Rio Tinto has patented a process for direct reduction of iron ore using electromagnetic energy and biomass as a reductant. The method involves exposing iron ore briquettes to microwave energy under anoxic conditions, reducing the iron ore in a solid state within the briquettes. GlobalData’s report on Rio Tinto gives a 360-degree view of the company including its patenting strategy. Buy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s company profile on Rio Tinto, Zinc recovery was a key innovation area identified from patents. Rio Tinto's grant share as of March 2024 was 56%. Grant share is based on the ratio of number of grants to total number of patents.

Microwave-assisted direct reduction of iron ore with biomass

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Credit: Rio Tinto

A recently granted patent (Publication Number: US11959153B2) discloses a process for the direct reduction of iron ore in a solid state using a unique method. The process involves exposing briquettes of iron ore fragments and biomass to microwave energy in the anoxic conditions, generating heat within the briquettes, and reducing the iron ore in a solid state. The biomass serves as a source of reductant in this innovative process.

Furthermore, the patented process includes controlling the operating conditions to ensure the iron ore reaches a temperature conducive to metallization. For instance, in the case of hematite, the iron ore is heated to a specific temperature range for effective metallization. The process can be operated as a continuous process, involving transporting the briquettes through preheating and heating/reduction chambers under anoxic conditions while exposing them to electromagnetic energy. The size of the briquettes also plays a crucial role in the process, with variations in the major dimension impacting the efficiency of the reduction process. Overall, the patent outlines a novel approach to the direct reduction of iron ore, offering potential benefits in terms of efficiency and environmental impact.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData Patent Analytics tracks bibliographic data, legal events data, point in time patent ownerships, and backward and forward citations from global patenting offices. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.