DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Cliffs Natural Resources says it's ready to produce a new kind of iron ore pellet in Minnesota that could potentially open new markets.
Cliffs, which operates three taconite mines in northeastern Minnesota, successfully completed a two-week, full-scale production test of direct reduced iron-grade pellets at its Silver Bay plant last month, the company said Thursday. The test produced 30,000 tons of the pellets.
The new kind of pellets are low in silica, which makes them suitable for making steel in smaller electric arc furnaces, known as mini-mills. Standard taconite pellets from the Iron Range have historically fed big traditional blast furnaces around the Great Lakes.
In a conference call with analysts and investors Thursday, Cliffs CEO Joseph Carrabba said the company has yet to secure a customer for the new kind of pellets but talks are continuing.
Cleveland, Ohio-based Cliffs owns and operates Northshore Mining in Silver Bay and Babbitt as well as United Taconite in Eveleth and Forbes, and also is part-owner and manager of Hibbing Taconite. The company also owns and operates the Empire/Tilden taconite operations in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and several iron mines in Canada and Australia, as well as coal mines and other ventures.
The company said last year it was experimenting with producing the new pellets at both its Northshore and United Taconite facilities.
Carrabba said Thursday that Northshore has an edge because it would be easier to convert one or more of the Silver Bay plant's traditional taconite furnaces. He also said Northshore would have slightly lower transportation costs because it has its own port on Lake Superior.