Time is now for ‘clean’ steel in Minnesota

Patrick Bloom, Cleveland Cliffs’ Vice President of Government Relations, Sandy Karnowski, Cleveland Cliffs Public Affairs Manager, Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis), Chair of the House Climate and Energy Committee, Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL - Coon Rapids), Chair of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL - Aurora), Jim Kochevar, Cleveland Cliffs Vice President of Iron Ore Operations), Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL - Hibbing), Ida Rukavina, Executive Director, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, and Cleveland Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves tour Cliffs’ state-of-the-art Direct Reduction plant in Toledo, Ohio.

September’s trip by a group of Minnesota DFL lawmakers to the Cleveland-Cliffs HBI plant in Toledo, Ohio, was an eye opener on many levels.

“It was a wonderful tour and insight into where the industry is headed,’’ Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, said of the five-hour visit with CEO Lourenco Goncalves at Cliffs’ direct reduction plant.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity,’’ said Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. “Any opportunity to move forward on ‘cleaner’ steel production is great for Minnesota and Minnesota iron ore,’’ said Long, chair of the House Climate and Energy Committee.

As far as when such a plant could be built in Minnesota, Long said there is a lot of discussion on a path forward for that. His committee is really pushing hard on buying ‘clean’ steel. He expects a report done within the year that should help determine the feasibility for going down that path.

“I think we’re seeing the market for clean steel really pick up,’’ Long added.

With that said, Lislegard believes it is an ideal time to work with Goncalves.

“This is where people have to understand who Lourenco is and what he’s about. It’s very important because he is leading the way in transitioning the steel industry. No question about it.’’

Lislegard said he met Goncalves seven years ago and “he was talking about this’’ at that time. “They are never going to build another blast furnace.’’

The steel industry is in another transition, according to Lislegard, and Goncalves is leading the way in clean steel and lowering the carbon footprint. “He saw where this was going a long time ago.’’

Northeastern Minnesota is already feeding Cliffs’ flagship plant in Toledo.

“We have a key role in Minnesota currently, and we will for the long haul,” Lislegard said. Goncalves specifically indicated there are real opportunities for Minnesota with direct reduced iron and electric arc furnaces.

“Those are all real possibilities for us,’’ he said, because “the man (Goncalves) has always done what he’s said he’s going to do.’’

“To be a part of that next generation (of steelmaking) is the only way for the Iron Range to be sustainable moving forward,’’ the Aurora legislator said.

Lislegard added one opportunity was lost at the Mesabi Metallics site in Nashwauk, but the state should still work with Goncalves and Cleveland-Cliffs. “He’s committed if the opportunity presents itself on the Range.’’

Long believes such a plant would be a chance for American steel to stand apart.

“We’re seeing real interest in the supply chain from those who want to make claims about energy usage,’’ he said. “This is a really big opportunity for Minnesota.’’

In the 2022 Legislature, “I’m hoping we can keep pushing forward next year on the buy clean initiative.’’

Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, and the other legislators touring the HBI plant in Toledo also supported such a state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly facility.

“Cliffs’ HBI plant is the model that entities across the globe will look to in the mining industry, with cutting-edge technology resulting in fewer carbon emissions and new job opportunities,’’ Sandstede said at the time. “Clean, ‘green’ steel is no longer a thing of the future; it is here now. Cliffs is a global leader and we are fortunate to partner with them in Minnesota.’’

“As the industry transitions, the state of Minnesota and the Iron Range can play a key role in that transition for the long haul. That is what I’ve been fighting for long before I was an elected official. The moment is before us shortly with this transition,’’ Lislegard said. Even though more electric arc furnaces are being used, “You’ll still need pellets, but you’re going to need less of them. It’s Imperative that we transition as a state and partner with companies that want to transition with us. It’s extremely important. The moment is before us as a state and a region to move forward with somebody that is proven.’’

“We’re either going to be a part of it or we’re going to be left behind,’’ he added.

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