Primetals Technolgoies’ HYFOR process is a new metal production technique that the company says will produce direct reduced iron (DRI), using hydrogen as reducing gas. DRI is then melted in an electric smelting furnace, or Smelter. This approach, according to Primetals, directly uses sinter fines and eliminates any need for agglomeration.

Primetals Technologies and strategic partners Mitsubishi Corp., Fortescue Metals and technology group voestalpine signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in mid-December 2022 aimed at designing and engineering an industrial-scale prototype plant with a new process for net-zero-emission ironmaking at a voestalpine site in Linz, Austria. The collaboration will also investigate the implementation and operation of the plant. 

The new ironmaking process will be based on Primetals Technologies’ HYFOR and Smelter solutions. HYFOR, according to Primetals, is the world’s first direct reduction process for iron ore fines that does not require agglomeration steps such as sintering or pelletizing. A pilot plant has been in operation since the end of 2021, and Primetals Technologies said it has run numerous test campaigns over the last year including successful trials on Fortescue’s Pilbara iron ore products.

Smelter is an electric furnace used for melting and final reduction of direct reduced iron (DRI) based on lower-grade iron ores to produce alternative green hot metal for the steelmaking plant.

Hubert Zajicek, member of the management board of voestalpine AG and head of the Steel Division, said, “voestalpine has a clear plan to decarbonize steel production with the greentec steel program. An important first step is the incremental shift from the blast furnace route to a hybrid-electric steel pathway from 2027.”

Fortescue’s main responsibility in the new project is to provide knowledge about iron ore quality and preparation.
In addition, Fortescue will supply various iron ores for the new plant.

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) CEO Mark Hutchinson said the partnership aligned with Fortescue’s mining and
renewable energy goals: “Fortescue has more than two decades of expertise in the iron ore industry, rising to become one of the world’s lowest cost exporters, now shipping more than 180 million tons of iron ore a year. Global demand for iron ore and steel will remain strong for years to come, but we need cleaner, greener industry powered by green energy to eliminate emissions.” FFI is a subsidiary of Fortescue Metals Group.

The project planning phase will be used to design an industrial-scale prototype plant with a capacity of 3 to 5 tons of green hot metal per hour. It is the first solution to link a hydrogen-based direct reduction plant for iron ore fines with a Smelter.

According to the participants, the main goal of the project planning phase is to develop the basis for decision to realize a prototype plant capable of continuous operation, and then to gain the know-how needed for the next step, a commercial full-scale plant. Another target is to investigate the use of various types of iron ores to produce DRI, hot briquetted iron (HBI) and hot metal and, as a next step, draw conclusions about the individual process steps as well as different combinations of them.

The hydrogen used in the new plant will mainly come from Verbund, an Austrian renewable energy producer, which operates a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer. Located in Linz, this plant has a capacity of more than 6 MW and is reportedly the world’s largest of its kind used at a steel plant. The plant will be upgraded to allow for the compression and storage of hydrogen gas before use in the combined HYFOR and Smelter plant.

Primetals highlighted the Smelter technology in November 2022 when it announced its collaboration with RHI Magnesia to develop refractory material that will protect the furnace shell by containing hot metal at 1,500°C. The furnace operates in conjunction with a direct reduction plant and an LD converter (BOF), producing hot metal for the steelmaking plant and liquid slag that can be used in the cement industry.

Primetals said a conventional BF–LD converter route results in almost two tons of CO2 per ton of liquid steel. Thanks to the new technology, CO2 emissions will be reduced by a factor of six, to 0.33 tons of CO2 per ton of liquid steel, according to the company.

The technology is claimed to offer two main cost-related benefits to steel producers: The DR–Smelter–LD converter route can be used specifically for low-grade iron ores, as it handles the generated slag well. Additionally, the LD converter is retained when the Smelter is implemented. Therefore, steel producers who operate integrated plants do not need to modify the rest of their production chain and do not have to renew their certifications when they invest in a Smelter. It’s also possible to keep the blast furnace running while installing the Smelter, and to then discontinue the use of the old equipment as soon as the Smelter is ready for operation.