Electra pilot to disrupt iron-making

United States start-up Electra has launched a pilot plant in Boulder, Colorado, for its low-temperature electrochemical and hydrometallurgical processes to produce 99.9% iron plates as it seeks to help decarbonise the steel industry. The iron plates will be an intermediary product produced from iron ore and will be an input into electric arc steelmaking furnaces (EAF).

Steelmaking generates an estimated 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, of which some 90% stem from ironmaking.

The steel industry is so important to the energy transition as it is in every field [from electric vehicles to wind turbines]. … The conventional way to produce iron through blast furnaces has not changed for generations, there has not been a lot of disruption in this field,” 20-year steelmaking veteran François Perras, Chief Commercial Officer at Electra told Skarn Bulletin.

Electra’s pilot plant aims to demonstrate the viability of its low temperature processes to produce iron plates. It can refine low grade iron ores at 60°C, the temperature of coffee, rather than the 1300-1660°C of a typical blast furnace.

This potential disruption to the traditional steelmaking route is why US steel company Nucor is partnering with Electra, as are iron ore suppliers such as BHP, which supplied the iron ore for the pilot.

The market sees an immense gap opening going forward as the conversion from blast furnaces to EAF’s exposes the lack of metallic iron. We see a target mar-ket gap in the Western world of 50Mtpa by 2030,” said Perras. “ We offer the miners the opportunity to move from being an iron ore business to a metallics business.

Electra’s process dissolves iron ore in acid which drops out any silica contaminant. Changing the pH acidity level allows the extraction of phosphorus and alumina contaminants into discrete byproducts that can by commercialised.

The ability to extract contaminants means that Electra can use a wide range of iron ore sources, from commercial grade for ironmaking, low grade iron ores and those with high impurity levels.

The resulting 99.9% iron plate, with dimensions of 1m2, means the gangue minerals are not transferred to the steelmaker, which will allow it to blend Electra’s product with lower grade scrap material in its melt.

When it goes to an EAF, it is a high-value product for the steelmaker as it permits them to use multiple types of scrap,” stated Perras.

An iron plate from the Electra pilot plant

Electra’s pure iron metal is uniquely positioned to allow the upcycling of a broader range of steel scrap into higher value sustainable steel products, improving the circularity and sustainability of the steel industry,” said Noah Hanners, Nucor’s EVP of raw materials.

Pilot plant

Electra raised US$85 million in its series A funding round in 2022, and is currently working on a series B raise to complete the work program to advance the project to the construction financing stage, at which point it will undertake series C financing to fund the development of the first phase of a commercial plant.

“Phase one of the commercial plant could be 50,000tpa capacity, which we want to have ready in 2028. By the end of the decade, we want to have 1Mtpa of capacity in one location, which we could then grow to 3-5Mtpa,” stated Perras.

In addition to using a wide range of iron ores and re-moving impurities, its low temperature process means that it can be powered by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and embrace the intermittent nature of such sources.

Low temperature means we can turn on and off and take advantage of the interruptible grid. Turning off a process at 900°C is taxing on the equipment. We can turn it off quickly. Being interruptible allows us to be competitive on energy costs, which is OpEx, and we will be competitive on input costs because we can use a variety of iron ores. CapEx will also be competitive as the bulk of the equipment will operate at low tempera-ture and will need less expensive materials to build them versus similar technology,” said Perras.


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Skarn Associates is the market leader in quantifying and benchmarking asset-level greenhouse gas emissions, energy intensity, and water use across the mining sector.

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