BHP and Hatch commence design study for an electric smelting furnace pilot

March 23, 2023
Jan Kwak (left), Regional Managing Director for Hatch in Australia-Asia is joined by Michiel Hovers, BHP’s Group Sales and Marketing Officer.

BHP and global engineering, project management, and professional services firm, Hatch, have signed an agreement to design and develop a pilot electric smelting furnace (ESF) facility. The facility will accelerate the adoption of new iron and steelmaking technologies, providing BHP’s steelmaking customers pathways to lower carbon dioxide (CO2) intensity in steel production using iron ore from BHP’s Pilbara mines.

Hatch is a leading supplier of electric smelting furnace technology for primary production of copper, nickel, ferro alloys and iron. Our business is built on customizing proven technology to suit new and unique applications. Throughout the company's six-decade history, Hatch has built most of the high-power electric smelting furnaces operating in industry today in both circular and rectangular configurations. Building on their long-term relationship, BHP selected Hatch for their proven ability to design robust pilot facilities with a focus on successful commercial scale up.

When combined with a direct reduced iron (DRI) process, the ESF can continuously produce iron or steel from iron ore using renewable electricity and hydrogen, replacing fossil fuels. Estimates show that reductions of up to 80 percent in CO2 emission intensity could be achieved when processing iron ores through a DRI-ESF pathway. The ESF allows greater flexibility in ferrous raw material selection, addressing a key barrier to wider adoption of other low CO2 emissions production routes. The ESF can be seamlessly integrated into a steel plant’s existing flowsheet allowing continued use of assets with minimal changes.

The pilot facility will enable deeper and more accurate insights into the performance of this technology for converting iron ores into molten iron and steel. The planned test program will help de-risk further investment in commercial scale projects, thereby complementing the development plans of global steel producers. BHP and Hatch will assess several locations in Australia based on supporting infrastructure, technology skills and local partnerships to build and operate the ESF pilot facility.

BHP’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vandita Pant, said, “We see the ESF process as a critical breakthrough in significantly reducing the carbon emissions intensity of steel production and one that provides an opportunity for iron ore from our Pilbara mines. The steel industry has identified the ESF as a viable option to use a wider range of raw materials and steel companies globally are looking to build commercial-scale ESF plants as part of their CO2 emission reduction roadmaps.”

BHP’s Group Sales and Marketing Officer Michiel Hovers said, “Hatch is a key partner in steel decarbonization initiatives across the world. We are pleased that we can collaborate with Hatch, alongside BHP’s customer and research partnerships, to further progress our industry towards a lower GHG emission footprint. The ESF technology is very exciting and potentially very relevant for steel decarbonization and provides new exciting opportunities for our Pilbara iron ore and our customers.”

“BHP and Hatch have collaborated on steel decarbonization over several years, including the ESF and in projects with steel producers, and this project is a natural progression in our partnership.”

Hatch’s Managing Director for Bulk Metals, Joe Petrolito, said, “Hatch is excited to collaborate with BHP on this forward-looking initiative and is honored to contribute to the efforts of an industry leader who is dedicated to driving tangible progress. This project marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of decarbonization within a challenging sector that underpins global infrastructure and progress.”

About Hatch

Hatch is a global multidisciplinary, engineering, project management, and professional services firm. We have more than 10,000 staff in 150+ offices around the world. In 2022, Hatch was ranked as a top 20 International Design Firm according to the Engineering News-Record (ENR) rankings. The company has more than 65 years of experience bringing innovative solutions to the metals, infrastructure, and energy sectors.

We use our decades of experience and expertise to create relevant, high-value market solutions and technologies. Our broad experience in testing and scaling technologies, and our history of forming collaborative engagements with researchers, end users, government, and funding organizations, has given us a proven track record of successfully implementing new technologies around the globe.

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About BHP

BHP is a leading global resources company with approximately 80,000 employees and contractors, primarily in Australia and the Americas. BHP’s products are sold worldwide, and it is among the world’s top producers of major commodities, including iron ore, copper, nickel, and metallurgical coal.

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