Tag Archives: Kennecott

GroundProbe cancels out atmospheric ‘noise’ with new slope stability monitoring algorithm

A collaboration with mining operations across the globe has resulted in the development of a new atmospheric correction algorithm for Slope Stability Radar (SSR) that, GroundProbe says, provides a step change in the way atmospherics are treated and managed.

Precision Atmospherics is the most advanced correction algorithm in the market today, according to the company, able to distinguish and significantly reduce the noise caused by the most turbulent atmospheric conditions, providing a decisively clearer picture of real deformation.

It is the result of several years of rigorous development, testing and evolution, and represents one of the most significant research and development projects GroundProbe has ever undertaken, the company says. GroundProbe partnered with a global collection of mines in different climatic regions in the extensive validation program, including one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, the US.

Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Senior Engineer, Geotech, Dustin Hicks, has been part of Precision Atmospherics development and testing since 2019, when first presented to Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon mine.

“GroundProbe delivered an SSR-Omni equipped with Precision Atmospherics to Bingham Canyon to demonstrate its capability in the rapidly changing atmospheric environment that our site experiences,” Hicks said.

“The Precision Atmospherics algorithm effectively managed a variety of atmospheric conditions including blast and wind induced dust plumes, rain and snow, which resulted in significantly less contaminated data.

“It reduced the noise on a scan-by-scan basis, which opens the door for tighter alarm configurations that would otherwise overburden the geotechnical team.”

In complex atmospheres, especially at large mines, atmospheric variability can hinder the ability to detect early-stage movement.

Precision Atmospherics is currently available on GroundProbe’s 2D Real Aperture Radars fleet. The combination of real aperture technologies with this algorithm allows mine sites to have better deformation detection capability in all seasons and conditions, according to the company.

GroundProbe’s Chief Executive Officer, David Noon, said Precision Atmospherics is a game changer in tracking both slow and rapid trends.

“With the smoother plots and cleaner maps that Precision Atmospherics provides, customers can focus their attention on recently started or slow-moving deformation,” he said. “This is important for gleaning the potentially significant geotechnical problems that can only be detected through long-term analysis.

“Both rapid and slow trends are shown in a single data set, and unlike other techniques, there is no post-processing required to detect slow movements.”

Alberto Cabrejo, GroundProbe’s Global Practice Lead – Geotechnical Advisory, added: “Precision Atmospherics is the most important addition to the monitoring practice using interferometric radars. It responds directly to the most important request from Geotechnical Engineers around the world: data quality.

“With this algorithm, we can finally use tight alarms appropriate for rock mass deformation rather than alarms that will not be triggered by weather changes.”

Rio Tinto’s Nuton ready to leverage its leaching R&D legacy

More than a few companies and technology providers claim to have solved the primary copper sulphide leaching conundrum, but only one has close to 30 years of R&D and the Rio Tinto name behind it.

Rio, through its Nuton venture, is the latest to table a solution to treat primary copper sulphides such as chalcopyrite, having introduced the company to the sector earlier this year in an attempt at growing the miner’s copper business.

At its centre is a portfolio of proprietary copper leach related technologies and capability that, Nuton says, offer the potential to economically unlock known low-grade copper sulphide resources, copper bearing waste and tailings, and achieve higher copper recoveries on oxide and transitional material. This allows for a significantly increased copper production outcome, according to the company.

One of the key differentiators of Nuton is the potential to deliver leading environmental performance, including more efficient water usage, lower carbon emissions and the ability to reclaim mine sites by reprocessing mine waste, it claims.

Column test work at Rio Tinto’s R&D centre in Bundoora, Melbourne

Adam Burley, Rio Tinto’s Nuton venture lead, said at the core of Nuton is an elevated temperature bioleaching process that can, in the right thermochemical conditions, deliver “peak” copper recovery from primary sulphides such as chalcopyrite.

“Taking advantage of naturally-occurring processes, we have nurtured a culture of microorganisms that establish and thrive in those optimised conditions,” he told IM. “The elevated temperatures are generated by the work of the bacteria; under the base case, we don’t need to heat the heap from external sources, which can often be financially and environmentally costly.”

This leaching core is enhanced by a range of “additives” and expertise that can, for example, deal with high precipitation and cold weather climates.

Having assembled and extensively tested this portfolio, Nuton and Burley are confident enough to state expectations of delivering greater than 80% copper recoveries from chalcopyrite ore with its process.

“This is, from our understanding, some way above the next best leaching technologies available,” Burley said.

The testing behind such numbers is extensive, dating back to 1994 when the company carried out its pilot heap leach operation and developed its initial predictive modelling capabilities at the Kennecott copper mine in Utah, USA.

“Since that time, we’ve conducted hundreds of column tests across tens of orebodies,” Burley said. “We have run columns at a range of scales – a metre high to 10 metres high – and a range of diameters – from tens of centimetres to 5-metre diameter cribs. Some of those range from tens of kilograms to 300 tonnes – large scale with a lot of instrumentation.”

Combining this body of work with a 70,000 t leaching trial the company carried out at Kennecott from 2012 to 2014, Nuton has been able to calibrate its computational fluid dynamic models to accurately predict a range of inputs and outputs for leaching suitability.

“We are left in a position today where we have a high degree of confidence in being able to evaluate the suitability of different ore types and Nuton’s leach response fairly quickly,” Burley said.

This has led to the company going out to market, partnering with companies that own deposits that pass the Nuton thresholds.

The company has signed deals with Lion Copper and Gold Corp, and Arizona Sonoran Copper Company to test out the technology on Lion’s copper assets in Mason Valley, Nevada, and Arizona Sonoran’s Cactus Mine and Parks/Salyer projects, in Arizona.

It has also more recently agreed a pact with McEwen Copper on the Los Azules project in Argentina.

These assets, agreements and potential leaching applications are all different – covering former operating mines and greenfield assets; earn-ins, exclusivity periods and equity stakes; and oxides and sulphides.

“We recognise that due to the high variability of copper deposits and mine waste that one size doesn’t fit all,” Burley said. “A single technology solution is unlikely to perform well at every site.

“Our approach is to work with our partners to understand site-specific characteristics, such as the mineralogy of the available ore and waste, designing a tailored approach by selecting the most applicable technology configuration from within the Nuton portfolio.”

And, according to Burley, these current and future agreements could see Nuton operate the equipment and plant associated with the Nuton process.

“In many cases, we envisage supporting our partners with an end-to-end process, including engineering, build out and operating the gear,” he said.

The test site at Kennecott being prepared and lined ready for the rock to be leached

While the sulphide copper recovery numbers are likely to take the headlines, Burley was able to point out several key differentiators from other leaching solutions targeting minerals such as chalcopyrite.

“Those recovery numbers are a step change, as opposed to an incremental improvement,” he said. “That gives us a lot more optionality in terms of the cutoff grade of the material we can process economically.”

And, with that higher resource utilisation, comes less waste and an overall higher process efficiency, meaning, under certain conditions, Nuton can compete with a pre-existing processing route such as a concentrator, Burley says.

“In some cases, in a greenfield setting, we could see a better economic and environmental outcome than a concentrator, particularly given no tailings or smelting is required, and you could have a finished product produced in country.”

He continued: “Our focus on ESG and our ability to process waste due to that low cutoff grade is one of the key differentiators that opens a whole set of use cases in the legacy mine domain too. Being able to restore and reclaim mine sites by reprocessing waste is very attractive.”

The eventual aim, according to Burley, is to deliver carbon-neutral copper from the Nuton process, yet Rio estimates it can already deliver 0.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for Scope 1 and 2 emissions per tonne of Nuton copper produced, compared with a global average of 5.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent as per standard, conventional primary copper production.

Away from the technical elements, the “partnership” business model Nuton uses also stands out.

Nuton testing up and running at Kennecott (from previously mentioned trials)

“The approach is to work with our partners and assess the value case at specific sites, agreeing a commercial framework that works for everyone,” Burley said. “We are quite open minded as to what that might look like – it could be ownership and equity participation to royalty and licensing type arrangements.

“So, there is the financial strength Rio brings, as well as the deep technical expertise.”

These elements are clearly beneficial to any of Rio’s fellow mining companies that have projects with copper sulphides or those that will be transitioning to sulphide processing in the future, yet a lot of the progress made with these technologies was tied to the development of Rio’s own project, La Granja.

“In that case, part of the resource contains high arsenic and arsenic-related mineralogy,” Burley said of La Granja. “That was the trigger really for a concerted effort to look at an alternative to a concentrate and processing route. We made quite a number of Nuton breakthroughs in our study of that deposit.”

La Granja has been in Rio’s portfolio since winning the right to develop it in 2005, but is not currently in the development pipeline.

Asked if other assets within the company’s portfolio are potential Nuton candidates, Burley answered: “The potential exists to deploy Nuton within the Rio Tinto copper portfolio. We are currently evaluating a number of internal deployment options across our assets and joint ventures, but we also recognise the full value potential of Nuton – environmental and social, as well as financial – lies outside of the Rio Tinto portfolio.

“To capture the full size of prize that Nuton offers, we need to go out to market, which is what we have been doing pretty aggressively throughout the year and will continue to do going forward.”

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.