Cat autonomous 785 fleet in the works for ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Nevada

ioneer Ltd, an emerging lithium-boron supplier, has announced a partnership with Caterpillar as its exclusive heavy equipment partner for its Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Nevada. Caterpillar will supply haul trucks, hydraulic shovels, wheel loaders, and other minesite support machinery like crawler dozers, excavators, and motor graders.

ioneer and Caterpillar say they are also working on a joint automation study that “aims for the early introduction of autonomous haul trucks at Rhyolite Ridge. Caterpillar has been a leader on the journey toward automation for many years. Fully autonomous mining automation systems offer unprecedented improvements in operator safety, equipment availability, and site productivity and play an important role in reducing the physical and environmental footprint of a mine.” ioneer will become the first greenfield site in the United States to use automated haul trucks in the initial operation. ioneer has said the project will use 136 ton trucks, which would equate to the Cat 785, for which a New Generation model has just been released. The deposit will be mined with 9.1 m bench heights using 17 cubic metre bucket Cat 6040 hydraulic excavators and a Cat 992K 12 m3 bucket wheel loader.

All equipment will feature the latest in high precision GPS and realtime analytics in order to maximise efficiency and accuracy in material loading. For example, an integrated, GPS-guided bucket system, such as Caterpillar’s MineStar Terrain package, will allow excavator and wheel loader operators to know in real time what type of material is being loaded.

The equipment and services supplied by Caterpillar during the first five years of operation is valued at approximately $100 million. In addition, Caterpillar will offer the company finance solutions for the equipment through Caterpillar Financial Services. Both the supply of equipment and services and finance solutions are subject to a final investment decision being taken on the project and definitive legal documentation.

The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment, a major Caterpillar equipment dealer, which has been based in Nevada since 1931. Cashman Equipment will support the Rhyolite Ridge Project with technicians to assemble and service the equipment, operator trainers to assist with the most efficient machine operations, and product support consultants to facilitate a comprehensive Maintenance and Repair Contract (MARC) agreement.

As stated in the DFS for the project prepared by Fluor: “The Rhyolite Ridge Project is a greenfield large-scale, lithium-boron project being developed on federal lands in southern Nevada in the United States. The project is located approximately halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, and is easily accessible via state and country roads. The Rhyolite Ridge Projectis the only one of its type known globally. Rhyolite Ridge’s unique mineralogical characteristics support low-cost processing of its ore into high-grade lithium and boric acid products using sulphuric acid leaching.”

An initial starter pit will be developed in the southwestern part of the orebody to supply ore for the first 4.5 years of the project. In this area, lithium grades are 15% higher than the average grade for the deposit and the ore is more exposed at surface. Development of the greater pit will start once the environmental permits for this development have been granted. The Stage 2 pit design will facilitate a larger mining area to be maintained, aiding the efficiency of the operation for another 21 years. Stage 2 will involve expansion to the south and east. Finally, mining will progress to the north of the deposit. The Stage 2 pit requires prestripping to begin in year 4.