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Rio Tinto has continued its pursuit of green steelmaking practices in a partnership with BlueScope, combining Pilbara iron ore with clean hydrogen instead of coking coal.

The green steel will be produced at BlueScope’s Port Kembla Steelworks, 90 kilometres south of Sydney, once studies progress under the companies’ memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said the companies would look to contribute expertise from their respective fields for best effect.

“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 (research and development) capability and the experience of both Rio Tinto and BlueScope in iron ore processing,” Trott said.

Both companies have publicly committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with the removal of coking coal from steelmaking just one pathway to achieving the feat.

Australia exported about 182 million tonnes of metallurgical coal in 2019-20, representing a significant opportunity to reduce the country’s emissions if it were to be made redundant.

Rio Tinto supplies the majority of iron ore to Port Kembla, and BlueScope chief executive Mark Vassella was keen to become closer with the influential miner.

“It’s a natural fit for us both and a meaningful opportunity for Australian steelmaking and mining to explore ways of contributing to emissions reduction targets,” 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.”

A pilot plant will be now constructed at Port Kembla, including a hydrogen electrolyser, direct reduction process and melter.

This announcement followed a similar one by Rio Tinto in mid-October which revealed the company had worked over the past decade to develop a patented, cost-effective and sustainable steelmaking alternative to remove coking coal from the picture.

“More than 70 per cent of Rio Tinto’s scope 3 emissions are generated as customers process our iron ore into steel, which is critical for urbanisation and infrastructure development as the world’s economies decarbonise,” Trott said.

“So, while it’s still early days and there is a lot more research and other work to do, we are keen to explore further development of this technology.”