Producing High Quality HBI in Toledo: A Case Study In Sustainable Manufacturing

In 2020, we began production at our new Direct Reduction Plant in Toledo, Ohio. Our journey to bring the Direct Reduction Plant from idea to operation showcases Cleveland-Cliffs’ approach to sustainable development. Our Direct Reduction Plant is an important step in our strategy to reduce our GHG emissions. In this process, the only raw materials are natural gas and DR-grade iron ore pellets. Our vision was to develop a world-class facility that produces high-quality iron ore feedstock for cleaner steel production, while minimizing environmental impacts and bringing value to the surrounding community and region.

A World Class Facility

Our Direct Reduction Plant was built on a brownfield redevelopment site in Toledo, Ohio. It is the most modern, efficient and environmentally responsible Direct Reduction Plant in the world and the first producer of HBI in the Great Lakes region. The facility operates at a prime location with excellent transportation routes to receive iron ore pellets from our Northshore Mining facility in Minnesota and to ship HBI to steel producers throughout the Great Lakes region. 

Creating Economic Value

This $1 billion project has been transformative for our Company and the region. It was one of the largest construction projects in the Great Lakes region, employing 1,100 people during peak construction. At the end of 2020, we employed 140 full-time employees at the plant with annual wages and benefits of approximately $17 million.

Enabling Sustainable Steel Production

Our Direct Reduction Plant uses natural gas both to reduce the iron oxide and heat the process, producing significantly less GHG emissions compared to other energy sources that utilize coal or coke as the reductant source. Our HBI product also enables reductions in GHG emissions with downstream usage in our blast furnaces and EAFs. Using HBI in the steelmaking process, instead of scrap or foreign-imported pig iron, requires less energy and generates lower GHG emissions. Moreover, HBI enables a higher-quality steel product, particularly for the automotive and renewable energy industries that look to steel as the preferred material for environmentally friendly end-products, like low-emission vehicles and solar panel racks.

Designed for the Future

As part of our commitment to GHG reductions, we will evaluate the use of hydrogen at the plant as a replacement for natural gas. The plant was designed to be ready when hydrogen becomes commercially available in significant quantities. Without any modifications to the plant’s configuration, we can replace up to 30% of the plant’s natural gas consumption with hydrogen to reduce GHG emissions by approximately 450,000 metric tons per year. With some equipment modifications and investments, hydrogen usage could increase up to 70% and reduce our GHG footprint by more than one million metric tons of GHG emissions per year.

Engaging with Stakeholders

For the plant to be successful, we need to earn and maintain the community’s confidence that we will operate the plant in a socially and environmentally responsible way. We engaged early and often with a broad range of local stakeholders, including government officials, neighborhood residents and community leaders, to understand their questions and perspectives. Community members were invited to open houses where we provided project information, and attendees communicated directly with our subject matter experts, including operational, environmental and human resources professionals. Stakeholders offered valuable insights that shaped how we approached the project, and we continue to maintain an ongoing dialogue to keep the community apprised of key operational developments and respond to new questions as they arise.

Being a Good Neighbor

As a new member of the Toledo, Ohio, community, we have invested time and resources to give back. Through The Cleveland-Cliffs Foundation and the active engagement of our employees, we have forged a number of impactful local partnerships that respond to key community needs. Partnerships include support for Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity and its “Rock the Block” initiative in Toledo’s Birmingham neighborhood, scholarships awarded to outstanding local students through the Birmingham Hall of Fame and support for the Boys & Girls Club of Toledo.

Operating Responsibly

Our plant was built with state-of-the-art equipment and technology to control air emissions, reduce impacts from noise and light and achieve high water recycling rates. We also worked closely with government agencies, including the Ohio EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ohio Division of Natural Resources, to configure the site with wildlife and wetland protection in mind. Wetland impacts were carefully permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ohio EPA, and local wetland credits from the creation and restoration of wetlands were purchased to mitigate for wetland loss. The site’s infrastructure, including railroad crossings and culverts, were designed to be wildlife-friendly.