Tag Archives: boron

Rio Tinto commences lithium production at Boron mine site in California

Rio Tinto says it has commenced production of battery-grade lithium from waste rock at a lithium demonstration plant at the Boron mine site in California, USA.

The demonstration plant is the next step in scaling up a breakthrough lithium production process developed at Boron, to recover the critical mineral and extract additional value out of waste piles from over 90 years of mining at the operation, it said. An initial small-scale trial in 2019 successfully proved the process of roasting and leaching waste rock to recover high grades of lithium.

The demonstration plant has a design capacity of 10 t/y of battery-grade lithium. It will be run throughout 2021 to optimise the process and inform Rio Tinto’s feasibility assessment for progressing to a production-scale plant with an initial capacity of at least 5,000 t/y, or enough to make batteries for around 70,000 electric vehicles.

Rio Tinto Minerals Chief Executive, Sinead Kaufman, said: “This is a valuable next step in scaling up our production of lithium at the Boron site, all from using waste material without the need for further mining. It shows the innovative thinking we are applying across our business to find new ways to meet the demand for emerging commodities like lithium, which are part of the transition to a low-carbon future.”

Rio Tinto’s lithium pipeline includes the Jadar lithium-borate project in Serbia, for which a feasibility study is expected to complete by the end of 2021.

Development of the lithium project at Boron draws on Rio’s long standing partnership with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), which is focused on discovering ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products from existing refining and smelting processes. CMI experts worked alongside Rio technical leads to help solve a number of key processing challenges to produce battery grade lithium at Boron, the company said.

Rio Tinto investigates Heliogen’s AI-backed solar technology to decarbonise Boron ops

Rio Tinto and renewable energy technology company, Heliogen, have announced an agreement to explore the deployment of Heliogen’s solar technology at Rio Tinto’s borates mine in Boron, California.

Under a memorandum of understanding, Heliogen will deploy its proprietary, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technology at the Boron operation, where it will use heat from the sun to generate and store carbon-free energy to power the mine’s industrial processes.

The two companies will begin detailed planning and securing government permits for the project, with the aim of starting operations from 2022. They will also use the Boron installation to begin exploring the potential for deployments of Heliogen’s technology at Rio Tinto’s other operations around the world to supply process heat, which accounted for 14% of Scope 1 & 2 emissions from the group’s managed operations in 2020.

Heliogen’s high-temperature solar technology is designed to cost-effectively replace fossil fuels with sunlight for a range of industrial processes, including those used in mining. At Rio Tinto’s Boron mine, the company’s proprietary technology will use AI to control a network of mirrors that concentrate sunlight to capture energy used to make steam, the companies said. Heliogen’s system will also store the captured energy in the form of heat, allowing it to power night-time operations and provide the same uninterrupted energy stream offered by legacy fuels.

The Boron operation mines and refines borates into products ranging from fertilisers to construction materials and is producing lithium carbonate from a demonstration plant. The site currently generates steam using a natural gas co-generation plant and natural gas fired boilers. Heliogen’s installation will supplement these energy sources by generating up to 35,000 pounds per hour (15.9 t/h) of steam to power operations, with the potential to reduce carbon emissions at the Boron site by around 7% – equivalent to taking more than 5,000 cars off the road. Rio Tinto will also be assessing the potential for larger scale use of the Heliogen technology at Boron to reduce the site’s carbon footprint by up to 24%.

Heliogen’s mission of slashing global carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with sunlight, as well as its focus on industrial sectors, made it an ideal partner for Rio Tinto, which is committed to decarbonising its global operations, it said.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive, Jakob Stausholm, said: “This partnership with Heliogen has the potential to significantly reduce our emissions at Boron by using this ground-breaking solar technology, and we look forward to exploring opportunities across our global portfolio.

“Addressing climate change effectively will require businesses, governments and society to work together through partnerships like this one, to explore innovative new solutions throughout the entire value chain. Our work with Heliogen is part of Rio Tinto’s commitment to spend approximately $1 billion on emissions reduction initiatives through to 2025 and our commitment to work with world-leading technology providers to achieve this goal.”

Heliogen CEO and Founder, Bill Gross, said: “Since its founding, Heliogen has been laser-focused on decarbonising industrial sectors, including mining. As a result, this agreement with Rio Tinto is incredibly gratifying.

“We’re pleased to find a partner committed to cutting its contributions to climate change. We’re also pleased that Rio Tinto is exploring our technology to play an important role in helping reach its sustainability goals while dramatically reducing its energy costs. More broadly, we’re excited to take this important step as we pursue Heliogen’s goal of avoiding more than 1 gigaton of CO2 emissions – 5% of the world’s annual total – from the global economy by turning sunlight into an industrial energy source.”

Rio Tinto Kennecott to recover tellurium from copper smelting

Rio Tinto is to construct a new plant that will recover tellurium, a critical mineral used in solar panels, from copper refining at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The company is investing $2.9 million to set up the plant, which will recover tellurium as a by-product of copper smelting, extracting a valuable mineral from waste streams. The plant will have a capacity to produce around 20 t/y of tellurium, the miner said.

Rio expects to begin production of tellurium in the December quarter of 2021, creating a new North American supply chain for the critical mineral.

Tellurium is an essential component of cadmium telluride, a semiconductor used to manufacture thin film photovoltaic solar panels. Thin films made of this compound can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, according to the miner. Tellurium can also be used as an additive to steel and copper to improve machinability, making these metals easier to cut. It can also be added to lead to increase resistance to sulphuric acid, vibration and fatigue.

Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director, Gaby Poirier, said: “The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Adding tellurium to our product portfolio provides customers in North America with a secure and reliable source of tellurium produced at the highest environmental and labour standards with renewable energy. Rio Tinto is committed to using innovation to reduce waste in our production process and extract as much value as possible from the material that we mine and process.”

Utah Governor, Spencer Cox, said: “With abundant natural resources, Utah is ideally positioned to help supply the critical minerals essential to maintain American manufacturing competitiveness. Rio Tinto’s smelter at Kennecott is one of only two that is capable of producing copper and other critical minerals. The new tellurium plant is another valuable contribution to critical mineral independence and energy security in the US”

Along with producing almost 20% of US copper, Kennecott’s smelting process also recovers gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium, while molybdenum is recovered from the Copperton concentrator. In total, nine products are currently recovered from the ore extracted at Kennecott.

Rio Tinto is a partner with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and works closely with CMI experts to discover further ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products such as rhenium, tellurium and lithium. The company is also investing in new facilities to extract battery-grade lithium from waste rock at its Boron, California mine site and high quality scandium oxide from waste streams at its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

ioneer signs MoU with Caterpillar to introduce autonomous haulage at Rhyolite Ridge

ioneer Ltd says it has completed a joint automation study with Caterpillar and the Cat dealer for Nevada, Cashman Equipment Company, and signed a memorandum of understanding with Cat that should see autonomous haulage employed at the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Esmerelda County.

The study was targeting the early introduction of Cat’s Command for hauling Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at Rhyolite Ridge, with the results of the Rhyolite Ridge feasibility study showing the viability of AHS at the mine and how its proposed application could positively impact the overall cost structure of the operations.

Key anticipated drivers include increased operating hours, reduced cycle times and improved cycle efficiency, and decreased operating costs in terms of maintenance, fuel, labour and tyres. AHS should also lead to improved in-cycle productivity and overall utilisation, reducing the number of trucks required, ioneer said.

To date, Cat autonomous mining trucks have safely hauled more than 2 billion tonnes of material worldwide, driving over 67.6 million km without a lost-time injury in the process.

The Rhyolite Ridge operations are scheduled to start in 2023 with a fleet of Cat 785 Next Generation mining trucks (pictured) equipped with Cat Command for hauling, and the fleet is scheduled to expand significantly in year four, ioneer explained. All support equipment will feature the latest MineStar technology using high-precision GPS and real-time analytics to maximise efficiency and accuracy in material loading, it added.

This will be the first greenfield operation in North America to use AHS and will mark the expansion of Command for hauling automation technology to the 140-t class Cat 785 Next Generation mining truck.

The MoU between Cat and ioneer is for the use of Cat Command for hauling at the Rhyolite Ridge mine. The companies have engaged in preliminary, non-binding negotiations regarding the terms of the proposed transaction and intend to negotiate formal agreements in the coming months, ioneer said.

The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment, Nevada’s Caterpillar dealership since 1931. The fleet and initial auxiliary equipment will all be equipped with Cat MineStar Terrain, sold and supported by Intermountain Mining Technologies. This GPS system provides improved data for drilling, excavation, grading and dozing and should allow for better delineation of the overburden and ore for Rhyolite Ridge, according to ioneer.

As stated in the October 2020 release, the equipment and services supplied by Caterpillar during the first five years of operation is valued at around $100 million and may be financed through Caterpillar Financial Services.

ioneer’s managing director, Bernard Rowe, said: “Our agreement with Caterpillar represents much more than just the purchase of equipment; it is a true ongoing partnership as we commence production at Rhyolite Ridge.

“We are very pleased with the results of the automation study and look forward to working with Caterpillar, Cashman, and Intermountain Mining Technology in our effort to produce materials that are vital to a sustainable future. The incorporation of an autonomous haulage system and other Caterpillar technologies at Rhyolite Ridge will only further our goal to improve project safety and operational efficiency.”

Jim Hawkins, General Manager of MineStar Solutions of Caterpillar Inc, said: “Caterpillar mining technologies, including Command for hauling, deliver mining companies throughout the world benefit from greater productivity, increased truck utilisation, consistent truck operation and reduced costs. We are excited to support ioneer to deliver these same advantages to the Rhyolite Ridge greenfield mining opportunity.”

The Rhyolite Ridge project is the only one of its type known globally, according to the DFS from Fluor. Its 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 at the project will be developed in the southwestern part of the orebody to supply ore for the first 4.5 years. 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, according to Fluor. 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 four.

Fluor helping ioneer realise Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron potential

Fluor says its leadership and robust experience in mineral production is exemplified by its work to develop the most advanced and significant lithium operation in the United States at Rhyolite Ridge’s lithium-boron project in central Nevada, USA.

Fluor says its capabilities and experience in developing large-scale materials production facilities allow the company to address the most important projects with a depth of talent across all disciplines that enables these vital projects to be properly designed, constructed and commissioned on time and within budget. Its global locations, with a focus and expertise on mining and metals, have engineered and constructed multiple successful, sustainable projects in different geographies and taken them from concept development to successful production, according to the company.

“Fluor is united with ioneer in delivering a world-class project that will quadruple American lithium battery material production by 2023,” Tony Morgan, President of Fluor’s mining and metals business, said. “This project fully supports our two companies’ mutual corporate goals of promoting a sustainable future.

“Fluor’s wide range of capabilities position us to support clients across the battery value chain and help lead the way in the ongoing energy transition and build up sustainable domestic supply to combat climate change.”

Fluor says it is partnering with ioneer for the development of Rhyolite Ridge, which, when complete, will produce more than 20,000 t/y of lithium battery materials, enough to support the production of over 400,000 electric cars per year.

This lithium project is leading the way in US lithium-ion battery supply chain development, according to the engineering group. Fluor, working with the ioneer team and subcontractors, will demonstrate the capability of US engineering to deliver such an important project on schedule and budget, it said.

“The Rhyolite Ridge project is being developed with a rigorous attention to details,” Fluor said. “Fluor, working with ioneer and leading metallurgical laboratory, Kemetco Research, have undertaken a standard setting, lock cycle, full simulation pilot plant over the past two years of development. Using extensive data collection and analysis, this robust test facility has allowed Fluor engineers and subcontractors to fully understand the design parameters and performance expectations that allow this unique mineralogical project to not only succeed, but to produce at the very bottom of the global lithium cost curve.”

A multi-disciplinary Fluor team has, to date, spent more than 300,000 man hours on Rhyolite Ridge and the project is rapidly progressing toward shovel-ready status. Assuming permitting and final project funding occur in a timely manner, Rhyolite Ridge is expected to be ready to start construction in mid-2021, Fluor said.

ioneer secures 60% of Rhyolite Ridge sulphur needs with Shell LOI

ioneer says it has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Shell Canada Energy that will see the lithium-boron developer purchase up to 250,000 t/y of high-quality sulphur for its Rhyolite Ridge project in Nevada, USA.

This amount represents around 60% of the estimated annual sulphur requirement for the project, ioneer said.

“The signing of the LOI is one of the first steps to securing key reagents for the proposed acid leaching of the project’s lithium-boron Searlesite ore,” the company said, adding that both ioneer and Shell were working on turning the LOI into a binding supply agreement.

A prefeasibility study on Rhyolite Ridge, completed in October 2018, estimated production of 20,200 t/y of lithium carbonate and 173,000 t/y of boric acid, with production from 2021 and a 30-year mine life.

Managing Director of ioneer, Bernard Rowe, said: “Sulphur is the key input for the acid plant that is the heart of the proposed processing facility as it will provide the acid required for leaching the ore as well as all of the power and steam required to produce the lithium carbonate and boric acid at Rhyolite Ridge.”

Fluor wins first lithium mine contract in Nevada

ioneer Ltd (formerly Global Geoscience Ltd) has selected Fluor to deliver the definitive feasibility study for its Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project outside of Tonopah, Nevada, in the US.

Fluor will initially provide the DFS and, as the project advances, engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services.

The appointment follows the completion last month of the Rhyolite Ridge prefeasibility study, which showed the mine could extract and process ore to produce 20,200 t/y of lithium carbonate and 173,000 t/y of boric acid.

Fluor said the full notice to proceed on the EPCM phase is expected in 2019 with first production expected in 2021. The company will book the feasibility study contract value in the December quarter of 2018 and expects to book the full EPCM contract value in 2019 dependent on a final investment decision.

Tony Morgan, President of Fluor’s Mining & Metals business, said: “With the growing demand for electric vehicles and energy storage, Fluor is excited to work with ioneer on our first lithium mine project in Nevada.

“Our team brings the right combination of technical and execution expertise. We will leverage our full suite of integrated solutions tools, including our Zero Base ExecutionSM process and fit-for-purpose modular design strategy, to develop an execution approach to deliver this project safely and with excellence.”

Bernard Rowe, Managing Director of ioneer, said Fluor was chosen because of its capabilities, integrity and proven track record of delivering value.

“A key aspect of Fluor’s selection was its strong and highly experienced technical team based in the US.”

Rio’s Technical Development Centre on the search for jadarite process cure

Rio Tinto is developing a new chemical procedure to process jadarite, a mineral discovered in 2004 with concentrations of lithium and boron, as it looks to unlock the potential at its Jadar asset in Serbia.

The company’s Technical Development Centre in Bundoora, Victoria (Australia), in collaboration with the company’s team of global experts, is using ground-breaking methods to reduce jadarite to its component parts, according to a release from the International Mining and Resources Conference.

This will see lithium carbonate and boric acid produced from the mined ore.

Lithium is increasingly being used to produce batteries for electric vehicles and mobile phones, while borates are essential components for heat-resistant glass, fibreglass and smartphone screens.

Rio Tinto’s Group Executive – Growth and Innovation, Stephen McIntosh said Rio’s Bundoora site had an essential role in its global business.

“Our Bundoora Technical Development Centre was established more than 25 years ago. It has a proud history of applying innovative thinking to help us to maximise value in our business,” he said.

“The centre is actively involved in applying technical expertise to improve how we find, study, build, optimise and close our operations.”

Rio Tinto has built a pilot processing plant within a large shipping container to be relocated to the Serbia mine site should the project proceed to production. The company is currently working on a prefeasibility study on Jadar, the only project where there is a known occurrence of jadarite.

Rio has invested more than $100 million on the project to date. Significant investment is required to continue technical analysis and planning to move from prefeasibility to feasibility, then to construction and operation, the latter of which could occur in 2023-2024.

The resource base at Jadar is currently are 21 Mt of B2O3-equivalent and 2.5 Mt of Li2O-equivalent.

The IMARC conference and exhibition, taking place this week in Melbourne, Victoria, is developed in collaboration with its founding partners the Victorian State Government of Australia, Austmine, AusIMM and Mines and Money.