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BHP and Hatch have partnered to design an electric smelting furnace pilot (ESF) plant in support of building facilities in Australia.

According to the BHP announcement, the small-scale demonstration plant will “enable deeper and more accurate insights” in creating pathways to lower CO2 intensity in steel production by using iron ore from BHP’s Pilbara mines for the company’s steelmaking customers.

The pilot facility will be intended to test and optimise production of iron from the ESF, a new type of furnace being developed by leading steel producers and technology companies targeting low-emission-intensity steel.

When the ESF is combined with a direct reduced iron (DRI) step, the plant can create steel from iron ore using renewable electricity and hydrogen instead of coking coal.

By utilising the ESF–DRI pathway to process iron ore, it was found that carbon emissions could be reduced as much as 80 percent in comparison to the current industry average for the conventional blast furnace steel route.

BHP’s chief commercial officer Vandita Pant described the ESF process as a “critical breakthrough” in reducing carbon emissions intensity of steel production, while group sales and marketing officer Michiel Hovers said Hatch was a “key partner” in finding pathways toward a lower-emission footprint for the steelmaking industry.

“We are pleased that we can collaborate with Hatch, alongside BHP’s existing customer and research partnerships, to further progress the development of pathways towards a lower (greenhouse gas) emission footprint for the steelmaking industry,” Hovers said.

“The ESF technology is very exciting and potentially very relevant for reducing the carbon emissions intensity of steel production and provides new and exciting opportunities for our Pilbara iron ore and our customers.”

BHP and Hatch will assess several locations across Australia for the proposed facility based on supporting infrastructure, technological skills and local partnership availabilities to build and operate the facility.