SA the ‘ideal location’ for iron ore producers’ green steel trial, says Koutsantonis

The state’s Energy and Mining Minister says South Australia is well-positioned to play a major role in a steel decarbonisation trial being led by BHP, Rio Tinto and Bluescope.

Feb 12, 2024, updated Feb 12, 2024
Whyalla steelworks. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Whyalla steelworks. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Announced last week, two of the largest iron ore producers and the nation’s biggest steelmaker have partnered to investigate the development of Australia’s first ironmaking electric smelting furnace (ESF) pilot plant.

The agreement will draw on BHP and Rio Tinto’s iron ore from Western Australia’s Pilbara region and BlueScope’s technical experience in manufacturing.

The pilot would aim to demonstrate that the production of molten iron from Pilbara ores is possible when using renewable energy combined with direct reduced iron (DRI) process technology.

In a joint statement, the three industry titans said they were assessing “several locations in Australia for the proposed pilot facility”, with a goal to commission the project as early as 2027.

Speaking to InDaily, South Australia’s Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis said: “If there is an opportunity for SA to be part of that supply chain, we would welcome that”.

“South Australian magnetite iron ore is of a much higher quality than Pilbara hematite, meaning our resource doesn’t need this extra step in the refining process. However, iron from WA’s Pilbara province will always have an important role in supplying the world with iron,” he said.

“SA is an ideal location for such a trial – we have a unique combination of natural resources, renewable energy and a skilled workforce – as well as the geographical space necessary to accommodate such a pilot plant at scale.

“We are interested to hear more from Rio Tinto, BHP and BlueScope about whether this might be an opportunity for SA and we would obviously work with all three to assist.”

It comes nearly four months after the Whyalla steelworks’ coke ovens were switched off for an electric alternative after 55 years of operation.

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Sanjeev Gupta, the executive chairman of GFG Alliance which operates the Whyalla plant, said at the time that the company was making a transition to a “brighter, greener, more productive” future, with hydrogen-powered production of the material at the centre of the “new era”.

The pivot includes the installation of a state-of-the-art electric furnace.

“This town has been successfully mining iron ore for more than a century and producing steel for over 50 years,” Gutpta said in September.

“However, we now realise that the carbon that has helped build the past has also been slowly and quietly suffocating our planet is now reaching a tipping point where it accelerates climate change, turning the world into a pressure cooker.”

“So now it’s time to rethink and re-engineer how the steel we make can continue to build our world going forward.”

– with AAP

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