On 21 January 2021, Chairman and founder of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, Dr Andrew Forrest AO, revealed the company’s plans to start building Australia’s first green steel pilot plant this year, with a commercial plant in the Pilbara, powered entirely by wind and solar, anticipated to follow in the next few years.
In the first ABC Boyer Lecture for 2021, entitled Oil vs Water: Confessions of a Carbon Emitter, Dr Forrest said there are two ways to make green steel.
“In one, you replace coal in the furnace with our old friend, green hydrogen. You get steel – but instead of emitting vast clouds of CO2, you produce nothing more than water vapour. To strengthen the steel, you simply add the carbon separately. It bonds into the metal rather than dispersing into the atmosphere,” he detailed.
“The other way to make green steel – the radical approach – is to scrap the blast furnace altogether and just zap the ore with renewable electricity. Fortescue is trialling both methods.”
Dr Forrest noted that Australia is in an “absolutely unique position” to scale green steel.
“We could look at losing our coal industry as a national disaster – yet I’ve always believed out of every setback, is the seed of equal or greater opportunity. We produce over 40 per cent of the world’s iron ore. And our potential green energy and hydrogen resources are immeasurable,” he said.
“If Australia were to capture just 10 per cent of the world’s steel market, we could generate well over 40,000 jobs – more than what’s required to replace every job in the coal industry. Not any old jobs, but similar jobs – construction workers, mechanics, electricians, engineers – all of the sectors that’ll be hit when coal is phased out.”
“The timing is right. And we would also produce a product that is so much more valuable than either coal or iron ore – green steel,” Dr Forrest said.
“I volunteer and call on fellow leaders to help drive this industry, power our economy and protect the jobs of fellow Australians, as we make this critical transition. The immediate and multiplier impact on the Australian economy, if we get this right, could be nothing short of nation-building. We stand to lose tens of thousands of jobs if we don’t do this, but we stand to create hundreds of thousands of jobs if we do.”
In August 2020, Fortescue announced that it had signed an MOU with Hyundai Motor Company and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to advance scientific collaboration and accelerate the development of renewable hydrogen technology.
More recently, in November 2020, the company revealed it is investigating the development of a 250-megawatt green hydrogen plant in Bell Bay, Tasmania, which would potentially have a green ammonia production capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year for domestic and international export. The project is targeted for an investment decision by the Fortescue Board in 2021.