As the sun sets on the boom years of Australian iron ore exports, the door swings open for a new addition to the traditional value chain. 

Steelmaking is a heavy industry well past its prime in Australia, but new technologies combined with a wealth of ore still in the ground could shake things up.

Much hype has been made around green hydrogen production in the Pilbara in recent years. But the same old (simple) iron ore tactics of production and shipment may not suit liquid hydrogen.

One solution uses green hydrogen and iron ore together for great effect.

It’s a new industry called Green Steelmaking.

Many of the key Pilbara players are scoping their own steelmaking adventures. And the latest is Rio Tinto, who inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China’s Baowu to trial low-carbon steelmaking in Western Australia (WA).

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

Rio and the Chinese giant will work towards the following:

  • Researching, constructing and demonstrating a pilot-scale electric smelter for low-carbon steel making
  • Optimising pelletisation technology for low-carbon shaft furnace-based direct reduction
  • Expanding China Baowu’s HyCROF technology, which can minimise CO2 emissions 
  • Jointly studying opportunities for production of low-carbon iron in WA

Rio Tinto’s chief executive of iron ore Simon Trott said the firm is proud of its 40-year relationship with China Baowu.

“We look forward to progressing this study into the potential of low-carbon iron making in Western Australia as we work to ensure a positive future for Pilbara ores in a green steel world,” he said.


Cummins Engines Accelerate Towards Net Zero

As a provider of high-horsepower diesel engines for mining operations, Cummins has the power to set industry standards. Committed to net zero carbon by 2050, Cummins, in partnership with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), is exploring an array of new clean fuel technologies.

One of those is HVO diesel, made from hydrotreated vegetable oil.

HVO is made from vegetable oils and animal fats and can reduce carbon emissions by up to 90%.

The top-rated Cummins engine – the 4400hp QSK95 – can now safely be used with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) – or ‘renewable diesel’ – without affecting Tier 4 emissions compliance. 

The company also expects its full range of high-horsepower engines to be approved for HVO use in 2023.  The HVO solutions are just one of many that equipment manufacturers for the mining industry are exploring.

Other major options include:

  • Internal combustion (clean diesel, hydrogen and natural gas), 
  • Alternative fuel technology (developing)
  • Hybrid, battery-electric and fuel-cell electric

Cummins also works with OEMs to advance zero-emission mining haul trucks using hydrogen fuel cells. Their team has deployed several thousand fuel cells in on-highway and off-highway applications alongside hundreds of active electrolysers that turn water into hydrogen in a process known as electrolysis.


Resource Exploration Spending Reaches New Highs

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has reported a significant uptick in spending on resource exploration. The trend was most pronounced in Tasmania and South Australia (SA), as both states sought to ramp up their resources industry.

While nationally, exploration spending grew by 0.7% over the recent quarter.

Compared to 12 months ago, however, this represents a 4% increase across Australia.

In SA, the ABS data highlights $64.2 million in spending on exploration in Q1, up $16.7 million from the December 2022 quarter.  This exceeds the $61 million spent on exploration by South Australia in its previous record-earning quarter to December 2012.

Tasmania’s Exploration expenditure also exploded, with the latest ABS information showing $44.5 million from 12 months to March 2023. According to Tasmania’s Minister for Resources, Felix Ellis, mineral exploration in the state is now at its highest level on record.

“There has been an increase in exploration expenditure of 93 per cent on the preceding 12-month period,” Ellis said. With exploration growing at this rate, Australia’s resource industry looks set for a continued bright future. 


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