Operational and lifecycle advantages of hybridized iron ore reduction and biomass gasification
By Neil Stacey
Recent research has demonstrated that biomass can be used as a reducing agent for iron ore but also that iron ore reduction can be coupled with biomass gasification, co-producing reduced iron and synthesis gas which can itself be converted to liquid fuels through the Fischer Tropsch process.
Economic analysis has revealed that iron is the preferred product from a financial standpoint and that such processes will tend to focus on producing iron, with a trade-off in terms of synthesis gas production. However, critical operational considerations have yet to be considered. An iron smelter's design capacity is constant but the productivity of an iron mine is initially far below that capacity, taking years to reach full capacity, fluctuating over the course of its lifespan and then diminishing to nothing when the iron deposit is depleted. Co-production permits this operational deficit to be met with increased gasification and allows for conversion to dedicated gasification after the mine's lifespan.
Besides offering a carbon-neutral alternative to coal for iron smelting, this technology therefore offers a means of increasing smelter productivity and a pathway toward a renewable fuels industry, with the capital expenses covered by the iron smelting phase of operation.