s Scope 3 emissions are generated as customers process our iron ore into steel, which is critical for urbanisation and infrastructure development as the world’s economies decarbonise. So, while it’s still early days and there is a lot more research and other work to do, we are keen to explore further development of this technology.”

Rio Tinto’s process uses plant matter known as lignocellulosic biomass, instead of coal, primarily as a chemical reductant. The biomass is blended with iron ore and heated by a combination of gas released by the biomass and high efficiency microwaves that can be powered by renewable energy.

Rio Tinto researchers are working with the multi-disciplinary team in the University of Nottingham’s Microwave Process Engineering Group to further develop the process.

The university’s Head of Department, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Professor Chris Dodds, said: “It is really exciting to have the opportunity to be part of a great team working on a technology that, if developed to commercial scale, has the potential to have a global impact through decarbonising key parts of the steel production process.”

The use of raw biomass in Rio Tinto’s process could also avoid the inefficiencies and associated costs of other biomass-based technologies that first convert the biomass into charcoal or biogas, the company said.

Lignocellulosic biomass includes agriculture by-products (ie wheat straw, corn stover, barley straw, sugar cane bagasse) and purpose-grown crops, which would be sustainable sources for the process. Importantly, the process cannot use foods such as sugar or corn, and Rio Tinto says it would not use biomass sources that support logging of old-growth forests.

Trott added: “We know there are complex issues related to biomass sourcing and use and there is a lot more work to do for this to be a genuinely sustainable solution for steelmaking. We will continue working with others to understand more about these concerns and the availability of sustainable biomass.”

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

Legacy Alberta coal mine to receive new life as renewable project

The Government of Canada is backing a project in Alberta to turn a former operating coal mine in the region into a renewable energy operation.

Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, last week announced C$3.8 million ($2.8 million) in funding to the BIOSALIX program, a renewable energy coal mine reclamation project near Forestburg, Alberta.

A collaborative effort led by environmental consulting firm Sylvis, the project uses municipal organic waste as an additive to generate the conditions to grow a willow crop on the reclaimed land, Natural Resources Canada said. The willow is then harvested to create a woody biomass that can be used to produce renewable heat, energy and other products.

According to Slyvis, the project is the first of its type and size, providing a path for clean energy growth through the transition of prairie coal mines to biomass production while providing mining communities with economical stability through the development of a cleantech economy.

“Overall, this project will help municipalities manage their organic waste, grow a renewable feedstock to produce bioenergy, reclaim expired mine land and create new opportunities for communities affected by coal mine closures,” NRC said.

Federal funding for the project will be provided through Natural Resource Canada’s Clean Growth Program. Further funding in the amounts of C$1.5 and C$2 million will be provided respectively by Alberta Innovates and Emission Reductions Alberta. Natural Resource Canada’s Canadian Forest Service will also lend its biomass research and expertise to the project.

The Clean Growth Program is a C$155-million investment fund that helps emerging clean technologies further reduce their impacts on air, land and water while enhancing competitiveness and creating jobs.