University of Nottingham’s partnership with Rio Tinto takes next step towards decarbonising steelmaking

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

The effectiveness of a new low-carbon iron-making process, Biolron™, has been proven after tests undertaken by global teams of experts – including the University of Nottingham’s Microwave Process Engineering Group.

Over the past 18 months, the university’s research group has been working with Rio Tinto to advance an innovative new technology to deliver low-carbon steel. The process uses sustainable biomass, in place of coking coal, as a reductant and microwave energy to convert Pilbara iron ore to metallic iron in 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, the University of Nottingham’s Microwave Process Engineering Group, and Metso Outotec.

The Microwave Process Engineering Research Group is a multi-disciplinary research area that focuses on the development and commercialisation of electromagnetic technologies for materials processing applications in industries such as mining, energy, food and much more.

Chris Dodds stood looking at a camera
It's 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.
Chris Dodds, Head of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nottingham

The Biolron™ process uses plant matter, known as lignocellulosic biomass - such as wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, canola sticks or barley straw - instead of 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.

Alf Barrios, Chief Commercial Officer at Rio Tinto, said: “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.
Alf Barrios, Chief Commercial Officer at Rio Tinto

The Biolron™ process will now be tested on a larger scale and, if these are successful, there is the potential over time for the technology to be scaled commercially to process Rio Tinto’s iron ore fines.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Chris Dodds on or Danielle Hall, Media Relations Manager for Engineering on or 0115 846 7156.

Danielle Hall - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide Sports University of the Year twice in three years, most recently in 2021. We are ranked seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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