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Our Focus on Sustainable Steel

As a fully integrated steel and mining company, we are focused on sustainability improvements across the lifecycle of our manufacturing processes: from raw materials to finished steel products.

Cleveland-Cliffs produces environmentally friendly iron ore pellets and the feedstock that enables us and our customers to produce cleaner, more sustainable steel. Advancements in using direct reduced iron (DRI) and hot briquetted iron (HBI) in place of pig iron are further increasing productivity and reducing GHG emissions in steelmaking. 


Toledo Direct Reduction Plant Contributes to Sustainability Goals

In 2020, we completed the world's most advanced direct reduction facility. This natural-gas-based plant produces hot-briquetted iron (HBI), an environmentally friendly alternative to imported pig iron used in the steelmaking process.

Our Commitment to Innovation

State-of-the-art by every measure, our Toledo facility is the most modern, efficient, and environmentally friendly Direct Reduction Plant in the world.

More About Toledo Direct Reduction Plant

Development of Taconite and Pelletizing

While direct-shipping ore – ore rich enough in iron content it can be shipped directly to market – is plentiful in some parts of the world, in North America, such ore deposits were nearly exhausted by the end of World War II. There were abundant supplies of lower-grade iron taconite deposits, but no one had yet found a way to make them economically viable in blast furnaces. Cleveland-Cliffs and other partners pioneered the process of pelletizing lower-grade iron ore in the 1950s, and pellets remain the basic iron feedstock for integrated blast furnace steel production in North America today.

Size Consistency

Size Consistency

Cliffs’ iron ore pellets perform superior to other products in the market due to the productivity it helps to drive in the customer’s blast furnace. As Cliffs pellets are homogenous in size, they rank at the top versus other comparable pellets with regard to consistency in size. This consistency allows air to flow through the furnace efficiently, and thus, drive the most optimal yield possible.

High-Quality Product

High-Quality Product

The other superior quality of our product is that it minimizes pollution in the steelmaking process. Compared to fines or sinter products, iron ore pellets have advantageous homogenous qualities as well as much higher iron content. As a result, emissions from the blast furnaces are diminished. We believe that as pollution becomes more of an issue in China, more iron ore producers will continue to attempt to emulate the quality of Cliffs’ pellets while the market begins to shift in that direction.

Superflux Pellet

In 2017, we completed a $75 million capital investment project at our United Taconite operation to produce a newly developed superflux iron ore pellet. A flux iron ore pellet has increased levels of mainly CaO (calcium oxide or limestone) in comparison to a standard pellet. In a steelmaking blast furnace, limestone is added to control the chemistry of the slag.

Superflux Pellet


Greater Operational Efficiency

Flux pellets allow blast furnace operators to significantly decrease their coke rate and flux stone usage versus standard pellets. A flux pellet will have higher melting properties in the blast furnace which means it converts from a solid-state to a liquid state at a faster rate. This improved melting performance has a positive impact on iron production and helps reduce the high energy costs of operating a blast furnace. Calculations show that coke use decreases by approximately 7% and limestone use is virtually eliminated when using flux pellets in a blast furnace.

Lower GHG Emissions

For every ton of standard pellets replaced by flux pellets, a downstream blast furnace reduces its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 230 pounds of CO2e. On a lifecycle basis, if we converted United Taconite’s full standard pellet production to flux pellets, indirect Scope 3 downstream net GHG emissions would decrease by approximately 370,000 CO2e tons per year.

Developing Low-silica DR-grade Pellets

Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) is a high-quality metallic product (~90% pure iron) produced by the direct reduction of iron oxide at a temperature below the fusion point of iron. It is primarily used in electric arc furnaces (EAF) but can also be used by blast furnaces and other iron and steelmaking applications.

A Novel Product Line

Using our technical expertise to increase product offerings, we developed a new product line, DR-grade pellets, for feedstock in DRI production. In 2019, we completed a capital upgrade to produce low silica DR-grade pellets on a commercial scale at our Northshore Mining facility in Minnesota. It is the only facility in the U.S. capable of producing both DR-grade and regular blast furnace iron ore pellets. It produces pellet feedstock inventory for Cliffs’ Hot Briquetted Iron Plant in Toledo, OH, which began operations in 2020.

Hot-Briquetted Iron (HBI)

Cleveland-Cliffs completed the construction of our first Direct Reduction Plant and began producing high-quality hot-briquetted iron (HBI) in late 2020. Built on a brownfield redevelopment site in Toledo, Ohio, it is the most modern, efficient, and environmentally compliant Direct Reduction Plant in the world.

Energy Efficient

Producing steel using HBI requires significantly less energy than traditional steelmaking processes and reduces indirect downstream Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions. HBI can be added to a blast furnace or paired with an electric arc furnace. HBI will substantially improve energy efficiency and reduce Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50% for the natural gas-based MIDREX® Direct Reduction Process paired with an electric arc furnace.

Non-toxic Byproducts

Natural gas and DR-grade iron oxide pellets are the only raw materials used in the HBI process. No hazardous or toxic byproducts are generated from the process. Water recycling initiatives conserve water use and minimize discharges.