Rio Tinto has approved a US$77 million (A$110 million) pre-feasibility study (PFS) to progress development of the Rhodes Ridge project, one of the world’s best undeveloped iron ore deposits, in the East Pilbara in Western Australia.
The commencement of a PFS follows completion of an Order of Magnitude study that considered development of an operation with initial capacity of up to 40 Mt annually, subject to relevant approvals. The PFS is expected to be completed by the end of 2025 and will be followed by a feasibility study. First ore from the initial development is expected by the end of this decade.
Rio Tinto is planning to spend more than A$400 million on exploration over five years from 2024 to 2028 as part of the ongoing study phases. Study work to date indicates a staged development with an initial hub likely to be located in the northern part of the project, adjacent to existing rail infrastructure.
Last year, Rio Tinto (50%) and Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd (50%) agreed to modernise the joint venture covering the Rhodes Ridge project, located 40 kilometres north-west of Newman. Rhodes Ridge contains 6.8 billion tonnes of Mineral Resources at an average grade of 61.6% Fe, including 5.3 billion tonnes at 62.2% Fe and 0.6 billion tonnes at 63.9% Fe.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott said: “The size and quality of the resource base at Rhodes Ridge has the potential to underpin our iron ore business in the Pilbara for decades to come. Longer term, the resource could support a world-class mining hub with a potential capacity of more than 100 million tonnes of high-quality iron ore a year. We are committed to working closely with the Traditional Owners, the Nyiyaparli and Ngarlawangga People, as we progress this project.”
The joint venture will utilise Rio Tinto’s existing rail, port and power infrastructure, including the planned instalment of renewable power assets in the Pilbara. As a greenfield operation it is also likely to incorporate many of the latest technologies available focused on low emissions and sustainable water management. There will be a lot of learnings on this front at Gudai-Darri which can then be scaled up further for Rhodes Ridge.
Trott stated in the recent analyst Pilbara Site Visit 2023 Q&A: “What worked really well at Gudai-Darri…is that sort of stage development and having some of that temporary crushing and screening there so that we can effectively commission the plant backwards. And so that ramp up has been really good compared to our previous projects compared to other projects in the Pilbara, and that’s certainly a lesson that we’re taking on board with as we think about Rhodes Ridge.”