Accelerating research into low-emissions steelmaking

Media release, 16 February 2022

Wellington UniVentures, New Zealand Steel, Robinson Research

Researchers at Robinson Research Institute collaborate with Wellington UniVentures and New Zealand Steel to decarbonise steel.

Researchers at the Robinson Research Institute have developed a novel technology which uses hydrogen instead of coal to produce iron and steel, a breakthrough step in New Zealand’s transition to a climate-resilient and low greenhouse gas emissions future.

Teaming up with Wellington UniVentures and New Zealand Steel in a new collaboration, the organisations are now aiming to accelerate the development of a pilot-scale reactor for this process located at New Zealand Steel’s Glenbrook site. This collaboration will explore how innovation in low or zero-emission technologies could be adopted to update a process which has largely remained the same since the Iron Age.

Steel is used in everything from roads and railways to earthquake resilient buildings and electric vehicles and will play an important role in New Zealand’s transition to net zero carbon economy.

In New Zealand, iron is produced from titanomagnetite ironsand, which is an indigenous form of iron
ore containing low levels of titanium oxide. The technology that enables this unique ironmaking process was developed in New Zealand specifically for its own indigenous iron sands. Developing this low-emissions hydrogen technology with iron sands is the next, exciting step for local steelmaking in New Zealand.

Producing iron currently relies on a chemical reaction between coal and iron ore, which results in the
emission of CO₂. But Dr Chris Bumby and his team at Robinson Research Institute have demonstrated how hydrogen can revolutionise this process.

Kickstarting the project in 2019, Dr Bumby received $6.5 million from the MBIE Endeavour Fund to develop this new chemical process. With a unified goal to produce safe and sustainable steel, New Zealand Steel is providing $750,000 over three years to accelerate the engineering development of this research.

Dr Chris Bumby who is leading the project says: “We’re in the throes of a climate crisis and eliminating coal from the steelmaking process will significantly contribute to lowering global CO₂  emissions. New Zealand’s abundant renewable electricity supply potential can be used to produce ‘green hydrogen’ as an alternative to metallurgical coal as the reductant in steelmaking process, resulting in a process that does not emit carbon dioxide at all.”

Research and innovation have a critical role to play in accelerating the steel industry’s transition to a
low carbon future. The project is also contributing to the decarbonisation pathway set out by New Zealand Steel’s parent company, BlueScope, that has set a 12% steelmaking intensity reduction target by 2030 and set a net zero goal by 2050 across its operations.

New Zealand Steel Chief Executive Robin Davies says he welcomes the opportunity to support a home-grown solution for New Zealand, and the world, to decarbonise.

“New Zealand’s decarbonisation pathway relies heavily on innovation, development, and transition in the construction, infrastructure, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors. That transition will require
steel, and an abundant supply of competitively-priced renewable electricity. New Zealand Steel is committed to doing our part in reducing New Zealand’s emissions. This collaboration with Wellington UniVentures is just one part of our climate action strategy to help reach our net zero goal, and we look forward to seeing the results,” Mr Davies says.

Helping to transition this idea into a future service, Wellington UniVentures has supported the team
to successfully navigate the early stages of IP protection. Anne Barnett, Wellington UniVentures’ CEO says: “Hydrogen steelmaking will be vital to securing a zero-carbon future, and it also presents a huge economic opportunity for New Zealand. We are excited to be partnering with New Zealand Steel in this first step towards pilot-scale demonstration of our process. Full-scale industrial commercialisation will of course require much more investment, and we look forward to engaging with a range of other partners and investors in the coming years.”

– Ends –

Notes to editors:
• Replacing hydrogen for coal, the hydrogen reacts with New Zealand ironsand in a custom
built fluidised-bed reactor at temperatures up to 1000⁰C, to produce very high-purity iron.
• Hydrogen is an alternative to using coal to produce direct reduced iron from local ironsand,
and thereby reduces or eliminates the CO₂ emissions resulting from the ironmaking process.
• Through this collaboration NZ Steel will provide funding to accelerate the scaling up of
world-class research that has already established initial proof-of-concept technology.
• Mr Davies took over from Chief Executive Gretta Stephens who moved to Australia as Chief
Executive, Climate Change & Sustainability for NZ Steel’s parent company BlueScope.

About Wellington UniVentures
Wellington UniVentures is the Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington company
responsible for creating new for-profit and social enterprises from University research. Building on our purpose to lift lives everywhere with knowledge, Wellington UniVentures works with our University innovators to shape their research into initiatives that create impact. We do this by connecting them with partners, industry and investors to enable the growth and development of  their idea or invention. With time, development and Wellington UniVentures’ support, these ideas can become life changing initiatives focused on solving problems and building stronger societies.

Follow Wellington UniVentures on LinkedIn: @wellington-univentures

About NZ Steel
New Zealand Steel began production in 1968 and major expansions completed in 1987 created an
integrated steel mill. integrated steel mill. The company is located in Glenbrook, South Auckland on 1400 hectares of farm land, on the southern shores of the Manukau Harbour.
For over 50 years, New Zealand Steel has been producing high quality steel products from its Glenbrook facility utilising local resources, including ironsand, limestone, coal and energy. New Zealand Steel makes a substantial contribution to the lives and wellbeing of New Zealanders. New Zealand Steel contributes $600 million per annum to the New Zealand economy. It is also a significant employer in South Auckland, with more than 1,400 people employed directly in highly skilled, well-paid jobs.

About Robinson Research Institute
The Robinson Institute is a research institute at Victoria University of Wellington which is based on
the Gracefield campus in Lower hutt. It comprises approximately 70 research physicists, engineers and materials scientists, who are committed to forming R&D partnerships with industry in New Zealand and overseas. This is creating a network of companies that are commercialising the technology we are developing.

Other research partnerships at the Robinson institute are currently developing new technologies for
superconducting magnets, electric aircraft, fusion tokamaks, space thrusters, cryogenic systems and
magnetic sensors