Electrolysis of iron ore is the least developed process route currently being studied in ULCOS. This process would allow the transformation of iron ore into metal and gaseous Oxygen(O2) using only electrical energy.
Producing iron by electrolysis would mean that coke ovens and the reactors used for reducing the iron ore, such as a blast furnace, would no longer be required. The Carbon dioxide(CO2) created during these processes would also be eradicated leaving a Carbon dioxide(CO2) lean process of ironmaking.
Although no iron is presently produced industrially by electrolysis, many reasons stand in favour of this technique for industrial application. Electrolysis is, for example, a well established technique developed at an industrial scale in metal production of aluminium, zinc or nickel.
The most promising options for electrolysis are ULCOWIN, also called electrowinning, and iron ore ULCOLYSIS. Both technologies have already been shown possible at small scale and through the research carried out in ULCOS I.
In the ULCOLYSIS process, iron ore is dissolved in a molten oxide mixture at 1600°C. This unusual electrolyte medium is chosen in order to operate at a temperature high enough to be above the melting point of iron metal. The anode, made of a material inert towards the oxide mixture, is dipped in this solution. The electrical current is flown between this anode and a liquid iron pool connected to the circuit as the cathode. Oxygen(O2) evolves as a gas at the anode and iron is produced as a liquid metal at the cathode.
ULCOWIN is at a more advanced stage of development. A proposal has been made to further test this technology through additional scaling up of the process. The envisaged pilot plant would be able to produce a capacity of 5kg/day has been proposed