Kobe Steel Ltd has announces that the world’s first commercial plant using the ITmk3 Process successfully began production of iron nuggets in the United States on January 12 2009. This next-generation ITmk3 Process was developed by Kobe Steel.

Kobe Steel and Steel Dynamics, Inc (SDI) constructed the plant at Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota. Production of iron nuggets, which will be used in EAF steelmaking, will gradually increase in accordance with operating conditions and is anticipated to reach the facility’s annual design capacity of 500kt in mid-2010. As of April, Kobe Steel say ramp up is proceeding in a satisfactory manner with full capacity expected to be reached in June.

ITmk3 is an innovative next-generation ironmaking process totally different in concept from the traditional blast furnace method. Since the discovery of the phenomenon in 1994, the process has undergone many stages of development resulting in the start of production of a commercial plant. The ITmk3 Process is noted for the following characteristics:

– High-grade iron nuggets can be produced in an extremely short time of about 10 minutes.
– The ITmk3 Process can use lower-cost iron ore fines as pellets even with high Zn content, and steaming coal, which are difficult to use in blast furnace ironmaking.
– In comparison to pig iron produced in a blast furnace, the production of iron nuggets using the ITmk3 Process emits about 20% less carbon dioxide due to its better energy efficiency.

With the start up of the commercial ITmk3 plant, Kobe Steel is moving quickly to popularise the ITmk3 Process in world markets. As a pioneer of this technology, Kobe Steel is working on iron nugget projects in North America, Vietnam, India, Russia, Australia and other countries, a cumulative production capacity of several million tonnes of iron nuggets. Kobe has announced the building of four ITMk3 plants in Vietnam to use local high Zn iron ore and coal.

The ITmk3 Process, with its lower carbon-dioxide emissions and capital investment, is highly suitable for growing environmentally friendly steel industries in developing countries. Moreover, the ITmk3 Process can use cheaper low-grade iron ore and coal, which are difficult to use in blast furnace ironmaking, to keep raw material costs down for steel and mining companies. Along with these advantages, the real value of the ITmk3 Process is that it produces high-grade iron nuggets with better melting characteristics than blast-furnace pig iron when used in the steelmaking stage.

For mining companies, the ITmk3 Process enables them to produce iron nuggets to add value to their natural resources. As a result, mining companies can expand their markets to include electric-arc furnace steelmakers, in addition to their traditional customers, blast furnace steelmakers.

Grappling with environmental issues, the world steel industry faces a tight raw material market and higher costs due to the sharp increase in steel production. Under these conditions, the ITmk3 Process is an attractive alternative. Kobe Steel, with subsidiary Midrex Technologies, Inc, is a world leader in direct reduction processes. Its Midrex Direct Reduction Process is used to produce nearly 60% of the world's direct reduced iron