Rio Tinto to invest $215 million in BioIron facility


Miner and maufacturer Rio Tinto will invest $215 million (US$143 million) to develop a research and development facility in Western Australia to assess the effectiveness of its low-carbon ironmaking process, BioIron, to support decarbonising the global steel value chain.

The development of the BioIron Research and Development Facility in the Rockingham Strategic Industrial Area south of Perth follows successful trials of Rio’s ironmaking process in a small-scale pilot plant in Germany.

BioIron uses raw biomass and microwave energy instead of coal to convert Pilbara iron ore to metallic iron in the steelmaking process and has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 95 percent compared with the current blast furnace method.

The BioIron facility will include a pilot plant that will be ten times bigger than its predecessor in Germany and be capable of producing one tonne of direct reduced iron per hour to provide data to assess further scaling of the technology to a larger demonstration plant.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott said: “BioIron is a world-first technology that has the potential to play a significant role in a low-carbon steel future.

“This research and development facility will further test the BioIron process, showcase Western Australian innovation capability, and further demonstrates Rio Tinto’s commitment to supporting and enabling the decarbonisation of the steel industry.”

Steelmaking accounts for eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and 69 percent of Rio Tinto’s Scope 3 emissions in 2023.

Electricity consumption in the BioIron process is about one-third of the electricity required by other steelmaking processes that rely on renewable hydrogen.

BioIron uses raw biomass such as agricultural by-products like wheat straw, barley straw, sugarcane bagasse, rice stalks, and canola straw, instead of coal as the reducing agent.

The new plant has been designed in collaboration with University of Nottingham, Metso Corporation and Western Australian engineering company Sedgman Onyx. Fabrication of the equipment will begin this year, with commissioning expected in 2026.

The research and development facility will employ around 30 full-time employees and include space for equipment testing to support further scaling up of the BioIron technology, while developing a workforce highly skilled in steel decarbonisation and supporting WA universities and research organisations.

Western Australian Premier Roger Cook said: “As one of the world’s largest iron ore producers, it just makes sense for WA to lead the world when it comes to low-emission steelmaking.

“Our plan to turn WA into a renewable energy powerhouse opens up massive economic opportunities for the future, like producing low-emission steel right here at home.”

Picture: Rio Tinto

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