Biolron process shows potential for low-carbon steel making

A new low-carbon iron-making process dubbed Biolron has been proven following testing by global teams of experts including the Microwave Process Engineering Group at Nottingham University.


The Biolron process uses lignocellulosic biomass such as wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, canola sticks or barley straw instead of coking coal. The biomass is blended with iron ore and heated by a combination of combusting gases released by the biomass and high-efficiency microwaves, which can be powered by renewable energy.

The process converts Pilbara iron ore to metallic iron for the steelmaking process, providing a potentially cost-effective option to cut industry carbon emissions.

The process has been tested extensively in Germany by a project team from Rio Tinto, Nottingham’s Microwave Process Engineering Group, and Metso Outotec.


In a statement, Chris Dodds, head of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Nottingham University, said: “It has been incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to take part in this research that, if developed to a commercial scale, has the potential to have an immense impact on decarbonisation within the steel production process. We look forward to continuing to support Rio Tinto as it enters the next phase of testing and hope that it yields just as much success.”

Alf Barrios, chief commercial officer at Rio Tinto, added: “Finding low-carbon solutions for iron and steelmaking is critical for the world, as we tackle the challenges of climate change. Proving Biolron works at this scale is an exciting development, given the implications it could have for global decarbonisation.

“The results from this initial testing phase show great promise and demonstrate that the Biolron process is well-suited to Pilbara iron ore fines. This is just one of the pathways we are developing in our decarbonisation work with our customers, universities, and industry to reduce carbon emissions right across the steel value chain.”

The Biolron process will now be tested on a larger scale. If successful, the technology could be be scaled commercially to process Rio Tinto’s iron ore fines.