‘Biggest relief of my career’: Andrew Forrest breathes easy as Iron Bridge takes off

Fortescue spent 16 years choosing the right “flow sheet” – the sequence of steps from raw ore to finished product and what technology is used at each stage.

The key change was to replace giant power-hungry ball mills: rotating drums filled with ceramic balls to crush the rock.

“This was something we really did take our time on, which was unusual for us,” Forrest said.

Instead, the rock is crushed between rotating cylinders studded with carbide tips.

Before committing to the new technology, Fortescue and its Iron Bridge partner Formosa Steel proved it would work in a $US500 million pilot plant.

“Through that we verified, verified, verified the metallurgical process,” he said.

Arrival of the concentrate at Port Hedland in the past few days gives confidence the technology works. The next challenge for Fortescue is ramping up production to full capacity of 22 million tonnes a year.


Iron Bridge’s gestation has not been smooth, with the miner announcing three cost and schedule blowouts since the project was sanctioned four years ago. Initially, it was to cost $US2.6 billion and start delivering by mid-2022.

The first reassessment cost chief operating officer Greg Lilleyman and other senior executives their jobs.

However, Fortescue escaped the worst-case scenario. Sino Iron – Australia’s biggest magnetite project – was to cost about $US3 billion but more than $US12 billion had been spent before it started production in 2013.

Fortescue is still testing the market to determine if magnetite is best sold as a standalone product or blended with haematite, but is confident it will attract a premium. Solar farms will soon lift Iron Bridge’s energy supply to more than 20 per cent renewable, and the project along with the rest of Fortescue’s operations targeted have net-zero emissions by 2030.

Forrest said his customers realised they could not make green steel without green iron ore.

Fortescue shares closed almost unchanged on Monday at $20.95 a share.

Peter Milne travelled to Iron Bridge and Port Hedland courtesy of Fortescue.

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