Rio Tinto has completed construction on a new 5 MW solar power plant at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah, USA, with commissioning expected in the coming weeks.
The 12,800 solar panel power plant will enable Kennecott to reduce its operational emissions by 3,000 t/y of carbon dioxide equivalent, Rio Tinto says. It will also serve as a pilot project with the goal of expanding Kennecott’s solar energy supply in the future.
Shifting to sustainable energy solutions is a priority for Kennecott, the company says. The mine closed down its coal-fired power plant in 2019, moving to electricity paired with renewable energy certificates. This resulted in a 65% reduction in its carbon footprint and the elimination of over 1 Mt/y of carbon dioxide output.
Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director, Nate Foster, said: “Rio Tinto Kennecott has a key role to play in supporting the energy transition. We supply US companies with the copper and tellurium they need to produce solar panels, wind turbines, and conductors. We also continue to take steps to further decarbonise our business, from our battery-electric vehicle trial to our renewable diesel trial and now to our very own solar plant.”
The location of the 30-acre (12.1-ha) solar array was carefully selected to minimise visual and environmental impacts, Rio Tinto says. It is adjacent to other existing industrial operations, away from residential and commercial zones, with earthen berms from the railway providing a visual barrier to most of the installation.
Last year, Rio Tinto started producing tellurium as a by-product of mining and refining copper at Kennecott, becoming one of only two US producers of this critical mineral. Both copper and tellurium are vital components of photovoltaic solar panels. The tellurium from Kennecott is refined by 5N Plus, a producer of specialty semiconductors and performance materials, before being supplied primarily to First Solar for use in its solar panels.
Rio Tinto aims to reduce its global Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.