Tag Archives: California

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.”

Sandvik on the growth path with Artisan as mine electrification takes hold

Sandvik’s Artisan business unit is continuing to ride the battery-electric vehicle wave in mining, having just moved premises in California, USA, to expand its production and testing capabilities.

Based in Camarillo, Artisan has been on a steep growth trajectory since it was established just over a decade ago. Having initially manufactured machines for several OEMs in the mining sector, the company was acquired by Sandvik in 2019. It had revenues of $12.3 million and approximately 60 employees back in 2017.

Both of these numbers have accelerated in line with increased take-up – and an expansion – of its battery-electric solutions for mining since it became a business unit of Sandvik.

Artisan’s 4-t (A4) and 10-t (A10) battery-electric underground loaders have found their way into mines in Canada and the US, while its 50-t Z50 haul truck has found a home in mines in Canada, the US and Australia. One of the bigger deployments has been at the Barrick Gold majority-owned Turquoise Ridge underground mine in Nevada, USA.

More recently, the portfolio was broadened with an 18 t LHD called the LH518B. This machine is the first true collaborative design effort between Sandvik and Artisan, marrying Sandvik’s underground mining engineering expertise with the Artisan™ battery system and electric driveline to “best leverage the possibilities that the battery technology brings”, the companies say.

This machine’s first deployment will be at a gold mine in British Columbia, Canada, but Artisan has also booked several orders for it in Australia, one of these being for Kirkland Lake Gold’s Fosterville gold mine, in Victoria.

With a range of new battery-powered equipment in the pipeline, Artisan has moved into a larger facility in California that will help it build these new vehicles from the ground up.

“We’re definitely growing in Camarillo,” Artisan’s Vice President of Technology, Brian Huff, told IM recently. “The move to a larger facility comes at the same time we are ramping up a lot of hiring in terms of engineering and manufacturing personnel.”

Artisan’s new facility comes with a test ramp with a 20% grade and a whole area for mucking on the property (pictured above).

“This will allow us to do a lot more development testing in a short period of time, giving us an advantage in terms of validation testing and trials of new designs and tools,” Huff said.

The potential for speeding up Artisan’s time to market will be increasingly important as more mines replenish fleets with battery-electric equipment.

As COVID-19-related restrictions ease, expect the new testing facility – and the manufacturing plant – to be regularly frequented by mining companies eyeing these new solutions.

Equinox pours first gold at Castle Mountain mine

A month after declaring construction of the Phase 1 operation at its Castle Mountain gold mine was complete, Equinox Gold has poured first gold from the heap leach asset in California, USA.

“Pouring first gold at Castle Mountain, our newest producing mine in the Americas and our second operating mine in California (on top of Mesquite), launches what will be a long-life flagship asset for the company,” Christian Milau, CEO of Equinox Gold, said.

“I’d like to thank our employees, consultants, San Bernardino County and the State of California for their support and efforts as we brought the Castle Mountain Mine to production on time, on budget and with no lost-time injuries, all while managing through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Equinox commenced construction of the Phase 1 mine on October 30, 2019.

It commenced pre-production mining in early June and, as of September 17, had stacked more than 1.4 Mt of ore on the leach pad.

The heap leach operation is expected to process around 12,700 t/d of ore, with Phase 1 expected to produce, on average, 45,000 oz/y of gold. The company is completing a feasibility study for the potential Phase 2 expansion, which is expected to average 200,000 oz/y of gold. This feasibility study is targeted for completion by the end of the year.