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Celebrating Australian Made – towards green Australian supply chains by John Noonan

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Today in our editorial series Celebrating Australian Made, coinciding with Australian Made Week, we look at how steel producers are moving to embrace green steel production technologies which will flow through to the entire steel value chain, including numerous Australian Made licensees. By John Noonan

Europe introduces a carbon border tax in 2026, but will steel users have to pay a premium for green steel?

Not if Australia’s experiment with greening the steel manufacturing supply chain is successful.

Australia is investing heavily in a 100 percent Distributed Variable Renewable Energy and Storage (DVRES) electricity grid allowing the development of the green iron ore mining and green steel production that will underpin a critical sovereign industrial green manufacturing supply chain. There are few materials to modern life as steel.

Iron Ore is Australia’s largest export and the Australian steel industry generates $29 billion in annual revenue, employs almost 140,000 people across the country and will be critical to delivering the infrastructure Australia needs to become a renewable energy superpower.

South Australia has a critical role to play – it is already a GWatt-scale DVRES powerhouse and and its energy transition will be complete by 2030. The rest of the Australian NEM including steel producing regions of New South Wales is following suit.

But it is SA that leads in the development of a green steel manufacturing facility at the Liberty Steel Whyalla plant, owned by GFG Alliance. GFG’s Infrabuild subsidiary is an Australian Made licensee.

There are 2 primary production methods for steel:

  • The old dirty BF/BOF (Blast Furnace/Basic Oxygen Furnace) pathway
  • And the new Green HyDR/EAF (Hydrogen-based Direct Reduction/Electric Arc Furnace) pathway.

In 2023 GFG announced the construction of a new green hydrogen desalination and electrolysis plant and a green hydrogen based direct reduction (HyDR) plant to replace its coking coal-fired blast furnace in Whyalla.

Combined with the construction of a new Whyalla based electric arc furnace, GFG will make Green Steel in Whyalla which will utilise as feedstock sponge iron from the HyDR plant.

In NSW, Rio Tinto and steelmaker BlueScope Steel – another Australian Made licensee – are also investigating transition plans to produce green steel using the same HyDR/Arc Furnace technology used in Whyalla, at Port Kembla in NSW.

The main source of Iron Ore for Pt Kembla is Rio Tinto’s WA based Pilbara mines. Rio Tinto also plans to build another 2GW of wind and solar and add significant battery electric storage system (BESS) assets to green its Pilbara based iron ore mining operations. Rio announced a deal with BlueScope focusing on green hydrogen in the steel making process.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) also provided $924,784 in funding for the Pt Kembla Steelworks Renewables and Emissions Reduction Study project, which will take place on the NSW south coast.

BlueScope Steel is Australia’s largest steelmaker. BlueScope is partnering with its local university in Wollongong and the Future Fuels CRC to undertake a 13-month research project investigating options for decarbonising its operations at the Pt Kembla steelworks.

The research will happen alongside the work BlueScope is doing with Shell and Rio Tinto.

BlueScope announced in December 2021 it would be partnering with Shell as a supporting partner, to investigate the design, construction and operation of a pilot-scale 10 MW renewable hydrogen electrolyser to explore and test the use of green hydrogen in the Port Kembla blast furnace.

Australian steelmakers like GFG and BlueScope are leading the way with green smelting technology using green hydrogen and 100 percent DVRES electricity grid assets. This is a first critical step in greening what could be called Australia’s key sovereign manufacturing supply chain.

John Noonan is a Management Consultant with a history of providing C level management advice on corporate strategy, structure, culture, and behaviour change. He is the Immediate past Chairman of the SA/NT local network of the Institution of Engineering & Technology. Noonan is Co-Founder at Clever Planning with Geology Pty Ltd and innovating with a number of Australian startups in the Global market.

Celebrating Australian Made is an editorial series by @AuManufacturing, created in cooperation with the Australian Made Campaign Limited for Australian Made Week.

Picture: John Noonan

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