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By Marta Nogueira
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Brazilian miner Vale SA is considering replacing mineral coal used in the production of iron ore pellets with biochar derived from vegetation, after a successful test run, in what it sees as a major step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Vale officials told Reuters that one of the company's pelletizing units in the northeastern city of Sao Luis produced 57,000 tonnes of pellets in a process in which biochar accounted for 25% of the total coal used, which allowed it to cut emissions by 10%.
"There was a great fear on the market regarding biochar use, companies were afraid that it would impact the quality of the pellet. But we managed to break some taboos; we proved that it is viable," said Fabio Brandao, Vale's executive manager for pellet engineering.
Coal is used to power furnaces used to make iron ore pellets, but is also added to the pellets.
Vale now plans to work on the possibility of replacing all the coal used in its 12 pellet plants - 11 in Brazil and one in Oman - with biochar, which the company says would allow it to reduce its total emissions by 16%.
According to Vale engineer Rodrigo Boyer, who led the initiative, a new test will be carried out in Sao Luis this year with the goal of reaching a 50% biochar content.
"Our goal for 2022 is to test the technical feasibility of further increasing the share of biochar used in the furnace," Boyer said. Tests with 100% biochar content are expected to happen next year.
Vale officials said there is still no decision or deadline for the replacement of coal in its pellets but they are optimistic about the prospects.
The company aims to cut its overall direct and indirect carbon dioxide emissions by 33% by 2030, with a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2030.
(Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)