Aerial view of the Western Range iron ore property in Western Australia. Rio Tinto and China Baowu have formed a joint venture to commence production from two deposits by 2025 after completion of construction on a crushing station and overland conveyor system that will connect to an existing processing plant. Ore will be transported via rail to Rio Tinto ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert for shipping.

China Baowu, the world’s biggest steelmaker, and Rio Tinto, the largest iron ore producer, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly advance specific decarbonization projects. The MoU follows the recently announced $2-billion Western Range Joint Venture in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, involving Rio Tinto and Baowu.

The projects include:

• Research, build and demonstrate a pilot-scale electric smelter at one of Baowu’s steel mills in China. This will enable low-carbon steel-making utilizing Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) that has been produced from low and medium-grade ores.

• Optimize pelletization technology for Australian ores as a feedstock for low-carbon shaft furnace-based direct reduction.

• Expand the development of China Baowu’s HyCROF technology which can largely mitigate CO2 emissions from the blast furnace process.

• Jointly study opportunities for producing low-carbon iron in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto’s Chief Commercial Officer Alf Barrios said, “Rio Tinto and China Baowu are united in a commitment to accelerating the delivery of low-carbon solutions for the entire steel value chain. This MoU aims to address one of the biggest challenges faced by the industry – developing a low-carbon pathway for low-to-medium grade iron ores, which account for the vast majority of global iron ore supply.”

The company said Western Range’s annual production capacity of 25 million metric tons (mt) of iron ore will help sustain production of the Pilbara Blend from the company’s existing Paraburdoo mining hub. The project includes the construction of a primary crusher and an 18-km conveyor system linking it to the existing Paraburdoo processing plant. Construction has begun, with the first production anticipated in 2025.

Rio Tinto and Baowu have also agreed to enter into an iron ore sales agreement at market prices covering a total of up to 126.5 million mt of iron ore over approximately 13 years. This volume represents Baowu’s 46% interest in the anticipated 275 million mt of production from Western Range through the joint venture.

Western Range contains two deposits, 36W–50W and 55W–66W, which are located within the Hamersley Basin of Western Australia. The deposits’ mineralization is primarily hosted by the Brockman Iron Formation with additional detrital mineralization present.

The 36W–50W and 55W-66W deposits contain a Measured Mineral Resource of 22 million mt at 59.1% Fe, Indicated Mineral Resource of 102 million mt at 61.5% Fe, and an Inferred Mineral Resource of 108 million mt at 61.4% Fe.