What is iron ore?
Iron ores are rocks and minerals from which metallic iron can be extracted. There are four main types of iron ore deposit: massive hematite, which is the most commonly mined, magnetite, titanomagnetite, and pisolitic ironstone. These ores vary in colour from dark grey, bright yellow, or deep purple to rusty red. Iron is responsible for the red colour in many of our rocks and the deep red sands of the Australian deserts.
Iron makes up close to 5% of the Earth's crust.
It takes around 1.6 tons of iron ore to produce one ton of steel.
The world uses 20 times more iron (in the form of steel) than all other metals put together.
Our iron ore trains are over 2.5km (264 ore cars) long, meaning it can take half an hour to walk from one end to the other.
The ships we use to transport iron ore to our customers can carry around 47 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of material.
The chemical symbol for iron is 'Fe' because of its Latin name Ferrum.
How is iron ore used?
Almost all iron ore (98%) is converted into pig iron for steel making which is then used in construction, transportation, energy infrastructure and household appliances.
How is steel made?
Mixing with coke
Iron ore is mixed with coke (from super-heated metallurgical coal) in a blast furnace.
Air that has been heated to around 1,200°C is injected into the furnace, converting the iron ore to molten pig iron and slag.
Once impurities are removed, alloying elements are added. The steel is cast, cooled and rolled, ready for use.
Where is iron ore found?
There are iron ore deposits all over the world, with Australia, Brazil, the United States and Canada being the largest producing countries. We have interests in iron ore assets in Australia and Brazil.
Our Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) business in the Pilbara region contains 5 mines.
With 5 mines, 4 processing hubs and 2 port facilities, our Pilbara iron ore business is all connected by more than 1,000 kilometres of rail infrastructure. At each mining hub ore from the mines is crushed, beneficiated (where necessary) and blended to create high-grade hematite lump and fines products.
Samarco Mineracao S.A. (Samarco) is a non-operated joint venture iron ore operation.
BHP Billiton Brasil and Vale each hold a 50% shareholding in Samarco. Following the Fundão dam failure in 2015, operations at the iron ore operation have resumed without the need of tailings dams and with a new, safer filtration system. The autonomous Renova Foundation was established to remediate and compensate for the impacts of the dam failure.
Meet Aaron from Port Hedland
Aaron from Port Hedland drives the longest, heaviest, distributed power trains in the world. The iron ore he transports is used to produce steel and build cities.
How is iron ore mined?
Iron ore undergoes a series of processes from pit to port before export.
- First, we explore the geology of the region to find the best iron ore prospects for our mining operations.
- Once the ideal site has been chosen, the ore is drilled and blasted.
- It is transported to the primary crusher for processing.
- The crushed ore is sorted over screens and resized to different specifications, such as lump and fines products.
- Once the iron ore is processed, a stacker builds a stockpile in the stockyards.
- When ready for transportation, a reclaimer picks up the ore from the stockpiles and conveys it to train load out facilities.
- Trains transport the iron ore to ports.
- The iron ore is then loaded on to ships at our port facilities and exported to our customers around the world.
What is the future for iron ore?
We expect the world to need iron ore for as long as the world needs steel. The challenge for steelmaking is to produce this vital commodity to enable sustainable growth, while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions footprint of the production process itself. In 2020, we produced around 280 million tonnes of iron ore. That's enough to make the steel for more than 3,300 Sydney Harbour Bridges. Our new South Flank mine in Western Australia will see its first production in 2021 and become one of the world’s largest iron ore operations, producing high-quality iron ore for around 25 years.