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Project overview
  • Lead Organisation

    University of Newcastle


    Callaghan, New South Wales

    ARENA Program

    Iron and Steel Research and Development Funding Round

  • Start date

    1 March 2024

    End date

    1 February 2029

  • Project Partners
    BHP Innovation Pty Ltd (BHP)
    RWTH Aachen University, Germany (RWTH Aachen)
    Professor Johannes Schenk, Montan University Leoben, Austria


The University of Newcastle project aims to further develop the hydrogen Direct Reduced Iron – Electric Smelting Furnace process route for production of low carbon iron from lower grade Australian iron ores. 


This project was selected as part of the competitive Iron and Steel R&D Funding Round under the Transformative Research Accelerating Commercialisation (TRAC) Program to create solutions for Australian iron ore, predominantly comprised of lower grade ore from the Pilbara, and to decarbonise domestic steel production. Near-term investment in innovative R&D is a critical enabler to rapidly develop the technologies required to transition to a net zero future state. Projects supported by the Iron and Steel R&D Funding Round seek to accelerate novel and innovative low emissions iron and steel technologies using Australian iron ore. 

As the world’s iron and steel industry seeks to find alternative process routes for the abatement of CO2 emissions, Australia’s lower grade iron ore resources are challenged to remain competitive.  This project aims to facilitate Australia’s research capability for the hydrogen reduction of direct shipment ores and their utilisation in electric smelting for iron and steel production.  

The capability to make hydrogen direct reduced iron and then smelt using in-situ electrode heating to iron and slag products does not currently reside in Australian research facilities.  This project will set up a laboratory testing platform for the close coupled research into Australian DRI and electric smelting furnace technologies.  

Findings from the project research will be shared with industry to contribute to pilot opportunities and further development of the technology. 


The University of Newcastle will de-risk the metallurgical aspects of the electric smelting process, first in laboratory and then intermediate industrial scale by: 

  1. Utilising existing offsite facilities to make hydrogen reduced direct reduced iron from 5 kg batches of Australia’s Hematite-Goethite ores 
  2. Developing and delivering new equipment for making hydrogen direct reduced iron (DRI) in both fluidised bed and shaft furnace configurations 
  3. Developing and delivering laboratory scale furnaces (up to 4 kg) for electrode smelting of hydrogen DRI 
  4. Building technical skills for the safe laboratory scale investigation of the hydrogen DRI and electrode smelting process, and 
  5. Testing the smelting of DRI at intermediate scale using an existing 200 kg electric furnace at RWTH Aachen in Germany, proving the laboratory scale results, and providing scale up data for an ESF pilot facility being pursued by BHP, or for other customer partnerships as appropriate. 


The objectives for the project will be achieved through the following Outcomes: 

  1. Reduction in or removal of barriers associated with using lower-grade Australian iron ores in low emissions iron and steel production 
  2. Development of innovative and / or step change emissions abatement pathways for iron and steel production using Australian iron ores 
  3. Increased research capacity in the Australian iron and steel sector, and the facilitation of collaboration between research groups and industry 
  4. Improvement in the technology readiness and commercial readiness of the Direct Reduced Iron-Electric Smelting Furnace process using Pilbara ores, and 
  5. Improved understanding of the direct reduced iron process with electric smelting furnaces for Australian iron ores. 
Last updated
10 April 2024
Last updated 10 April 2024
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