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Straw and sugar cane replace coal in low-carbon iron-making process

Professional Engineering

Stock image. The BioIron process is designed to provide a cost-effective option to cut industrial carbon emissions from steelmaking (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image. The BioIron process is designed to provide a cost-effective option to cut industrial carbon emissions from steelmaking (Credit: Shutterstock)

Plant matter including straw and sugar cane products has replaced coal in a new low-carbon iron-making method.

Known as the BioIron process, the technique was developed by Anglo-Australian metals and mining firm Rio Tinto. It has been tested over the last 18 months in Germany by a team from Rio Tinto, Finnish sustainable technology company Metso Outotec and the University of Nottingham, which yesterday (23 November) declared that its ‘effectiveness… has been proven’.

Designed to provide a potentially cost-effective option to cut industrial carbon emissions, the BioIron process uses plant matter, known as lignocellulosic biomass – such as wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, canola sticks or barley straw – instead of coal. The biomass is blended with iron ore and heated by a combination of combusting gases released by the biomass and high-efficiency microwaves, which can be powered by renewable energy. The method converts iron ore to metallic iron.

“It has been incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to take part in this research that, if developed to a commercial scale, has the potential to have an immense impact on decarbonisation within the steel production process. We look forward to continuing to support Rio Tinto as it enters the next phase of testing, and hope that it yields just as much success,” said Chris Dodds, head of the department of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Nottingham.

The testing used ore from Pilbara in Western Australia.

“Finding low-carbon solutions for iron and steelmaking is critical for the world, as we tackle the challenges of climate change. Proving Biolron works at this scale is an exciting development, given the implications it could have for global decarbonisation,” said Alf Barrios, chief commercial officer at Rio Tinto.

“The results from this initial testing phase show great promise and demonstrate that the Biolron process is well-suited to Pilbara iron ore fines. This is just one of the pathways we are developing in our decarbonisation work with our customers, universities, and industry to reduce carbon emissions right across the steel value chain.”

The process will now be tested on a larger scale. If those tests are successful, the technology could be scaled commercially to process Rio Tinto’s iron ore fines.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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