Cleveland Cliffs gets part of $6 billion funding to slash emissions in industrial facilities

Middletown steel plant among projects that will slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MIDDLETOWN — Cleveland-Cliffs Middletown Works is expected to receive a major investment up to $500 million to overhaul the ironmaking systems and install a new environmentally friendly system.

The 100% hydrogen-ready, flex-fuel direct reduction plant will be directly coupled to two electric melting furnaces to produce iron with nearly zero greenhouse gas emissions, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) office.

He said this partnership will ensure union steelworkers in Middleton remain “at the forefront of the global steel industry. The Cleveland-Cliffs Middletown Works plant will support growing industries in Ohio while creating good-paying jobs, and ensuring that Ohio remains a national leader in manufacturing and innovation.”

This investment will secure 2,500 jobs at Middletown Works, where the unionized workforce is represented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). The flex-fuel DRI plant and EMFs will require 170 additional jobs. The project will result in 1,200 building trades jobs during peak construction, according to the company. Messages have been left for Shawn Coffey, union president.

The cutting-edge technology will preserve domestic iron and steel production capabilities and continue to create and support union jobs, Brown said in a release. In addition to emissions reduction in high-quality iron and steel making, the byproduct of the electric melting furnaces can be used as a Portland cement substitute, resulting in significant reductions in emissions, energy usage, and consumption of raw materials associated with cement manufacturing.

That’s why legislators passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, Brown said.

The Department of Energy awarded the grant through the Industrial Demonstrations Program, and Brown urged the Department of Energy to support this project.

Hilary Lewis, steel director for Industrious Labs, called the hydrogen plant “a crucial step toward revitalizing American manufacturing, fostering healthier communities and creating future-proof jobs. With this investment, the Biden administration has notched its first win in the global transition to green steel.”

On Monday, the Biden administration announced $6 billion in funding for projects that will slash emissions from the industrial sector — the largest-ever U.S. investment to decarbonize domestic industry to fight climate change.

The industrial sector is responsible for roughly 25% of all the nation’s emissions, and has proven difficult to decarbonize due to its energy-intense, large-scale operations.

Iron, steel, aluminum, food and beverage, concrete and cement facilities are some of those involved in this initiative. Recipients of the funding include 33 demonstration projects in more than 20 states.

In Middletown, the plant will retire one blast furnace, install two electric furnaces, and use hydrogen-based ironmaking technology. The project aims to eliminate 1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year from the largest supplier of steel to the U.S. automotive industry.

Two Cleveland-Cliffs projects were selected for award negotiations for up to $575 million in total funding from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to pursue two decarbonization investments at Middletown Works and Butler Works in Pennsylvania.

If awarded the grant, the company would replace its existing blast furnace at its Middletown Works with a 2.5mtpa Hydrogen-Ready Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) Plant and two 120 MW Electric Melting Furnaces (EMF) to feed molten iron to the existing infrastructure already on site, including the BOF, Caster, Hot Strip Mill, and various finishing facilities, the company said. Middletown will maintain its existing raw steel production capacity of approximately 3 million net tons per year and will no longer use coke for iron production, the company said.

The process will dramatically reduce carbon emissions intensity, and will consolidate Middletown Works as the most advanced, lowest GHG emitting integrated iron and steel facility in the world, according to the company.

The facility will have the flexibility to be fueled by natural gas, which would reduce current ironmaking carbon intensity by over 50%; a mix of natural gas and clean Hydrogen; or clean Hydrogen, which would reduce current ironmaking carbon intensity by over 90%, the company said.

The net capital outlay for Cliffs will be approximately $1.3 billion, net of capital avoidance on the existing blast furnace and coke plants, over a 5-year period primarily starting in 2025 and expected to conclude by 2029, the company said. Cliffs’ portion will be funded using liquidity on hand and its own free cash flow generation.

The Middletown site offers enough available space to construct the new facility without encumbering the existing processes, effectively eliminating interference risks during the construction and commissioning phase, it announced.

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