Rio Tinto invents a method of producing low carbon steel

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Rio tinto (ASX: RIO; NYSE: RIO) is developing innovative technology to make low carbon steel using biomass rather than coking coal. The process has the potential to be a cost effective option for reducing carbon emissions from the steel industry.

Rio has spent the past 10 years developing the process, which uses sustainable biomass and microwaves to convert iron ore into metallic iron. It has been successful in laboratory scale trials. Over time, the process can be extended to process the company’s iron ore fines.

The technology uses plant material known as lignocellulosic biomass, instead of carbon, as a chemical reducer. Biomass is mixed with iron ore and heated by a combination of gas released from biomass and high efficiency microwaves that can be powered by renewable energy.

Rio Tinto says using raw biomass in this process could also avoid the inefficiencies and associated costs of other biomass-based technologies that first convert biomass into charcoal or biogas. The process does not use foods such as sugar and corn, and biomass sources that support old-growth logging would not be used.

“Over 70% of Rio Tinto’s Scope 3 emissions are generated when customers turn our iron ore into steel,” noted Simon Trott, CEO of the company’s iron ore. “So while it’s in its early stages and there’s a lot more research and other work to be done, we look forward to exploring the development of this technology. “

Rio Tinto researchers are working with the multidisciplinary team of the Microwave Process Engineering group at the University of Nottingham to further develop the process.

Learn more about the company’s efforts to decarbonize its operations at www.RioTinto.com.

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