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8 November 2023 5 min read

The drive towards net zero is a new kind of challenge for Australia, and the world.

New challenges require new ways of working, bringing together diverse skillsets to build new capability to solve these problems.

Two of our passionate postdoctoral fellows are doing just that and working towards decarbonising Australia’s iron ore to steel value chain through our Towards Net Zero Mission.

Man in hire visibility clothing squatting next to clear tank
Dr Humair Nadeem using an Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) Tank to test the affect of water salinity and slurry density on ERT imaging.

Nurturing diverse skills to build new capability

Humair Nadeem and Kwaku Owusu joined #TeamCSIRO as part of our Impossible without you cohort, a recruitment drive designed to recruit early career inventors, innovators and change makers.

From processing efficiencies to low emissions steel, they are working to reduce the environmental impact of the iron ore value chain.

Dr Humair Nadeem

Humair and Kwaku bring new skills from diverse backgrounds. 

Humair achieved his PhD in the US, focusing on pharmaceuticals manufacturing.

However, he was always intrigued by net zero technologies and co-completed a masters in energy systems engineering.

He believes that having diverse exposure to scientific questions helps design better solutions.

Humair’s work focuses on comminution and beneficiation. He says the skills from his PhD are remarkably transferable.

“My PhD had a focus on mixing solid particles to achieve homogeneity. Instead, the Australian resources sector wants to separate things. It’s similar physics,” says Humair.

Liberating, separating, and concentrating ore more efficiently

Humair is working through physical and computational models to develop Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) methodology that separates ore more efficiently.

Hydrocyclones are commonly used as a high throughput method of separating coarse and fine materials to minimise the significant costs of downstream mineral processing operations.

Humair’s work optimises the performance of hydrocyclones. To increase precision and reduce the amount of material misclassified. This can significantly lower the amount of material recirculated through the energy intensive grinding circuit, and in doing so reduce energy usage and emissions.

He is also working on the design and optimisation of a selective breakage prototype that will allow large amounts of gangue material to be rejected early in a process flow sheet.

“If we can liberate, separate, and concentrate ore more efficiently, we can radically reduce the amount of energy and resources wasted downstream. Less energy is required to process material that ultimately ends up in the reject stream," Humair says.

Making low emissions steel a reality

Dr Kwaku Owusu. ©  Nick Rains

Further downstream in the production chain, Kwaku is focusing on developing processing techniques and pathways to make near zero emissions iron/steelmaking a reality.

He is part of the team working on a prefeasibility study for a common user pilot facility for low emissions ironmaking with the Mineral Research Institute of WA (MRIWA).

Through his undergraduate degree, Kwaku focused on the sustainable production of metallic iron from hematite ore by blending palm nut shells and waste automotive engine oil to use as reductants via microwave technology.

Iron production requires the use of a 'reductant' to convert it to metallic iron. This is typically a carbon-rich material like coal.

Kwaku's work focussed on the displacement of the coal with renewable carbon sources, like palm nut shells, and waste oil.

The study demonstrated that biomass, like palm nut shells, can be used as a low emissions reductant source. This could replace metallurgical coke to significantly reduce carbon emissions in ironmaking.

In his postgraduate study, Kwaku moved away from this biomass pathway, focussing on experimental studies in steel refining reactors. Now he is excited to return to the area with the Towards Net Zero Mission.

“The science under the India Green Steel Partnership is similar to the work I did in my undergraduate degree, but this time I get to engage industry at each step and improve it,” Kwaku says.

Asking better questions, get better answers

Humair says being a researcher at CSIRO is a unique position because the emphasis is on impact. For him, the importance of engaging industry early can’t be understated.

“Asking better questions leads to better answers, and we can deliver more impact to industry,” says Humair.

Steel production is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, which we need to radically reduce to limit warming to 1.5-2oC.

Kwaku says that working closely with industry to develop research, from ideation to pilot scale, allows him to appreciate the impact of research.

“As a researcher, I now get to see my work go beyond the lab. You need to engage industry at every step. Industry can’t change their processes as quickly as we need them to. The better I understand how to communicate and align with industry, the more impact I can deliver,” he says.

Net Zero Future

As two early career researchers, Kwaku and Humair are excited about the future of the industry.

Australia's mineral resources, from iron ore to battery metals, are critical to the global effort to decarbonise.

We must consider how we mine, process and utilise our renewable energy resource endowment for maximum benefit for the nation and the world.

“Australia's mineral resources, from iron ore to battery metals, are critical to the global effort to decarbonise. We must consider how we mine, process and utilise our renewable energy resource endowment for maximum benefit for the nation and the world,” says Humair. 

"At CSIRO we are in a sweet spot, while we focus on science and innovation, we do so by engaging industry, government, and other stakeholders. This allows us to find solutions but also helps us inform policy and practice to deliver real impact for Australia’s resources sector.”

Kwaku is particularly excited about the future of low emissions steel production.

“I decided to build a career in science to be among a community of researchers who are looking for innovative ways to promote the healthy coexistence between humans and their environments. And that is exactly what I am doing at CSIRO,” Kwaku says.

The decarbonisation challenge is complex. It calls for the coordination of many scientific disciplines to solve problems from all angles.

Humair Nadeem and Kwaku Owusu are two talents in #TeamCSIRO.

By bringing diverse experiences, they are creating new skills and shaping a sustainable future for the iron ore to steel value chain.

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