Tag Archives: Kennecott

Rio Tinto funds initial underground development at Kennecott copper ops

Rio Tinto has approved a $55 million investment in development capital to start underground mining and expand production at its Kennecott copper operations in Utah, USA.

Underground mining will initially focus on an area known as the Lower Commercial Skarn (LCS), which will deliver a total of around 30,000 t of additional high-quality mined copper through the period to 2027 alongside open-pit operations, Rio says. The first ore is expected to be produced in early 2023, with full production in the second half of the year. It will be processed through the existing facilities at Kennecott, one of only two operating copper smelters in the US.

Kennecott holds the potential for significant and attractive underground development. The LCS is the first step towards this, with a mineral resource of 7.5 Mt at 1.9% Cu, 0.84 g/t Au, 11.26 g/t Ag and 0.015% Mo identified based on drilling and a probable reserve of 1.7 Mt at 1.9% Cu, 0.71 g/t Au, 10.07 g/t Ag and 0.044% Mo.

Underground battery-electric vehicles are currently being trialled at Kennecott to improve employee health and safety, increase productivity and reduce carbon emissions from future underground mining fleets. A battery-electric haul truck and loader supplied by Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions – a Sandvik LH518B 18 t battery-electric LHD and a Sandvik Z50 50 t battery-electric haul truck – are being used to evaluate performance and suitability as part of underground development work.

Rio Tinto Copper Chief Executive, Bold Baatar, said: “This investment will allow us to quickly bring additional volumes of high-quality copper to the market and build our knowledge and capabilities as we evaluate larger scale underground mining at Kennecott. We are progressing a range of options for a significant resource that is yet to be developed at Kennecott, which could extend our supply of copper and other critical materials needed for electric vehicles and renewable power technologies.

“Trialling underground battery-electric vehicles is an exciting step in our work to create a safer workplace for our employees, increase the productivity of the mine and reduce emissions from our operations. We look forward to seeing their potential for deployment.”

Existing undergound infrastructure is currently being extended to enable early access to the next underground resource and undertake characterisation studies. A feasibility study to inform decisions on the next phase of underground production is expected to be completed in 2023. This will be one of several potential stages currently being investigated.

Feasibility studies are also being progressed to extend open-pit mining at Kennecott beyond 2032.

Rio Tinto produces first tellurium from Kennecott copper operation

Rio Tinto has started producing tellurium at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah, becoming one of only two US producers of the critical mineral used in advanced thin film photovoltaic solar panels.

The tellurium will be refined in North America by 5N Plus, a global producer of specialty semiconductors and performance materials, under a commercial agreement between 5N Plus and Rio Tinto. The refined tellurium will primarily be supplied to First Solar, the only U-based company among the world’s 10 largest solar manufacturers, under an existing supply contract between 5N Plus and First Solar. 5N Plus will also use the tellurium to manufacture ultra-high purity semiconductor materials at its facility in St. George, Utah, to serve the security and medical imaging markets.

Approximately 20 tons (18 t) of tellurium will be produced per year through a new $2.9 million circuit built at the Kennecott refinery. This valuable material is recovered from by-product streams generated during the copper refining process, reducing the amount of waste that needs to be treated and discarded as mine tailings.

Tellurium is listed as a critical mineral by the US Government due to its importance to the economy and energy security.

Rio Tinto Copper Chief Operating Officer, Clayton Walker, said: “We are proud to deliver a new domestic supply of tellurium to support the manufacturing of solar panels and other critical equipment here in the United States. Approximately 90% of the world’s tellurium resource is contained in copper ore and no other metal has more critical mineral by-products than copper. The Kennecott team is constantly looking for ways to extract new critical minerals to meet emerging demand for the clean energy transition.”

5N Plus President and Chief Executive Officer, Gervais Jacques, said: “As a leading global supplier of specialty semiconductor compounds for applications in renewable energy, security and medical imaging, 5N Plus is proud of this partnership with Rio Tinto, and to further leverage its expertise in the transformation of mining and metallurgical by-products into high purity value-added critical minerals such as tellurium, here in North America.”

First Solar Chief Manufacturing Operations Officer, Mike Koralewski, added: “Rio Tinto’s decision to invest in tellurium is a win for responsibly-produced, American solar. We’re thrilled that tellurium from Kennecott will play a role in powering our country’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”

Tellurium is one of 10 metals and products recovered from ore extracted at Kennecott, which produces nearly 15% of US copper with the country’s lowest carbon footprint, Rio Tinto says.

Murray & Roberts’ Cementation Americas business wins Rio and BHP contracts

Murray & Roberts’ Cementation Americas business has confirmed two new mining contracts with Rio Tinto and BHP.

Cementation USA secured the Underground Characterisation Development and Infrastructure project in Utah for Rio Tinto’s Kennecott copper operations (open pit, pictured). The value of this agreement is circa-$70 million, with the initial scope including lateral development and associated infrastructure works.

Rio, only last month, approved a $108 million investment in underground development to enable early orebody access and undertake orebody characterisation studies for underground mining at the Kennecott copper operations.

The contract award positions Cementation USA well for the potential significant scope growth on this project, Murray & Roberts said.

Cementation Canada Inc has secured the completion of Phase 1 of the Jansen potash project in the province of Saskatchewan for BHP. This scope includes the post liner excavation, steel and equipping of the shaft.

The value of the complete project award, subject to a sanction decision for the project, is around $170 million. Cementation Canada has, in the interim, received a works order to proceed with the first work package to the value of $12 million.

BHP said last month that it expected to make a decision on whether to move forward with Jansen, which is expected to produce 4.4 Mt/y of potash in its first phase, in the next two months.

Cementation Canada will apply to also deliver the following phases of the Jansen project, Murray & Roberts noted.

Murray & Roberts said: “During the past year, mining companies in the Americas have experienced prolonged COVID-19 impact, creating short-term order book pressure for engineering and contracting companies. These awards are evidence of new mining investments returning to the region.

“The forecast improvement in capital investment in the mining industry is encouraging and, considering the platform’s leading global position and growing near term project pipeline, there is good potential for accelerated growth for the group’s mining platform.”

Cat brings in ex-Rio employee as new mining-focused VP

Caterpillar’s Board of Directors has appointed Marc Cameron as a company Vice president, responsible for its Resource Industries Sales, Services and Technology division.

Cameron has 20 years of deep expertise in surface and underground mining, most recently with Rio Tinto. He has led complex global teams and has extensive knowledge of mining operations, having served in various roles as a leader on the Rio team, one of Caterpillar’s largest mining customers, Cat said.

He will begin his duties with Caterpillar on November 2, 2020, and will be based in Tucson, Arizona.

Denise Johnson, Caterpillar Group President of Resource Industries, said: “Marc’s deep mining experience will further enhance our customer focus and accelerate the growth of Caterpillar services, including technology solutions.”

Cameron joined Rio in 2003 and led the full value stream of some of the company’s copper and diamond mines, including the Rio Tinto Kennecott mine outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Most recently, he led the development and execution of the end-of-life strategy for Rio’s North America legacy assets.

Prior to joining Rio, Cameron was a Civil Engineer for Peter Kiewit and Sons, a large construction and engineering organisation.

Rio pushes back the life of Kennecott copper operation with $1.5 billion investment

Rio Tinto’s Kennecott copper operation in the US is set to keep operating to 2032 following a $1.5 billion investment.

The investment will further extend strip waste rock mining and support additional infrastructure development in the second phase of the South Wall Pushback project, to allow mining to continue into a new area of the orebody and deliver close to 1 Mt of refined copper between 2026 and 2032, according to the mine.

The first phase of the South Wall Pushback, which is expected to be complete in 2021, extended production from 2019 to 2026. Some $300 million remains to be spent of a $900 million investment.

“It is a world-class project that will generate attractive returns and allow further exploration of the deposit and options for mine life extension,” Rio said.

This additional investment will commence in 2020 and is included in the company’s group capital expenditure guidance of $7 billion in 2020, and $6.5 billion in both 2021 and 2022 as development capital, it said.

With this project, Rio says it has invested more than $5 billion in modernisation, environmental stewardship and mine-life extension initiatives since it acquired Kennecott in 1989.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive, J-S Jacques, said: “This is an attractive, high value and low risk investment that will ensure Kennecott produces copper and other critical materials to at least 2032.

“The outlook for copper is attractive, with strong growth in demand driven by its use in electric vehicles and renewable power technologies, and declining grades and closures at existing mines impacting supply.”

He added: “Kennecott is uniquely positioned to meet strong demand in the United States and delivers almost 20% of the country’s copper production. North American manufacturers have relied on high-quality products from Kennecott for the past century and this investment means it will continue to be a source of essential materials into the next decade.”

Earlier this year, Rio announced that it would cut the carbon footprint associated with operations at Kennecott by permanently closing its coal fired power plant and sourcing renewable energy certificates.

Jacques added: “Kennecott will be supplying customers across North America with products that are not only produced in the region but responsibly mined with a significantly reduced carbon footprint.”

Kennecott’s operations include the Bingham Canyon mine, Copperton concentrator, Garfield smelter, refinery, power plant and associated facilities.