Electra raises $85M to advance Low-Temperature Iron process; electrochemical refining at 60˚C
07 October 2022
Electra has raised $85 million to produce Low-Temperature Iron (LTI) from commercial and low-grade ores using zero-carbon intermittent electricity. Electra’s process emits zero carbon dioxide emissions and carries zero green premium, meaning it will cost the same or less than existing production methods powered by fossil fuels.
Electra, founded by entrepreneurs with decades of experience developing complex electrochemical systems, has created a novel process to refine iron ore into pure iron electrochemically at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) using renewable electricity and then convert the iron to steel using the existing infrastructure of electricity-powered arc furnaces.
By comparison, 69% of steel today is made at approximately 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,912 degrees Fahrenheit) using coal, emitting about two tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of steel produced.
Electra developed a method of dissolving iron ore and removing impurities while retaining iron in aqueous solution, thereby unlocking the opportunity to use low-grade ores in its process.
Electra’s Oxygen-Decoupled Electrolysis (ODE) process overcomes two interconnected challenges for the steel industry:
Decarbonizing Steelmaking: The steel industry produces 1.9 billion metric tons of crude steel and causes 3.7 gigatons of direct and indirect carbon dioxide emissions annually, or 10% of the global total. If the steel industry were a country, its carbon emissions would rank third in the world behind China and the United States. Conversion of iron ore into iron accounts for 90% of steelmaking emissions that may be eliminated using Electra’s process.
The “Iron Ore Challenge”: Commercial iron ores with iron content of 62% or higher are projected to be in short supply by the early 2030s. Hydrogen or natural gas-based steelmaking requires ores with the highest iron content at 67% or above, making the cost and ore supply challenge even more acute for these processes. Electra's process intakes lower-grade ores with iron content as low as 35% without the additional cost of grinding, beneficiation, and pelletization, enabling zero green premium and a more diverse iron ore supply chain.
Electra’s iron is the fulcrum to decarbonize steelmaking and to de-risk the iron ore challenge. Our team, starting with a clean sheet, developed an electrochemical process to refine iron ore to high purity iron by radically lowering the process temperature from 1,600 to 60 degrees Celsius, replacing coal energy with intermittent renewable energy, and displacing commercial ores with lower-grade ores that are not being used or are currently treated as waste today. We also have a historic opportunity to decentralize the global iron and steel supply chain and re-shore manufacturing and mining jobs.—Electra CEO Sandeep Nijhawan
Electra says that it leverages proven electrochemical and hydrometallurgical methods to reach industrial scale with low technical and scaling risks. Electra will complete the build-out of a green-iron refining pilot plant in 2023 at its headquarters in Boulder, CO, and plans to have a commercial-scale demonstration plant qualified by the second half of this decade.
The 50-person company recently opened a new office in Boston, MA to help expand its roster of engineers, scientists, and professional support staff.
The company is backed by Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Amazon, BHP Ventures, Temasek, S2G Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group, Lowercarbon Capital, Valor Equity Partners, Baruch Future Ventures and others.
Electra plans to forge additional partnerships across the entire steel value chain. Iron ore companies, steel companies, and any company that relies on steel are invited to collaborate with Electra to accelerate the transition to green steel.
A better way to save CO2 than making hydrogen powered aircraft.
"using zero-carbon intermittent electricity"
I assume this means that they can turn the process on and off easily as it only has to be heated to 60 degrees C, unlike the current process that runs at 1600 C.
However, you would probably want to hook it up to a bunch of windmills and PV systems and run it as much of the time as you can. At a pinch, you might have to "borrow" some non-renewable electricity from the grid to make deliveries.
Posted by: mahonj | 07 October 2022 at 07:50 AM
' A better way to save CO2 than making hydrogen powered aircraft.'
They seem to me utterly separate endeavors, and I do not understand why the comparison is relevant.
Posted by: Davemart | 07 October 2022 at 08:15 AM
@dave, they are separate, but their goal is the same: to reduce atmospheric CO2.
And the new iron processing approach seems a lot cheaper per ton of co2 than going to all the trouble of using H2 in aircraft.
Hence, that is where the money should go (IMO).
Posted by: mahonj | 07 October 2022 at 08:54 AM
You assume they are alternatives.
As the IPCC makes very clear, we need to abate all sources of GHG, and
aircraft emissions are one of the fastest growing.
Posted by: Davemart | 07 October 2022 at 08:59 AM
I disagree. If it costs 10$ to save a ton of CO2 from iron and 100$ to save a ton of CO2 in aerospace, put the bank on iron and ignore aerospace for now.
I would do aerospace last as it is very tricky.
If we end up with loads of low cost green H2, it might be worth a look, but till then, I would just wait (and work on Aerospace in other ways, but using liquid HC fuels, as we do now.
(More direct routing and take off/landing routines, lighter aircraft with more people in them, better turbofans and maybe open rotor, etc.)
Also a carbon tax on aviation fuel (hard to enforce, though).
Posted by: mahonj | 07 October 2022 at 10:37 AM
' Producing around 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emission, if aviation was a country, it would be among the 10 biggest emitters, ahead of nations like Brazil, Mexico, and the UK. The International Civil Aviation Organization forecasts that aviation emissions could grow by 300-700% by 2050.
A return trip from London to New York is about equivalent to someone heating their home for a year, in terms of the emissions generated. And that rapidly adds up. Figures from the International Air Transport Association project plane passenger numbers will double within two decades – that’s 8.2bn people flying each year.'
I am at a loss as to how it is possible to imagine that ignoring air traffic and not seeking to reduce GHG is in any way sensible or viable.
That steel production, concrete and so on also need addressing is a wholly separate debate.
At the moment aircraft do not even pay proper fuel tax equivalent to road transport in Europe.
Posted by: Davemart | 07 October 2022 at 11:07 AM
i can't argue with the tax disparity, or much else.
I can only shake my head in sorrow and confusion.
It is long past time to hold our elites to the standards they demand from us. On EVERY measure of conduct, not just carbon. No non-sailing yachts, no private jets, no gas-guzzling ground vehicles. Net-zero residences. Host low-income housing and "refugees" next door... and no guns for their "security". What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 08 October 2022 at 10:10 AM
You lead the charge
Posted by: dursun | 10 October 2022 at 07:13 PM