Forrest unveils Fortescue’s green steel plans

Fortescue Metals Group chief executive officer Andrew Forrest.

Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest has revealed his ambitions to build Australia’s first green steel pilot plant this year.

Forrest disclosed the company’s plans at the ABC Boyer Lecture for 2021; Oil vs Water: Confessions of a Carbon Emitter, pitching the urgency for global mining operations to take on hydrogen power to lower emissions.

At present, Fortescue generates just over two million tonnes of greenhouses gases every year, equal to more than the entire emissions of the nation of Bhutan.

He said that the answer wasn’t to stop mining iron ore, which is critical to steel production for the development of humanity, but to produce steel with zero-emissions energy.

“Australia is in an absolutely unique position to scale green steel,” Forrest said.

“There are two ways. In one, you replace the coal in the furnace with green hydrogen. You get steel but instead of emitting vast clouds of carbon dioxide, you produce nothing more than water vapour.

“To strengthen the steel, you simply add the carbon separately. It bonds into the metal rather than dispersing into the atmosphere.

“The other way, the radical approach, is to scrap the blast furnace altogether and just zap the ore with renewable electricity.”

Fortescue is trialling both methods as the company aims to start building the green steel pilot plant this year and a commercial plant that is powered entirely by wind and solar in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in the next few years.

“If Australia were to capture just 10 per cent of the world’s steel market, we could generate well over 40,000 jobs, more than what’s required to replace every job in the coal industry,” Forrest said.

“Not just any old jobs, but similar jobs; construction workers, mechanics, electricians, engineers, all of the sectors that’ll be hit when coal is phased out.

“And we would also produce a product that is so much more valuable than either coal or iron ore – green steel.”

This ambition follows Fortescue’s move to run its entire fleet on renewable energy, along with trialling hydrogen buses at the Christmas Creek mine in Western Australia and its plans to develop green iron ore trains powered by renewable electricity or green ammonia.

It is building solar farms that can generate more than 40 gigawatts of power, or more than half of what Australia makes currently.

“With all these technologies, the day that Australia can mine iron ore without generating emissions is rapidly approaching,” Forrest said.

“If a major player like Fortescue does it, substantially reducing operating costs, then be assured business will follow promptly.”

Forrest’s speech will be broadcast in full on the ABC this Saturday.

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