Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine is on track to complete construction of its DRI plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA. The company has already undertaken extensive environmental impact assessments and has now finalised a supply agreement with Mexican steelmaker Altos Hornos de Mexico (AHMSA) to supply 400kt of hot briquetted iron (HBI) along with a further optional 250kt.

According to Voestalpine, interest in high-quality sponge iron continues to be high. It said that negotiations, some at an advanced stage, are currently underway with a series of steel manufacturers to purchase voestalpine HBI.

The Corpus Christi DRI facility – when operational in 2016 – will be Voestalpine Group’s largest ever foreign investment at a cost of EUR550million ($753 million).

The plant, which will employ 150 people, will produce 2Mt of HBI annually and will have direct deep-sea access to the Gulf of Mexico.

Half of the HBI produced will be used at Voestalpine’s production sites in Austria and the rest will be sold to long-term partners in the high quality steel sector of the market.

Wolfgang Eder, Voestalpine’s chairman of the Management Board and CEO, said, “The execution of this agreement is the beginning of a long-term business relationship. We are delighted to be part of AHMSA’s quality offensive as a key supplier.”

AHMSA, based in Monclóva, near Monterrey, will be using the HBI in a recently installed electric arc furnace for the production of higher-quality steel grades. It will also enable the company to be independent of what Voestalpine describes as Mexico’s volatile scrap market.

According to Voestalpine, the first deliveries will begin directly after the scheduled launch of the DRI plant in early 2016. “Long before completion of the plant, a long-term supply agreement for a significant quantity of the available HBI was executed,” said Voestalpine.

Negotiations are ongoing with other interested companies in the NAFTA region and in Europe.