Rio Tinto has collaborated with Australian steelmaker BlueScope to decarbonise the steelmaking process utilising clean hydrogen instead of coking coal.

A related memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed by the two firms to research and design low-emissions processes and technologies.

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These solutions will be used for the steel value chain, which includes iron ore processing, iron and steelmaking, as well as associated technologies.

Rio Tinto and BlueScope will initially assess the use of green hydrogen at BlueScope’s Port Kembla Steelworks in Australia, which would enable the direct reduction of Pilbara iron ores into a product.

This product could then be processed in an electric melter to generate metallic iron, which will be suitable for the steelmaking process.

Phase one of the alliance would assess the scale of a pilot plant planned at the Port Kembla Steelworks. It will comprise a hydrogen electrolyser, direct reduction process and melter.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Simon Trott said: “This partnership will benefit from BlueScope’s experience and know-how in using electric melters at its New Zealand steelworks, Rio Tinto’s experience in the Atlantic direct reduction market and the R&D capability and the experience of both Rio Tinto and BlueScope in iron ore processing.

“It is early days, but given both BlueScope and Rio Tinto are committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we realise we need to investigate multiple pathways and strike partnerships across the steel value chain.”

Furthermore, the latest agreement allows the firms to add more projects as technologies mature.

The MOU expands the existing partnership between the two companies, involving a joint technology study to reduce CO₂ emissions from existing iron and steelmaking processes.

BlueScope CEO Mark Vassella said: “The new collaboration will focus on utilising green hydrogen for direct reduction of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ores, which will then be fed into a melter.”