Cleveland-Cliffs is restarting its Tilden Mine in Michigan and construction on its hot-briquetted iron plant in Toledo as demand for steel increases, the company announced Tuesday.
The company had stopped construction on the HBI plant in March over COVID-19 guidelines and idled Tilden in April as steel demand dropped during pandemic. Now Cliffs plans on restarting Tilden by the end of this month and has started "remobilizing the workforce to complete" the HBI plant. Both restarts are "earlier than planned," the company said in a news release Tuesday morning.
Cliffs also idled Northshore Mining operations in Babbitt and Silver Bay in April, laying off all but 100 of its 570 employees, with an expected restart in mid-August.
Asked if there were any changes to the Northshore Mining restart day, Cliffs spokesperson Patricia Perisco said: "Currently, we do not have any further updates or changes to the estimated timing for the restart of Northshore Mining."
In a news release, Lourenco Goncalves, Cliffs president and CEO, said Cliffs and AK Steel, the steel company it bought earlier this year, are being helped by "the rapidly increasing demand from the automotive sector," an industry largely supplied by AK Steel that restarted production in May.
“The demand for our steel, iron ore and metallics products has recovered dramatically over the past month, and in light of this, we are restarting Toledo and Tilden sooner than we originally expected," Goncalves said. "We suspended these operations in a way that allowed us to restart as easily and efficiently as possible, and that is what we will do."
Tilden was expected to restart in mid-July and primarily supplies the AK Steel facilities in Middletown, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan.
The HBI plant is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year. It was originally supposed to open this month before the pandemic-induced shutdown of construction.
Once complete, Northshore Mining will supply the HBI plant with 3.5 million tons of direct-reduced iron pellets every year. Northshore began producing that DR-grade pellet last summer in anticipation of the HBI plant's opening. HBI produced by Cliffs in Toledo will then be mixed with scrap metal in an electric arc furnace to make steel.
As demand for steel plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, layoffs at Iron Range mines have totaled roughly 1,760 workers — 470 at Cleveland-Cliffs' Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay, 375 at U.S. Steel's Keetac in Keewatin, 260 at U.S. Steel's Minntac in Mountain Iron and 650 at Arcelor-Mittal's Hibbing Taconite in Hibbing. It's more than one-third of the approximately 4,000 total jobs on the Iron Range's six mines.