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Rio Tinto to try producing low-carbon iron in Canada

Image courtesy of Acero AHMSA | YouTube.

The world’s second-largest miner, Rio Tinto, (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) has teamed up with two European companies to explore production of low-emissions hot briquetted iron (HBI) in Canada, amid increasing pressure from stakeholders to make steelmaking a more environmentally-friendly activity.

The mining giant, which has been working on cutting sector emissions since 2019,  has inked a memorandum of understanding with Luxembourg-based engineering firm Paul Wurth S.A. and German steelmaker SHS-Stahl-Holding-Saar GmbH & Co. KGaA.

The partners will explore the viability of transforming iron ore pellets into low-carbon hot briquetted iron (HBI), a low-carbon steel feedstock, using green hydrogen generated from hydro-electricity in Canada.

Feasibility study into potential industrial-scale low-carbon iron production in Canada is scheduled for completion in late 2021

“Canada provides access to cost competitive hydro-electricity, and proximity to key markets in Europe and North America,” Rio Tinto said. “When processed in an electric arc furnace with carbon-free electricity, [the new process] has the potential to reduce significantly the carbon emissions associated with steelmaking.”

Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), majority-owned by Rio, will supply high-grade iron ore for the project, with a feasibility study for potential industrial scale low-carbon iron production scheduled to be completed in late 2021.

As a part of Rio’s climate strategy, the partnership will “support the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies for hard-to-abate processes like steelmaking,” IOC president and chief executive, Clayton Walker, said in the statement.

The announcement builds on the group’s decision, unveiled in December, to invest $10 million in low-carbon steelmaking projects over the next two years, as part of its partnership with China Baowu Steel Group, the nation’s largest steel producer.

The highly polluting process of making steel involves adding coking coal to iron ore to make the alloy, and is estimated to be responsible for up to 9% of global greenhouse emissions.