Tag Archives: tantalum

Boston Metal looks to disrupt and decarbonise steel and iron ore industries

Boston Metal is looking to decarbonise the steel-making sector at the same time as helping iron ore producers with their Scope 3 emissions dilemma.

The concept of ‘green steel’ has been widely discussed over the last few years, with LKAB, SSAB and Vattenfall’s HYBRIT project being the most cited case study, thanks to both its advanced stage of development – it has already produced fossil-free steel on a trial basis – and its revolutionary way of introducing hydrogen in place of coke as the iron ore reduction method in the steel-making process.

SSAB and LKAB are leveraging HYBRIT to completely transform their production processes: SSAB is building new hydrogen-based steel making facilities able to match its current base of 8.8 Mt/y of steel by 2030 and LKAB is moving from iron ore pellet production to direct reduced iron (DRI) in line with this.

Tadeu Carneiro, Chairman & CEO of Boston Metal

The ambitions of such a project are impressive, but can such a green steel-making process be applied to the circa-1,900 Mt of steel currently being produced for the world market?

The answer is no, according to Tadeu Carneiro, Chairman & CEO of Boston Metal.

He expands on this: “There are four ways of reducing iron oxides into a metal for steel-making. One is through the use of carbon; another way is through using another metal as a reductant, which is currently not feasible; the third one is with hydrogen, which is possible – as HYBRIT has shown – but is limited to premium iron ores; and the last is through our solution.”

The solution in question is – like HYBRIT – a green option, but – unlike HYBRIT – is applicable to all iron ores, regardless of grade, according to Carneiro.

Boston Metal’s process, which it calls Molten Oxide Electrolysis (MOE), works by adding iron ore to an electrolytic cell and passing electricity through said cell. The electricity both breaks the bonds of the iron oxides present, as well as heats up the whole batch within the cell, creating molten iron that sinks to the bottom of the cell ready for collection (tapping).

During the bond breaking and heating process, MOE produces oxygen as a by-product, with the resultant oxides forming the electolyte and remaining in said electrolyte (floating above the liquid iron).

“Because it is molten, the iron gets separated from the electrolyte and sits in the bottom of the cell,” Carneiro said. “As the molten iron is heavier than the electrolyte, the impurities float to the top and can be tapped separately.”

So, not only do companies using MOE get a molten iron product, they also get a slag by-product that can be used in various applications in the construction industry – all without using coking coal or coke.

“In traditional blast furnace-based steel making, you have to pelletise or sinter the iron ore, you need to process coking coal into coke and you then have to mix the two in the blast furnace and blow air to get pig iron,” Carneiro explained. “This pig iron contains around 4% carbon, which needs to be burnt off through, typically, a process in the basic oxygen furnace to get molten iron.”

Boston Metal’s MOE process gets to this same point using just iron ore and electricity, according to Carneiro.

“All of this is replaced by a battery of cells that, when assembled in significant numbers, can compete with blast furnaces in terms of molten iron capacity,” he said.

Carneiro expanded on what he meant by ‘significant numbers’, offering up an example of 300 MOE modules assembled in two lines of 150 able to produce 1 Mt of steel.

And all of this is in an incremental capital expenditure range within the millions of dollars, instead of the billions of dollars often required to build a traditional steel-making plant.

This puts a green process in the reach of not only steel-makers but iron ore producers, according to Carneiro.

“If you have green electricity at an iron ore mine, you can bring the cells there, melt the iron and ship a metallic product to steel-makers,” Carneiro said.

This pure iron product can be remelted elsewhere and processed into flat and long steel products for the automotive and construction industries.

“This represents a higher value-added product for iron ore miners, enabling them to ship a product that is 40% lighter in terms of weight,” Carneiro explained.

Finding a ‘green’ end-user that brings down a miners’ Scope 3 emissions while holding a molten iron ore product is a lot easier than finding one when shipping iron fines, concentrate or sinter: hence the reason why iron ore miners’ Scope 3 emission goals appear a lot less ambitious than the Scope 1 and 2 targets within their control.

It is no wonder BHP and Vale have been early backers of Boston Metal.

It sounds too good to be true, and there is a reason for that.

From speaking to Carneiro, the company could start producing molten iron through the chosen method today – not at a scale the steel-industry would yet consider commercial, but at a pilot scale at least.

For the commercial process to be considered green, the company would need renewable electricity to do this; and lots of it.

Carneiro doesn’t shy away from this, explaining that MOE will require 4 MWh of electricity per tonne of steel to work at such a scale. This is the equivalent of up to 500 MW for a 1 Mt/y molten iron plant.

The incumbent process Carneiro and his US-based team are looking to take market share from requires 5.5-6 MWh of energy per tonne of steel, while the electric arc furnace (EAF) method of making steel – which uses predominantly scrap metal – has a much smaller electricity requirement.

“If you had 2 billion tonnes of scrap to be melted, the EAF route is the best way to make steel, hands down,” Carneiro admits. “The problem is you don’t have such scrap availability and, in order to increase supply, you would need lots more steel coming from iron ore.”

For reference, the HYBRIT process is expected to require 600 MW of hydrogen electrolyser capacity to 2025 to get LKAB to the 1.3 Mt/y sponge iron (DRI) mark.

Yet, scrap steel is not the only thing in short supply currently. Green electricity is far from abundant, with only the likes of Quebec (hydro power capacity) and some Nordic countries having a plentiful supply – a fact Carneiro acknowledges.

“If you don’t believe that green electricity will be available, abundant, reliable and cheap in the future, you can forget about the MOE process,” he said. “But then you also have to forget about a lot of other processes that are set to use green electricity and the massive amounts of investment the green energy space is seeing on an annual basis.

“Society has decided to go electric and to go electric in a green way, so it is only reasonable to expect that, in the future, electricity will be all of this.”

Carneiro is planning for such a transition, with his company in the process of commissioning a full-size industrial MOE cell at its Woburn, Massachusetts headquarters. This could be ready as early as next month.

It follows a trial of a pilot cell at Brazil-based ferroniobium producer CBMM’s production plant in Araxá, Brazil, where the technology was able to use the same process to turn niobium ore into high-value ferroniobium-based products.

“We were able to prove out the process with CBMM on a smaller scale, which has given us the confidence to make a much bigger cell.”

The company plans to use this bigger cell and, through a subsidiary in Brazil, take advantage of other opportunities to extract value from mining waste using the MOE technology. This could see Boston Metal assemble a battery of MOE cells to manufacture some 5,000-10,000 t of high value-added metals.

While this is deemed ‘pilot scale’ for steel producers, it is sizeable for those producing high value-added products such as niobium, vanadium, tantalum, chrome and others, Carneiro said. And the project will only aide the company’s steel-making ambitions.

“By developing the cell for these high value-added metals, we are finding lots of the answers for the steel-sized cells as well,” he said.

Such groundwork today is preparing the company for a time when steel-makers and iron ore miners have assessed the green electricity landscape and are ready to invest in such technology.

“All the leading steel-making companies have made pledges to be carbon neutral by the 2050s,” Carneiro said. “This means they need to phase out carbon reduction by the mid- to late-2030s. By this point in time, we will be ready to offer our solution on a commercial scale, allowing them to take advantage of the abundance of iron ores – low and high grade – around the world.”

New Ishigaki filter press starts up at Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora operation

Pilbara Minerals Ltd says it has commenced concentrate production from its newly installed filter press at the Pilgan Plant. The development is part of the Plant Improvements Project being undertaken at its 100%-owned Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum operation in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The filter press in question is provided by Ishigaki and will handle approximately 1,500 t/d of concentrate, Pilbara Minerals’ Managing Director and CEO, Ken Brinsden, confirmed.

The Pilgan Plant Improvements Project is expected to de-bottleneck the facility to increase plant operating time and throughput, reduce final product moisture (minimising solar drying) and further manage product recovery performance. These improvements are ultimately expected to realise additional production capacity from the facility, and particularly from the fines flotation circuit.

A total of approximately A$22 million ($16 million) of capital will be invested, with the project expected to be fully ramped-up during the December quarter 2021 to 360,000-380,000 t (dry) of spodumene concentrate. When combined with Ngungaju Plant’s ramped-up capacity of 180,000-200,000 t (dry), which is expected from mid-2022, the total annual production capacity across the entire Pilgangoora operation is expected to increase to circa-560,000-580,000 t/y.

Brinsden said the commencement of production from the Pilgan Plant Improvements Project marked another significant and exciting milestone in the rapid growth of the Pilgangoora project.

“The team has done another amazing job in delivering this project on time and in line with budget,” he said. “Keeping it on track, in combination with the restart of the Ngungaju Plant, is testament to the delivery capability of our team – particularly considering that these works were achieved during a period when the resources industry is under considerable pressure in terms of securing people, resources and equipment.”

IronMerge SIMPEC joint venture to work on Pilgangoora lithium operation

SIMPEC and IronMerge have secured their first contract under a newly incorporated joint venture, with the IronMerge SIMPEC JV to work on Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora lithium operation in Western Australia.

WestStar Industrial Ltd’s SIMPEC formed its first Aboriginal Business joint venture, IronMerge SIMPEC JV, with IronMerge Pty Ltd just last month.

The Stage 1 A$15 million ($11.7 million) improvement works contract at Pilgangoora involves a series of works to improve operating time and throughput as part of continuous improvement to operational performance of Pilgangoora’s Stage 1, 2 Mt/y processing facility.

SIMPEC has been contracted to perform all vertical installation works including earth works, civils, fabrication, structural, mechanical, piping, tanks, electrical and instrumentation works for the project. All works will be conducted with joint venture partner IronMerge.

The Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project has a current resource of 222.5 Mt and existing JORC compliant reserves of 104.6 Mt.

SIMPEC Managing Director, Mark Dimasi (pictured on the right), said: “This newly awarded contract is a tribute to not only our SIMPEC delivery team but also Ian Taylor (Chairman of IronMerge, pictured in the middle next to Ken Brinsden, MD and CEO of Pilbara Minerals, on the left) and his IronMerge team. This is a very proud moment for all of us and I sincerely look forward to seeing this JV relationship growing and developing in the construction and mining sector. A big thank you to the Pilbara Minerals team for backing us throughout this tender phase.”

Minespider wins EIT Raw Materials funding for supply chain transparency app

Minespider, a blockchain protocol for responsible mineral tracking, has been awarded a grant of over €180,000 ($213,732) from the EIT Raw Materials Booster Programme.

The program aims to support start-ups and SMEs in creating innovative products and services that will positively impact the raw materials sector, according to Minespider.

The grant will help Minespider develop OreSource, a due diligence product that helps mines and smelters capture key information that importers in the European Union need to comply with EU Conflict Mineral Regulation. The regulation, which comes into force in January 2021, requires EU importers of 3TG (tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold) to perform due diligence to determine whether their material comes from a conflict affected or high-risk area.

Minespider Founder and CEO, Nathan Williams, said: “European importers need to have better access to data to operate in this new regulatory environment. They require certain data to be included with the materials they purchase.”

The OreSource product extends the capabilities of Minespider’s open, public blockchain protocol, which allows companies to track their raw material shipments, demonstrating where the materials come from and the conditions under which they were produced, the company says. This blockchain creates digital certificates that separate data into three different layers, depending on whether the data should be publicly visible, transparent between members of the same supply chain, or private between a company and their customer.

“This allows their clients, including Volkswagen and Google, to share sensitive transparency information with their customers and other supply chain participants securely,” Minespider says.

The OreSource app allows mines and smelters to provide information to distinguish their products from the rest of the market. Mines and smelters who use the app upload key data such as bills of lading, invoices, company policies, and third-party certifications, which are assembled into a digital certificate and linked along the supply chain.

By affixing a QR code to a mineral shipment, or on an invoice, the recipients of the materials have all the data they need to ensure their compliance with the EU regulation, secured on Minespider’s public blockchain protocol, the company claims.

Williams continued: “Responsible producers are often at a disadvantage in the global market. OreSource is a solid first step toward making responsibly sourced material the norm instead of the exception.”

Companies importing material into Europe benefit from this information, as they have all they need to conduct due diligence. “This means they can view transport routes, analyse production site responsibility, and demonstrate a chain of custody for their raw materials,” Minespider says.

OreSource will also offer analytical tools that allow material importers to identify potential conflict areas and other red flags, the company says, enabling them to ask further questions when needed and ensure all of their imports have been sourced responsibly.

Williams concluded: “The EU and other government agencies are spearheading a new global era of sustainable sourcing. OreSource will support these efforts by ensuring that key data from mineral producers is captured in a transparent manner, and communicated along the supply chain. We are moving away from a world of anonymous commodities, to one of trusted products.”

Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund boosting mine development

A new investment mandate for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) is helping more projects get off the ground sooner, NAIF Executive Director Peter Ross told delegates at the International Mining and Resources Conference 2018 (IMARC) in Melbourne.

Ross said the fund’s investment mandate, introduced in April, was proving significantly more flexible.

“We are now able to provide up to 100% of the debt finance for a project – up from 50% previously, and we can now also consider smaller projects below A$50 million ($35 million) in value, where they meet other criteria,” Ross said.

Since its establishment in 2016, the NAIF has grown its portfolio. It has moved from having five projects in due diligence in 2017 to making investment decisions on six projects in the last financial year.

“Our loan portfolio now stands at A$264 million, on Northern Australian projects valued at A$969 million,” Ross said.

“In addition, we have another A$750 million of loans that are conditionally approved. In total, the NAIF expects to soon be supporting projects valued at A$2.3 billion, which will provide thousands of jobs in Northern Australia and deliver long-term benefits for the region.”

As might be expected in Northern Australia, resource projects feature prominently in the NAIF portfolio. Since June 2017 a third of the projects considered for due diligence by the fund have been resources-related.

Of the six projects sanctioned, three are resource related.

Sheffield Resources’ Thunderbird mineral sands project (pictured) secured A$95 million in finance to develop its LNG power station and reticulation, and upgrade road and port infrastructure to support the project in WA’s West Kimberley Region.

The NAIF has also signed off on a A$95 million facility for the Onslow Marine Supply Base, and A$15 million for the upgrade of the Pippingarra Road, a 70 km public road to access the Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum mine being developed by Pilbara Minerals, near Port Hedland.

Ross said as word spread of the NAIF’s capacity, project enquiries were increasing. The NAIF has experienced a 320% increase in projects undergoing due diligence since September 2017.

Apart from being an infrastructure project in Australia’s north, to secure NAIF support a project must also have the capacity to repay or re-finance on commercial terms, be of public benefit, and demonstrate it has an effective indigenous engagement strategy.