Published November 1, 2007 | November 2007 issue
This past summer, mining giant Cleveland-Cliffs said that its Empire Mine in the Upper Peninsula could be shuttered within a few years unless alternative uses could be found for it. Then about a month later, Cleveland-Cliffs announced a new iron nugget production facility at the mine that will dramatically boost the iron content of pellets—from 65 percent to 96 percent.
The facility opens a new market for the Empire Mine; previously, the lower content iron went exclusively to traditional, integrated steel mills. New high-iron nuggets will be used in electric-arc steel mills (also called mini-mills) that demand higher iron content to make steel and that make more than half of the world's steel today.
The facility is being proposed in partnership with Kobe Steel of Japan, whose iron-making technology will be used. Subject to receiving the necessary environmental approvals, operations of the facility are slated to begin in 2010 and are expected to extend the life of the Empire Mine, located in Palmer, by at least 15 years.
If the project comes to fruition, the U.P.'s gain would be Minnesota's loss: Cleveland-Cliffs had originally proposed the new plant for its Northshore Mine in Silver Bay, Minn., but the company could not obtain the necessary state permits.
—Ronald A. Wirtz