The 3.5 billion tons of high-phosphorus iron ore will be “activated”

On June 24, the Algerian province of Tindouf, located deep in the northern Sahara Desert, held a grand signing ceremony, China’s CMH consortium and the Algerian National Steel company (Feraal) signed a cooperation agreement, clearly establishing two joint ventures for mining companies and steel companies. As the main body of iron ore mining and downstream steel smelting, the integration of mining and metallurgy development of Gara Djebilet iron ore.

After more than two years of in-depth research and demonstration of the development plan and process technology since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on March 30, 2021, the two parties decided to launch the project. The first phase of the project is expected to achieve an integrated steel plant with an annual mining capacity of 2 million tons of raw ore and an annual production capacity of 1 million tons of billets (for export) by 2026, and gradually expand the capacity after the railway to the mining area is completed; By 2035, it is planned to reach an annual mining capacity of 25 million tons of ore, and the corresponding scale of steel smelting of 10 million tons. This signing marks that the development of the iron ore mine has finally entered a substantial stage.

The giant iron ore with an average natural iron grade of 53% and reserves of up to 3.5 billion tons is rare in the world, but it has been in a “sleeping” state due to the limited dephosphorization technology of mineral processing. Since the 1960s, Western mining companies such as France and Australia have made many attempts to develop the company, all in vain. In the 21st century, Feraal commissioned Asian steel engineering companies and Russian scientific research institutions to explore different technical paths, but they failed to find technical and economic feasible solutions, so most people decided that the iron ore mine did not have development value.

What woke up this “sleeping” giant iron ore mine? Why did the CMH consortium become the Algerian state of choice? With questions, the reporter of China Metallurgical News conducted an in-depth interview with the CMH consortium to dig out the story behind it.

The development plan proposed by CMH consortium, jumping out of the traditional “mineral processing dephosphorization” idea, does not set up a separate mineral processing link, its process path can be summarized as the use of hydrogen reduction to turn the original ore into direct reduced iron, and then melt separation and dephosphorization, smelting qualified hot metal, and then with the conventional steelmaking and rolling processes. Due to the low price of natural gas for industrial use in Algeria, the raw fuel cost of smelting 1 ton of steel is less than 100 yuan, which is an order of magnitude lower than the raw fuel cost of more than 1000 yuan for traditional blast furnace ironmaking in China, which makes the mine adopt the technical plan of “selecting and smelting one” with an economical and feasible basis.

Since the earliest contact with this project, CMH consortium has been collecting dephosphorization metallurgy technology and related information. It happened to learn that the scientific research team of the University of Science and Technology Beijing has conducted in-depth research on the smelting of high-phosphorus oolitic iron ore in Hubei province. It has not only theoretically demonstrated that high-phosphorus iron ore can be melted by producing low-carbon direct reduced iron, which can effectively separate phosphorus from iron, but also according to this theory, Qualified iron has been successfully smelted from Hubei high phosphorus oolitic iron ore in laboratory. In the view of 3 years ago, there are many uncertainties in the application prospects of this new technology, such as whether there is a hydrogen-based low-carbon reduction equipment on the market that undertakes the main responsibility of smelting? Where is the low-cost hydrogen? What is the efficiency and operating cost of the entire dephosphorization metallurgy? These problems will affect the landing and the significance of the technology.

Based on the interest and confidence in this technology, Hunan Shengshi Sunshine, a member of the CMH consortium, resolutely invested and launched the Hydrogen Metallurgy Technology Company (hereinafter referred to as Hydrogen Metallurgy Technology) jointly held by Professor Guo Zhancheng, director of the National Key Laboratory of New Technology of Iron and Steel of Beijing University of Science and Technology, and key team members and equipment developers. Hard and efficient research and development work was carried out from two aspects at the same time: First, in the development of process technology, they carried out more in-depth research on the dephosphorization metallurgical process, and used Algerian iron ore to do comparative tests again to further verify the technical feasibility of the “hydrogen-based reduction + melting dephosphorization” process of high-phosphorus iron ore, and improve the process flow; Second, in terms of core equipment development, the foreign R & D team is mainly designed, the domestic team is responsible for component manufacturing, parts selection and specific project implementation, and jointly tackle the complete set of equipment of “hydrogen-based reduction + melting separation and dephosphorization”, and the pilot test base has been built in Shanxi. In view of Hydrometallurgical technology’s technical accumulation in dephosphorization metallurgy, CMH Consortium selected it as the exclusive process technical support unit for the development of high-phosphorus iron ore in Algeria.

Hard work pays off to those who wait. On April 12, 2023, the feasibility review meeting of hydrogen reduction smelting dephosphorization technology of high-phosphorus iron ore was held in Beijing, and the review panel composed of professors and experts from the Steel Research Institute, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China Mining and Metallurgical Group, Tsinghua University and the China Mining Association unanimously concluded that the process is technically feasible and economically feasible in areas where low-cost natural gas or coal-based reduction gas can be obtained. In May, at the equipment pilot base in Shanxi Province, the metallization rate and carbon content of the products obtained from the pilot production of low carbon direct reduced iron using coke oven gas as the original fuel met the design requirements; The consumption indicators of coke oven gas, oxygen, nitrogen and electricity also reach the ideal level, and the whole unit runs smoothly continuously. The success of the pilot test of the core equipment has cleared the final obstacle to the industrial application of the metallurgical technology of “hydrogen-based reduction + melting separation and dephosphorization”.

At present, the development of Gara Djebilet iron ore mine has been listed as one of the three most important economic infrastructure structural projects in Algeria, and the key technical supporters behind the CMH consortium of China, with core patents and proprietary dephosphorization metallurgical equipment of hydrogen metallurgy technology, have made great contributions to promoting the progress of the project.

The proven reserves of high-phosphorus oolitic iron ore in the world are more than 20 billion tons, and China has more than 7 billion tons. Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing and other places have a number of high-phosphorus oolitic iron ore with high iron grade and large reserves. Due to the limitations of the past beneficiation and metallurgical dephosphorization technology, these iron ore mines are all in a state of silence. At present, when the state vigorously promotes the “cornerstone plan”, we expect more high-phosphorus oolitic iron ore to be “activated”.

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