Tag Archives: DRI

Nordic Iron Ore plotting entry into steel’s circular economy at Blötberget

With the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron having just been produced, most of the globe’s iron and steel companies are evaluating how they can continue to play a role in the steel-making industry of the future.

The HYBRIT project milestone in Sweden has global ramifications for a sector that is among the three biggest producers of carbon dioxide, according to McKinsey. Incorporation of fossil-free technology to produce ‘green iron’ that can lead onto ‘green steel’ is viewed as one of the ways the sector can clean up its act and stay relevant in a society that is increasingly focused on greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability.

Nordic Iron Ore, the owner of the Blötberget iron ore project in the Bergslagen mining region of Sweden, is one of a few companies blessed with the potential to produce higher-grade magnetite that could fit into this brave new steel-making world.

Paul Marsden, Technical and Marketing Advisor for Nordic Iron Ore, explains: “There is a lot of investment interest in Sweden and elsewhere for projects associated with these goals. We’re looking at how our place in that might work, but, as we have demonstrated that we can make products in excess of 71% Fe, I would suggest that we can definitely fit the bill.”

It is not only the grade of iron Nordic Iron Ore intends to produce that is in its favour in this regard; the asset it intends to extract ore from is a past producer, having last closed up shop in 1979.

The old headframe in Blötberget

The most recent estimates state that the company could produce upwards of 4 Mt/y of high-quality iron ore at full tilt from an underground operation. The initial development, Blötberget, is planned as an underground post pillar cut and fill (PPCF) mine using backfill to reduce surface impact and maintain the high-grade of the run-of-mine ore after extraction. Construction is envisaged to take around two years, with an aim to use as much of the project’s magnetite resources as possible.

“At the moment, we’re still going to be a niche producer with low tonnages,” Marsden told IM. “Phase one is likely to start at around 1.65 Mt/y, but phase two and three could get us up to 4-5 Mt/y of high-quality products.

“At the same time, we see ourselves fitting into a changing European steel scene where you have got to be looking at lower carbon output, higher productivity per unit and a move into pelletising or DRI (sponge iron) as a high priority.”

How the company will do this is still to be confirmed, but some of the recent agreements Nordic Iron Ore has signed indicate there is intent behind the ambitions.

It has enlisted the help of Paterson & Cooke to evaluate alternatives for its waste management process (fine tailings were previously anticipated to be deposited in an existing tailing dam) that “significantly reduces the environmental impact of the mining operations but is also attractive from an economic standpoint”.

It has enlisted the help of Sweden-based VB Energi to supply electricity to the site from renewable sources.

Nordic Iron Ore took part in the Smart Exploration project, an EU-funded collaboration between universities and companies from eleven countries. One of the project’s aims was to develop environmentally-friendly methods of geophysical exploration, with Smart Exploration teams conducting several evaluations at Ludvika Mines (part of the Blötberget project) using prototype equipment producing more accurate measurements primarily in the fields of seismology and electromagnetics

It has also signed an MoU with Epiroc Sweden, with the two companies cooperating on the mining project development.

Nordic Iron Ore’s CEO, Lennart Eliasson, said this OEM partnership, in particular, was important to the company’s aims of operating a modern mine able to deploy the latest technologies for high productivity and safety, and long-term sustainability.

Marsden provided a bit more background on this agreement: “The definitive feasibility study we had previously completed with Golder Group by the end of 2019 was what you would consider a ‘traditional mine’ – it included diesel-powered loading and haulage with operators. It wasn’t really what we were aiming for, but it gave us an economic study to go to market with.

“We have since had conversations with the likes of Epiroc, ABB and others at the forefront of pushing new technologies like automation, electrification and digitalisation. They are interested in producing a ‘showcase mine’ for Sweden.”

Marsden says there is potential for leveraging the technology learnings on projects such as LKAB’s Kiruna and Konsuln mines, Boliden’s underground operations and Lundin Mining’s Zinkgruvan operation to make Blötberget “future ready”.

He added: “We cannot automate and electrify it all from the off, but we can lay the groundwork to eventually automate and electrify just about everything in the mine.”

What the company needs now is backing from investors to solidify its plan for Blötberget.

Some $8-10 million should allow the company to assess improvements – the potential to access old resources close to a planned underground decline, earlier revenue generators such as toll treatment of high-grade concentrate, and right-sizing the process flowsheet – and bolster the team to see it through mine construction.

After that, it will be a matter of aligning with offtake partners intent on sustainable steel production with a premium iron ore concentrate that suits the industry’s ‘green’ sentiment.

BHP, JFE Steel to scrutinise Australian steel raw materials emissions in latest study

BHP has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with leading Japanese steel producer, JFE Steel, to jointly study technologies and pathways capable of making material reductions to greenhouse gas emissions from the integrated steelmaking process.

BHP is prepared to invest up to $15 million over the five-year partnership, which, it says, builds on the strong history of technical research and collaboration between the two companies.

The company’s investment will be funded under its $400 million Climate Investment Program, set up in 2019 to coordinate and prioritise projects, partnerships, R&D and venture investments to reduce Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, invest in offsets and support development of technologies with the highest potential to impact change.

The JFE-BHP partnership will focus on the role of Australian raw materials to help to increase efficiency and reduce emissions from the blast furnace and direct reduced iron (DRI) steelmaking routes, it said. The partnership intends to study the properties of raw materials, with focus on specific areas such as iron ore pre-treatment, use of enhanced iron ore lump, high quality coke and DRI, required to decrease iron and steelmaking emissions and support a transition to a low carbon future. Throughout the collaboration, the two companies will also share knowledge on reducing carbon emissions across the steel value chain.

This JFE-BHP partnership follows other BHP investments to support the reduction of value chain emissions, including up to $35 million for the collaboration with China’s largest steelmaker, China Baowu, and awarding BHP’s first LNG-fuelled Newcastlemax bulk carriers contract, with the aim to reduce CO2-e emissions by 30% per voyage.

BHP’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vandita Pant, said: “This partnership with JFE demonstrates a joint commitment to make our activities more sustainable through collaboration and technological improvement. This work will support and help progress Japan’s carbon neutral ambitions by 2050.”

As outlined in BHP’s decarbonisation framework, the steel industry is expected to move through stages of optimisation and transition for the existing integrated steelmaking route before reaching an end state of low or no carbon intensity.

“Our investments are focused on actions that can create real change, and we continue to take positive steps on our climate agenda and in collaborating with others to help reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals,” Pant said.

JFE’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Yoshihisa Kitano, said: “We understand that raw material processing technology is extremely important in the research and development towards carbon neutrality. We have a long history working closely together with BHP collaborating to study raw material utilisation technology and mine development. It is very significant for us to be able to work together with BHP towards reduction of CO2 emissions, which is an extremely important agenda for the steel making sector.”

North sets Ferrexpo on a course for ‘carbon neutrality’

Ferrexpo is used to setting trends. It was the first company to launch a new open-pit iron ore mine in the CIS since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 and has recently become the first miner in Ukraine to adopt autonomous open-pit drilling and haulage technology.

It plans to keep up this innovative streak if a conversation with Acting CEO Jim North is anything to go by.

North, former Chief Operating Officer of London Mining and Ferrexpo, has seen the technology shift in mining first-hand. A holder of a variety of senior operational management roles in multiple commodities with Rio Tinto and BHP, he witnessed the take-off of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in the Pilbara, as well as the productivity and operating cost benefits that came with removing operators from blasthole drills.

He says the rationale for adopting autonomous technology at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is slightly different to the traditional Pilbara investment case.

“This move was not based on reduction in salaries; it was all based on utilisation of capital,” North told IM. While miners receive comparatively good salaries in Ukraine, they cannot compete with the wages of those Pilbara haul truck drivers.

Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North

North provided a bit of background here: “The focus for the last six years since I came into the company was about driving mining efficiencies and getting benchmark performance out of our mining fleet. This is not rocket science; it is all about carrying out good planning and executing to that plan.”

The company used the same philosophy in its process plant – a philosophy that is likely to see it produce close to 12 Mt of high grade (65% Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate next year.

Using his industry knowledge, North pitted Ferrexpo’s fleet performance against others on the global stage.

“Mining is a highly capital-intensive business and that equipment you buy has got be moving – either loaded or empty – throughout the day,” North said. “24 hours-a-day operation is impossible as you must put fuel in vehicles and you need to change operators, so, in the beginning, we focused on increasing the utilised hours. After a couple of years, I noticed we were getting very close to the benchmark performance globally set by the majors.

“If you are looking at pushing your utilisation further, it inevitably leads you to automation.”

Ferrexpo was up for pushing it further and, four years ago, started the process of going autonomous, with its Yeristovo iron ore mine, opened in 2011, the first candidate for an operational shakeup.

“Yeristovo is a far simpler configuration from a mining point of view,” North explained. “It is basically just a large box cut. Poltava, on the other hand (its other iron ore producing mine currently), has been around for 50 years; it is a very deep and complex operation.

“We thought the place to dip our toe into the water and get good at autonomy was Yeristovo.”

This started off in 2017 with deployment of teleremote operation on its Epiroc Pit Viper 275 blasthole drill rigs. The company has gradually increased the level of autonomy, progressing to remotely operating these rigs from a central control room. In 2021-2022, these rigs will move to fully-autonomous mode, North says.

Ferrexpo has also been leveraging remotely-operated technology for mine site surveying, employing drones to speed up and improve the accuracy of the process. The miner has invested in three of these drones to carry out not only site surveys, but stockpile mapping and – perhaps next year – engineering inspections.

“The productivity benefits from these drones are huge,” North said. “In just two days of drone operation, you can carry out the same amount of work it would take three or four surveyors to do in one or two weeks!”

OEM-agnostic solution

It is the haul truck segment of the mine automation project at Yeristovo that has caught the most industry attention, with Ferrexpo one of the first to choose an OEM-agnostic solution from a company outside of the big four open-pit mining haul truck manufacturers.

The company settled on a solution from ASI Mining, owned 34% by Epiroc, after the completion of a trial of the Mobius® Haulage A.I. system on a Cat 793D last year.

The first phase of the commercial project is already kicking off, with the first of six Cat 793s converted to autonomous mode now up and running at Yeristovo. On completion of this first phase of six trucks, consideration will be given to timing of further deployment for the remainder of the Yeristovo truck fleet.

This trial and rollout may appear fairly routine, but behind the scenes was an 18-month process to settle on ASI’s solution.

“For us, as a business, we have about 86 trucks deployed on site,” North said. “We simply couldn’t take the same route BHP or Rio took three or four years ago in acquiring an entirely new autonomous fleet. At that point, Cat and Komatsu were the only major OEMs offering these solutions and they were offering limited numbers of trucks models with no fleet integration possibilities.

“If you had a mixed fleet – which we do – then you were looking at a multi-hundred-million-dollar decision to change out your mining fleet. That is prohibitive for a business like ours.”

Ferrexpo personnel visited ASI Mining’s facility in Utah, USA, several times, hearing all about the parent company’s work with NASA on robotics. “We knew they had the technical capability to work in tough environments,” North remarked.

“We also saw work they had been doing with Ford and Toyota for a number of years on their unmanned vehicles, and we witnessed the object detect and collision avoidance solutions in action on a test track.”

Convinced by these demonstrations and with an eye to the future of its operations, Ferrexpo committed to an OEM-agnostic autonomous future.

“If we want to get to a fully autonomous fleet at some stage in the future, we will need to pick a provider that could turn any unit into an autonomous vehicle,” North said. It found that in ASI Mining’s Mobius platform.

Such due diligence is representative not only of the team’s thorough approach to this project, it also reflects the realities of deploying such a solution in Ukraine.

“It is all about building capability,” North said. “This is new technology in Ukraine – it’s not like you can go down the road and find somebody that has worked on this type of technology before. As a result, it’s all about training and building up the capacity in our workforce.”

After this expertise has been established, the automation rollout will inevitably accelerate.

“Once we have Yeristovo fully autonomous, we intend to move the autonomy program to Belanovo, which we started excavating a couple of years ago,” North said. “The last pit we would automate would be Poltava, purely due to complexity.”

Belanovo, which has a JORC Mineral Resource of 1,700 Mt, is currently mining overburden with 30-40 t ADTs shifting this material. While ASI Mining said it would be able to automate such machines, North decided the automation program will only begin when large fleet is deployed.

“When we deploy large fleet at Belanovo and start to move significant volumes, we intend for it to become a fully-autonomous operation,” he said.

Poltava, which is a single pit covering a 7 km long by 2 km wide area (pictured below), has a five-decade-long history and a more diverse mining fleet than Yeristovo. In this respect, it was always going to be harder to automate from a loading and haulage point of view.

“If you think about the fleet numbers deployed when Belanovo is running, we will probably have 50% of our fleet running autonomously,” North said. “The level of capability to run that level of technology would be high, so it makes sense to take on the more complex operation at Poltava at that point in time.”

Consolidation and decarbonisation

This autonomy transition has also given North and his team the chance to re-evaluate its fleet needs for now and in the future.

This is not as simple as it may sound to those thinking of a typical Pilbara AHS fleet deployment, with the Yeristovo and Poltava mines containing different ore types that require blending at the processing plant in order to sustain a cost-effective operation able to produce circa-12 Mt/y of high-grade (65%-plus Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate.

“That limits our ability in terms of fleet size for ore mining because we want to match the capacity of the fleet to the different ore streams we feed into the plant,” North said.

This has seen the company standardise on circa-220 t trucks for ore movement and 300-320 t trucks for waste haulage.

On the latter, North explained: “That is about shovel utilisation, not necessarily about trucks. If you go much larger than that 320-t truck, you are talking about the need to use large rope shovels and we don’t have enough consistent stripping requirements for that. We think the 800 t-class electric hydraulic excavator is a suitable match for the circa-320 t truck.”

This standardisation process at Poltava has seen BELAZ 40 t trucks previously working in the pit re-assigned for auxiliary work, with the smallest in-pit Cat 777 trucks acting as fuel, water and lubrication service vehicles at Poltava.

“The Cat 785s are the smallest operating primary fleet we have at Poltava,” North said. “We also have the Hitachi EH3500s and Cat 789s and Cat 793s, tending to keep the bigger fleet towards Yeristovo and the smaller fleet at Poltava.”

In carrying out this evaluation, the company has also plotted its next electrification steps.

“Given we have got to the point where we know we want 220 t for ore and 300-320 t nominally for waste at Yeristovo, we have a very clear understanding of where we are going in our efforts to support our climate action,” North said.

Electrification of the company’s entire operation – both the power generation and pelletising segment, and the mobile fleet – forms a significant part of its carbon reduction plans.

A 5 MW solar farm is being built to trial the efficacy of photovoltaic generation in the region, while, in the pelletiser, the company is blending sunflower husks with natural gas to power the process. Fine tuning over the past few years has seen the company settle on a 30:70 sunflower husk:natural gas energy ratio, allowing the company to make the most of a waste product in plentiful supply in Ukraine.

On top of this, the company is recuperating heat from the pelletisation process where possible and reusing it for other processes.

With a significant amount of ‘blue’ (nuclear) or ‘green’ (renewable) power available through the grid and plans to incorporate renewables on site, Ferrexpo looks to have the input part of the decarbonisation equation covered.

In the pellet lines, North says green hydrogen is believed to be the partial or full displacement solution for gas firing, with the company keenly watching developments such as the HYBRIT project in Sweden.

On the diesel side of things, Ferrexpo is also charting its decarbonisation course. This will start with a move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years.

Power infrastructure is already available in the pits energising most of its electric-hydraulic shovels and backhoes, and the intention is for these new electric drive trucks to go on trolley line infrastructure to eradicate some of the operation’s diesel use.

“Initially we would still need to rely on diesel engines at the end of ramps and the bottom of pits, but our intention is to utilise some alternative powerpack on these trucks as the technology becomes available,” North said.

He expects that alternative powerpack to be battery-based, but he and the company are keeping their options open during conversations with OEMs about the fleet replacement plans.

“We know we are going to have to buy a fleet in the next couple of years, but the problem is when you make that sort of purchase, you are committing to using those machines for the next 20 years,” North said. “During all our conversations with OEMs we are recognising that we will need to buy a fleet before they have probably finalised their ‘decarbonised’ solutions, so all the contracts are based on the OEM providing that fully carbon-free solution when it becomes available.”

With around 15% of the company’s carbon footprint tied to diesel use, this could have a big impact on Ferrexpo’s ‘green’ credentials, yet the transition to trolley assist makes sense even without this sustainability benefit.

“The advantages in terms of mining productivity are huge,” North said. “You go from 15 km/h on ramp to just under 30 km/h on ramp.”

This is not all North offered up on the company’s carbon reduction plans.

At both of Ferrexpo’s operations, the company moves a lot of ore internally with shuttle trains, some of which are powered by diesel engines. A more environmentally friendly alternative is being sought for these locomotives.

“We are working with rail consultants that are delivering solutions for others to ‘fast follow’ that sector,” North said referencing the project already underway with Vale at its operations in Brazil. “We are investigating at the moment how we could design and deploy the solution at our operations for a lithium-ion battery loco.”

Not all the company’s decarbonisation and energy-efficiency initiatives started as recently as the last few years.

When examining a plan to reach 12 Mt/y of iron ore pellet production, North and his team looked at the whole ‘mine to mill’ approach.

“The cheapest place to optimise your comminution of rock is within the mine itself,” North said. “If you can optimise your blasting and get better fragmentation in the pit, you are saving energy, wear on materials, etc and you are doing some of the job of the concentrator and comminution process in the mine.”

A transition to a full emulsion blasting product came out of this study, and a move from NONEL detonators to electronic detonators could follow in the forthcoming years.

“That also led us into thinking about the future crusher – where we want to put it, what materials to feed into the expanded plant in the future, and what blending ratio we want to have from the pits,” North said. “The problem with pit development in a business that is moving 150-200 Mt of material a year is the crusher location needs to change as the mining horizons change.”

It ended up becoming a tradeoff between placing a new crusher in the pit on an assigned bench or putting it on top of the bench and hauling ore to that location.

The favoured location looks like being within the pit, according to North.

“It will be a substantial distance away from where our existing facility at Poltava is and we will convey the material into the plant,” he said. “We did the tradeoff study between hauling with trains/trucks, or conveying and, particularly for Belanovo, we need to take that ore to the crusher from the train network we already have in place.”

These internal ‘green’ initiatives are representative of the products Ferrexpo is supplying the steel industry.

Having shifted away from lower grade pellets to a higher-grade product in the past five years and started to introduce direct reduced iron pellet products to the market with trial shipments, Ferrexpo is looking to be a major player in the ‘green steel’ value chain.

North says as much.

“We are getting very close to understanding our path forward and our journey to carbon neutrality.”

Vale, Kobe Steel and Mitsui & Co to combine ‘green’ iron-making solutions

Vale says it has reached a non-binding heads of agreement with Kobe Steel and Mitsui & Co to establish a new venture to supply low CO2 iron metallics and iron-making solutions to the steel industry.

The heads of agreement establishes the preliminary terms and conditions for the creation of a new venture with the objective of delivering low CO2 metallics to the global market, providing new technological solutions to its clients, Vale said.

“An evaluation period has already begun to deepen the cooperation and to gauge market demand for several existing and new steel-making solutions prior to a final agreement for the creation of the NewVen,” it added.

Vale has previously declared 2030 targets for Scope 1 and 2 emissions in line with a commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Steel production, part of Vale’s Scope 3 emissions, while essential for people’s daily lives, generates considerable CO2 emissions. “Vale is committed to contribute with its steel-making clients in this challenge of reducing their carbon footprint,” it said.

The new venture will use existing and new low-CO2 iron making technology such as Tecnored®️ technology and the MIDREX®️ Process.

Tecnored is a 100%-owned Vale subsidiary focused on developing a low carbon pig iron process through the use of energy sources, such as biomass, syn-gas and hydrogen, that emits less CO2 than the traditional coal and coke iron-making process. Using biomass, the path to economic carbon neutrality may be achieved in the medium term, according to Vale.

MIDREX Technologies, a 100%-owned Kobe Steel subsidiary, is a world leading direct reduction ironmaking (DRI) technology. Each year, MIDREX plants produce more than 60% of the entire world’s DRI (example above) and more than 80% of the DRI produced by all shaft furnace technologies. Since it uses both natural gas and hydrogen as a reductant in the process, its CO2 emission level is much less than compared with a blast furnace.

Tenova HYL to supply direct reduction iron technology to Sinosteel in Bolivia

Tenova says its HYL division will supply a DRI Micro-Module to steelmaker Sinosteel for its Empresa Siderúrgica del Mutún (ESM) project in Bolivia.

Tenova HYL’s direct reduction technology will be used for the first stage of the project, which will include a 250,000 t/y direct reduction iron (DRI) facility, a 650,000 t/y concentration plant, a 400,000 t/y pelletising facility for Mina El Mutún and a steel plant with a continuous caster and rolling mill with a total capacity of 190,000 t/y of long steel products.

“This cost-effective Micro Module will use the state-of-the-art ENERGIRON Zero-Reformer (ZR) Process and will be capable of supplying the melt shop with high quality DRI with metallisation levels of 94% and an adjustable high carbon content in the range of 3% to 4%,” the company said.

Rubén Rodríguez, Sales Manager at Tenova HYL, said the contract was very significant, with construction of these facilities being the “cornerstone in what surely is the beginning of the steelmaking industry in Bolivia”.

Stefano Maggiolino, President and CEO at Tenova HYL, said: “After the recent successful projects in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, we are glad that the first DR plant built in South America in the last 20 years will use the state-of-the-art ENERGIRON technology.”

The 250,000 t/y Micro Module plant is expected to be in operation in mid-2021.

HYBRIT Chooses Tenova DRI for fossil-free steel-making tech

Tenova HYL has been contracted by HYBRIT to supply its direct reduced iron (DRI) solution as part of the world’s first fossil-free steel-making technology in Sweden.

HYBRIT, a joint-venture project between SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, was established in 2016 with an aim to replace coking coal, traditionally needed for ore-based steel making, with hydrogen, a fossil-free steel-making technology. This would result in steel with virtually no carbon footprint, the company says.

The Tenova HYL DRI technology will be used at HYBRIT’s pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden, which is expected to begin operations in 2020.

“Thanks to the unique characteristics of its process and its specific expertise in direct reduction with high content of hydrogen, Tenova HYL perfectly fitted with HYBRIT project,” Tenova said.

The company added that the “manoeuvrability” of production of the DRI module was another contributing factor, adding flexibility in terms of operations.

Mårten Görnerup, CEO of Hybrit Development AB, said: “By using state-of-the-art production technology as a starting point, we will more quickly reach our goal of a fossil-free future.”

HYBRIT’s goal is to have a solution for fossil-free steel by 2035.