A Zero-Emission Process for Direct Reduction of Iron by Hydrogen Plasma in a Rotary Kiln Reactor

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OPEN 2021
Lemont, Illinois
Project Term:
04/01/2022 - 03/31/2024

Critical Need:

Globally, the steel industry emits more than 3.3 billion tons of CO2 annually, accounting for 30% of industrial and 8% of the total CO2 emissions. The blast furnace process for reducing iron ore to metallic iron accounts for about one-third of the total CO2 emissions, suggesting that reducing GHG emissions will require new technologies. Scrap-based Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) steel recycling offers a way to drastically reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions particularly if using renewable electricity. There is not enough scrap steel available to meet growing global demand, however. New non-carbon ironmaking technology is needed to provide feedstock to the EAF.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) will demonstrate a novel process for reducing iron ore to iron that reduces cost, eliminates CO2 emissions, and increases efficiency. ANL’s process uses hydrogen (H2) plasma instead of carbon-rich coke or natural gas to reduce iron ore in a rotary kiln furnace, which will improve the thermodynamics and kinetics of iron ore reduction, potentially eliminate the need for iron ore pelletizing, and enable the process to run at a lower temperature. The team estimates that the combination H2 plasma-rotary kiln process can improve energy efficiency and potentially reduce CO2 emissions in the steel industry by more than one billion tons per year. Energy consumption could be reduced by 45% compared with the blast furnace process and by approximately 15% compared with a molecular H2-direct reduced iron process.

Potential Impact:

ANL’s hydrogen plasma rotary kiln reactor will reduce CO2 emissions and energy demand.


Design factors will address safe operation with hydrogen and thermal management.


Replacing coke with hydrogen plasma to reduce iron ore could potentially reduce CO2 emissions in the steel industry by more than one billion tons per year.


The hydrogen plasma process will provide a more efficient and cost-effective route to carbon-free steel processing.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jenifer Shafer
Project Contact:
John Kopasz
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

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