From blasting to crushing to separation to the finished product – steel, the iron mining process all starts in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Taconite is a very hard rock. Using explosives, the taconite is blasted into small pieces.
The taconite pieces are scooped up by electric shovels. Each shovel can hold up to 85 tons of rock. The shovels place the taconite into giant dump trucks. These trucks are as big as a house and hold up to 240 tons of taconite. The trucks take the taconite directly to the processing plant, or the taconite is transported if further away.
At the processing plant, the taconite is crushed into very small pieces by rock crushing machines. The crushers keep crushing the rock until it is the size of a marble. The rock is mixed with water and ground in rotating mills until it is as fine as powder.
The iron ore is separated from the taconite using magnetism. The remaining rock is waste material and is dumped into tailings basins. The taconite powder with the iron in it is called concentrate.
The concentrate (the wet taconite powder) is rolled with clay inside large rotating cylinders. The cylinders cause the powder to roll into marble-sized balls. (This is like rolling wet, sticky snow into balls to make a snowman). The balls are then dried and heated until they are white hot. The balls become hard as they cool. The finished product is taconite pellets.
The taconite pellets are loaded into ore ships. These ships sail on the Great Lakes to Gary, Indiana, Cleveland, Ohio and other steel-making towns. The taconite pellets are brought to the steel mills to be melted down into steel.
Source: © 2014 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources