Tag Archives: sponge iron

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.

HYBRIT partners produce world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron

SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall say they have now produced the world’s first hydrogen-reduced sponge iron at a pilot scale.

The technological breakthrough in the HYBRIT initiative captures around 90% of emissions in conjunction with steelmaking and is a decisive step on the road to fossil-free steel, the partners say.

The feat from the HYBRIT pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden, showed it is possible to use fossil-free hydrogen gas to reduce iron ore instead of using coal and coke to remove the oxygen. Production has been continuous and of good quality, the companies said, with around 100 t made so far.

This is the first time ever that hydrogen made with fossil-free electricity has been used in the direct reduction of iron ore at a pilot scale, according to the HYBRIT partners. The goal, in principle, is to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the steelmaking process by using only fossil-free feedstock and fossil-free energy in all parts of the value chain.

Hydrogen-based reduction is a critical milestone, which paves the way for future fossil-free iron and steelmaking. SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall intend, through HYBRIT, to create the most efficient value chain from the mine to steel, with the aim of being first to market, in 2026, with fossil-free steel at an industrial scale, they say.

Last year, HYBRIT, a joint initiative of SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall, began test operations to make hydrogen-reduced sponge iron in the pilot plant built with support from the Swedish Energy Agency. The technology is being constantly developed and the sponge iron that has been successfully made using hydrogen technology is the feedstock for the fossil-free steel of the future, they say.

Jan Moström, President and CEO at LKAB, said: “This is a major breakthrough both for us and for the entire iron and steel industry. LKAB is the future supplier of sponge iron and this is a critical step in the right direction. Progress with HYBRIT enables us to maintain the pace in our transition and, already in 2026, we will begin the switch to industrial-scale production with the first demonstration plant in Gällivare, Sweden. Once LKAB has converted its entire production to sponge iron, we will enable the transition of the steel industry and reduce global emissions by around 35 Mt a year, which corresponds to two thirds of Sweden’s entire emissions. This is the greatest action we can take together for the good of the climate.”

Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO at SSAB, added: “This technological breakthrough is a critical step on the road to fossil-free steel. The potential cannot be underestimated. It means that we can reach climate goals in Sweden and Finland and contribute to reducing emissions across Europe. At the same time, it creates new jobs and export successes. SSAB’s transition means we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in Sweden and 7% in Finland. High-strength fossil-free steel will also allow us to help our customers to strengthen their competitiveness. As early as this year, we will deliver minor quantities of steel made using hydrogen-based reduction to customers, and in 2026 we will deliver fossil-free steel at a large scale.”

The hydrogen used in the direct reduction process is generated by electrolysis of water with fossil-free electricity, and can be used immediately or stored for later use, according to the partners. In May, HYBRIT began work on building a pilot-scale hydrogen storage facility adjacent to the direct reduction pilot plant in Luleå.

Anna Borg, President and CEO at Vattenfall, said: “Sweden’s and Vattenfall’s fossil-free electricity is a basic requirement for the low carbon footprint of hydrogen-reduced sponge iron. The breakthrough that we can announce today shows in a very real way how electrification contributes to enabling a fossil-free life within a generation.”

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”