Rio Tinto has announced that it will invest $215 million to develop a research and development facility in the Rockingham Strategic Industrial Area in Western Australia.  

Rio Tinto will use the facility to further 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 follows successful trials of the innovative 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. When combined with the use of renewable energy and carbon-circulation by fast-growing biomass, BioIron has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 95 per cent 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. It will also be the first time the innovative steelmaking process has been tested at a semi-industrial scale, capable of producing one tonne of direct reduced iron per hour. It will provide the required data to assess further scaling of the technology to a larger demonstration plant. 

The plant has been designed in collaboration with University of Nottingham, Metso Corporation and Western Australian engineering company Sedgman Onyx. Fabrication of the equipment is set to before the end of 2024, with commissioning expected in 2026. These works are expected to support up to 60 construction jobs. 

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 Western Australian universities and research organisations. 

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott, said that the world needs low-carbon steel to reach net zero, and Rio Tinto is working to make this a reality by finding better ways to turn Pilbara ores into steel. 

“BioIron is a world-first technology that has the potential to play a significant role in a low-carbon steel future,” Mr Trott said.  

“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.” 

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

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

“Processing iron ore in Western Australia will create jobs, reduce the world’s carbon emissions and help to diversify and strengthen our economy for decades to come. 

“This is another job-creating clean energy project in our industrial heartland of Kwinana and Rockingham, part of our commitment to transitioning the industrial strip to a clean energy future.  

“There is huge demand for industrial land in the southern suburbs – which is why we’ve created the $500 million Strategic Industries Fund, to open up more industrial land and pave the way for the job-creating projects of the future.” 

Image: zhang sheng/shutterstock.com 

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