NRRI receives $2.1M to research Minnesota’s iron of the future

A man in hard hat and safety vest stands at a table with black material in a round platter
March 1, 2021

U.S. Department of Energy awards NRRI $2.1M to research Minnesota’s iron products for expanded steelmaking markets.

"Our goal is to keep all of our mines active and producing the iron ore of the future.” - Don Fosnacht

NRRI has received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop technologies for more efficient production of direct reduced iron. NRRI is providing matching funds of $530,000, leveraging Minnesota legislative support from past appropriations.

NRRI is one of 46 projects in 23 states receiving funding aimed at stimulating technology innovation, improving energy productivity of American manufacturing, and enabling the manufacturing of cutting-edge products in the United States.

Direct reduced iron pellets are needed by the growing electric arc furnace steel industry which now make up 70 percent of the steel market. This DOE funding is intended to advance production of DRI and pig iron from Minnesota resources for this growing steel market.

Specifically, NRRI researchers will seek to enhance iron ore pellet chemistry to increase efficiency of the direct reduced iron (DRI) process and downstream processes to convert into metallic iron. These metallic iron products (nodules, pig iron, etc.) are 97 percent pure iron and low in impurities. By removing the gangue (mostly alumina and silica) before the pellets get to the steel plant, it will save the electric arc furnace operation 33 percent in energy use in comparison to DRI use. This saves money and increases productivity.

“Different mines on the Iron Range have different capabilities for making direct reduced grade pellets. This research will assist Minnesota mines to produce pellets for direct reduced iron,” said Don Fosnacht, NRRI Associate Director. “This is a big deal for our Minnesota mining operations. Our goal is to keep all of our mines active and producing the iron ore of the future.”

In 2019, Cleveland Cliffs converted the Northshore Mining facility to produce both taconite and a direct reduced grade, the latter to supply the Toledo, Ohio, DRI facility.

The Natural Resources Research Institute, part of the University of Minnesota research enterprise, works to deliver integrated research solutions that value our resources, environment and economy for a sustainable and resilient future.