Tag Archives: Rio Tinto

Bis to haul bauxite for Rio Tinto at Gove operations

Bis says it has signed a multi-year bauxite haulage contract with Rio Tinto for its Gove operations in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Bis will deploy an efficient, high payload haulage solution to Gove, enabling a day shift only approach, which will also provide a strong foundation for managing employee attraction, it said.

Bis Chief Executive Officer, Brad Rogers, said the new contract is testament to the company’s focus on innovation and safety.

“I’m very proud we are able to offer a tailored and efficient haulage solution to Rio Tinto in a way that is conducive to a compelling employee value proposition.

“Given the remoteness of the operation – Gove is 1,000 km from Darwin – the ability to meet Rio Tinto’s production requirements in a cost efficient manner, with day shift only operations, will help to deliver a safe and reliable operation. We are excited to commence at Gove and look forward to supporting Rio Tinto at this important operation.”

The haulage and road maintenance contract will see Bis provide off-road haulage of bauxite, road grading, dust suppression and associated support services.

Assets include 230 t haulage combinations, loaders, graders, a water cart and other support equipment. Mobilisation of the new Gove contract begins immediately.

Bis has a long history of providing haulage, material handling and site services in the Northern Territory across a variety of commodities including manganese, iron ore and bauxite, it said.

This latest contract award comes only weeks after the company announced it had also secured a project with new customer, Stanmore Resources, at its Bowen Basin operation in Queensland.

Graphene Manufacturing Group and Rio Tinto to collaborate on use of novel battery tech

Graphene Manufacturing Group says it has signed a non-binding agreement to collaborate on energy saving and storage solution with Rio Tinto.

Together, GMG and Rio Tinto are set to explore the use of energy-saving products in Rio’s operations, explore working together to support GMG’s development of Graphene Aluminium-Ion (G+Al) batteries, and collaborate on mining and other industrial applications.

Under a non-binding term sheet, GMG says it and Rio Tinto will:

  • Discuss conducting trials of GMG’s energy-saving products in both existing applications and new industrial applications, to deliver energy savings and associated carbon reductions to support Rio Tinto’s decarbonisation objectives;
  • Explore supply of aluminium materials, one of the key components in G+Al battery technology, by Rio Tinto to GMG with an aim to optimise and accelerate battery development; and
  • Investigate the use of G+Al batteries in various Rio Tinto mining and industrial applications. Success could see significant performance enhancements and support Rio Tinto’s transition to low carbon operations.

Rio Tinto’s Chief Scientist, Nigel Steward, said: “Our companies share a vision of a low carbon future and we see great potential in the partnership. We aim to develop a truly green battery from our low carbon aluminium, which could transform the way we supply and store energy to anything from a leaf blower to a mining haul truck. It is a very exciting prospect and we are looking forward to bringing together the technical ingenuity of both Rio Tinto and GMG.”

GMG’s Managing Director and CEO, Craig Nicol, added: “We are excited to be collaborating with Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies who are committed to leveraging leading technologies for efficient and low carbon operations. The collaboration with Rio Tinto adds another key element in GMG’s leading partnerships to develop our G+Al Battery following recent agreements with Wood for scaling graphene production and Bosch for automated battery production. Rio Tinto’s supply of aluminium and development of material industrial battery applications also add to our battery development plans.

“Together, with the partnerships already established, this is another important step towards GMG’s goal to become a major global supplier of energy saving products as well as G+AI Batteries as we continue to de-risk the commercial scale up of this technology.”

GMG says lab testing and experiments have, so far, shown that the G+AI Battery energy storage technology has high energy densities and higher power densities compared with current leading marketplace lithium-ion battery technology – which means it will give longer battery life (up to three times) and charge much faster (up to 60 times).

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.

Rio Tinto, WesTrac and Caterpillar deploy tele-remote dozing system at iron ore ops

Rio Tinto, WesTrac and Caterpillar have embarked on a project to deploy a new tele-remote dozing system (TDS) at Rio’s iron ore operations in Western Australia that, they say, is wholly focused on operator safety.

Utilising Cat MineStar Command for Dozing and a dedicated operator control centre, Rio Tinto’s solution allows for non-line of sight operation of dozers working in high-risk areas.

Rio Tinto Superintendent Process and Technical, Michelle Woolcock, says the overarching brief was to effectively manage potential safety risks associated with dozers working in areas that were more susceptible to risk.

“The brief was to take the operator out of the line of fire,” Woolcock said. “In particular, the focus was to reduce the risk of operators being in machines that faced a risk of slipping or stability issues, for example when they were working on stockpiles or close to steep walls.”

There are multiple layers of technology and control options involved in the solution, depending on client and site-specific requirements.

Caterpillar Senior Service Engineer, Steve Dougherty, explained: “To start, you need the base remote-control kit. There are different kits available for each machine size. If you wanted to do some basic remote-control work, there’s a kit that includes a console receiver, which is a dedicated wireless link installed on top of the cab.

“There’s a Remote Control Module (RCM) that gets installed under the seat and interfaces with all the base machine functions, and the associated wiring and Wi-Fi network to allow the various parts to communicate.”

The solution includes options for controlling machines within visual range, consisting of an over-the-shoulder console and a dedicated network, which Dougherty says is typically suited to operators needing to perform temporary or one-off, high-risk applications.

“You could run that way all day if you wanted to, but the units are set up with dead-man switches so are really designed for things like machine recovery,” he explained.

“For more long-term applications, like the one that Rio Tinto is rolling out, we set up an operator station which looks very much like a simulator with all the in-cab controls replicated. It can still be run as a line-of-sight solution, but more typically customers opt for the vision kit, which adds four cameras on board the dozer and utilises a customer-supplied Wi-Fi network to relay all of that machine information and the video feeds to the operator station, wherever it may be located.”

While Dougherty says the remote station solution can allow a single operator to control up to five machines at one time in some circumstances, such as strip mining operations, Rio Tinto’s solution is purely designed to move operators into a safer, more comfortable operating environment.

Rio Tinto Superintendent Operational Readiness, Jamie Webster, says the initial rollout of the TDS at the Cape Lambert Port facility, north east of Karratha, is focused on high-risk operations on coarse ore stockpiles with steep gradients and “live” areas where ore is fed into underground tunnels.

“Safety is the number one priority at all Rio Tinto sites and for all employees,” Webster says.

“The message at all levels is that safety always comes first. Every single person on site, from leaders to cleaners, are empowered to stop if they ever feel unsafe and we always look at ways to improve processes so that no one is in harm’s way.”

According to Webster, the TDS project is one such area where process improvements were identified to reduce risk.

“These dozers are operating in quite a tight area around lots of fixed assets,” he explained. “That means work is quite intricate and the real benefits will be realised in pushing ore from the stockpiles into the live zones.

“The dozers are working at the top of a large stockpile and if a dozer slips it could go down a bank, or if it’s working while the apron feeder is operating, the ground could fall away from underneath it. Obviously, we already have processes in place and technology to mitigate such risks, but putting the operators into a station away from the danger zones eliminates any potential risk to them being harmed, no matter how small that risk might be.”

While removing operators from high-risk zones is driving the rollout of the solution, Woolcock says it does not mean removing operators from site.

She says remote operators still need to be “close to the action” and have detailed site knowledge to function most effectively and efficiently. “As much as ‘non-line-of-sight’ operation sounds like it could be carried out from anywhere, the reality is that these operators are multi-tasking in their roles,” she says.

“It will depend on the state of the coarse ore stockpile and what’s coming in and going out. They need to be able to visually inspect and determine what needs to be done. They might spend an hour or two dozing then move on to other tasks while they wait for the stockpiles to be replenished.

“When you need dozer operators, you typically need all hands on deck, and when you don’t need them, if they’re sitting in a control centre hundreds of kilometres away, it’s far more difficult to stay on top of other tasks they might carry out on site.”

Woolcock and Webster admit there was some resistance among the first operators to be trained in TDS, but as they became more familiar with the solution, the operators embraced it.

“A lot of operators quite literally work the dozers through their seats,” Webster says. “They might have worked for decades and are accustomed to feeling the movement. So they’re having to relearn how to drive the dozer without that sense of movement, and they’re relying entirely on the visual feed of information rather than the other senses from being in the mobile rig.”

According to Woolcock, the key to operator acceptance has been allowing them time to use the system and understand the difference the cutting-edge technology will make.

“With the on-the-job trainers (OJTs), they were excited initially to have the chance to learn something novel,” Woolcock says.

“Once the training commenced, a lot of them got quite downhearted because as experienced dozer operators, they had the sense they were going right back to relearning all the knowledge they’d built up over years of manual operation. So they felt like they were starting the first day of school again.

“But it was very much a case of them moving through the classic stages of learning until they had a feel for it and got to that level of conscious competence.

“The transition from resistance to acceptance to championing the new way of working was amazing and I think it was because the OJTs realised they were pioneering new technology.”

Woolcock says two or three operators across each of the Cape Lambert work crews will ultimately be trained in the TDS operations, while the technology is being progressively rolled out across other Rio Tinto sites.

For WesTrac Technology General Manager, Alister MacPherson, the progressive rollout has necessitated a range of adjustments within the mining technology team and rollout methodologies. With multiple deployments, WesTrac aims to identify the repeatable parts of the process and ensure adequate resourcing to fulfil the relevant roles and responsibilities.

“We want as much as possible to roll this out as a programme of work rather than a series of individual projects,” MacPherson says.

“That means firstly ensuring we have completed the right training in areas including product management, project engineering and technical support, then developing a collaborative approach between WesTrac and Rio Tinto to ensure the program is rolled out smoothly.”

WesTrac Product Manager – Mining Technology, Gary Scott, says the Cape Lambert project provided an ideal proving ground to develop the rollout strategies that can be extended to other sites.

“Every site and situation is obviously going to have some unique aspects to it, but there is a set of core requirements that will apply across all implementations,” Scott said.

“It starts with an audit on the available machines to understand the current capabilities, then we can spec up the technology requirements to be fitted to those machines.

“Across an operation like Rio Tinto’s, we’d typically expect to see a fair bit of consistency but there may still be differences based on the age of the site and the asset maintenance and replacement schedules.

“Then when we know what has to be done, we can carry out the installation of the various control modules, the remote operator station and ensure the hardware and software is all communicating. It’s quite straightforward as far as system implementations go, but the complexities come with the detail of configuration and constraint management.”

“The system readily interacts with other Cat control systems including MineStar Terrain, so we can set up working parameters including geofencing and avoidance zones. Essentially, those things are the same whether a dozer is being controlled from in the cab or a remote operating station.”

Those operating parameters and control solutions will be vital as the TDS technology is rolled out across Rio Tinto’s mine sites, including its new Gudai-Darri mine. When production commences this year, the site will be one of the most technologically advanced mines in the world and will feature a large fleet of autonomous haul trucks, water carts and drill rigs. In such environments, any manually controlled equipment, whether in-cab or remotely operated, must be equipped to interact with autonomous machines.

While every aspect of the TDS technology and the way it interacts with other equipment is safety focused, Webster expects that in time the operations will see productivity gains too.

“There’s still a lot to understand about how we can be the most productive with this system,” he says.

“Initially, we’re probably going to be counterproductive compared to in-cab operation, but as we’re learning and developing, and as everyone becomes more familiar with the new way of operating, the added comfort and control will lead to operators being even more productive than we are today.”

Elastomers Australia develops fire retardant screen media panels for Rio Tinto Iron Ore

A three-year collaborative project between Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) and Elastomers Australia has delivered a major improvement in fire mitigation to enhance safety and protection of assets at the miner’s Western Australia iron ore sites, the mining services specialist said.

The project involved developing and rolling out Elastomers Australia’s Armalast fire retardant screen media panels in relevant RTIO-owned and operated processing facilities.

The development of the fire-retardant panels occurred following root cause analysis activities after a fire at RTIO’s Cape Lambert ore processing and port facility in early 2019. The analysis highlighted the flammable nature of various materials including screen media panels when exposed to elevated temperature conditions and ignition sources, Elastomers Australia said.

This incident is one of several similar fires that have caused issues for other miners and mineral processing operators in recent years, particularly in the iron ore sector, it added.

Within months of the fire, RTIO and Elastomers Australia had worked together to develop and commence testing a series of fire-retardant rubber screen media products.

Elastomers Australia General Manager Business Solutions, Pat Caputo, says due to the high occurrence of consumable rubber and other flammable materials in processing plants, the risk of fire is always present.

“Operators are always conscious of managing the risks of ignition, but with so many moving parts and the need for hot works to be carried out within close proximity to flammable components, there is always some degree of risk,” Caputo said.

“So, as part of Rio Tinto’s risk mitigation, the company approached Elastomers Australia to develop a screen media product that would inhibit the spread of flames.”

It is not the first time manufacturers have tried to develop fire retardant rubber, but a persistent issue for screen media, and particularly that used for hard-rock processing such as iron ore, has been the impact on wear life and screening efficiency.

The fire retardancy of the Elastomers Australia products was quickly established, but other criteria had to be evaluated prior to rollout, including verifying performance and ensuring that no new risks – such as increased manual handling requirements – were introduced, according to Elastomers Australia.

Caputo said while the rollout was impacted to some degree by COVID restrictions, it was aligned with regular shutdown cycles to prevent any undue impact on planned production.

He added that Elastomers Australia had developed Armalast fire-retardant screen media for use in other mineral processing applications including gold, copper, nickel, coal and lithium operations.

“We typically develop customised screening solutions based on the unique ore properties of materials being mined from one site to another, which means we can formulate fire-retardant solutions to suit most dry screening applications where fire may pose a risk,” he said.

Monadelphous Group banks work with Rio, Tronox and Newcrest

Monadelphous Group has announced several new contracts and contract extensions in the resources and energy sectors in Australia and Papua New Guinea, including work with Rio Tinto, Tronox Mining Australia and Newcrest Mining.

The awards totalled some A$230 million ($172 million).

One of the contracts the engineering firm has secured is with Rio Tinto for the provision of shutdown works at the Greater Tom Price operation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The work includes upgrades and modifications to existing process plant infrastructure at the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 project (pictured), with work expected to be completed in the second half of 2022.

In New South Wales, Monadelphous has secured a multi-disciplinary construction services contract with Tronox Mining Australia in Broken Hill, where the mineral sands producer processes its heavy mineral concentrate from other operations in Australia. The work is expected to be completed in the second half of 2022.

Finally, in Papua New Guinea, Monadelphous has been awarded a contract with Newcrest to provide engineering, procurement and construction services on the CCD 3 & 4 Refurbishment Project at Lihir Island. The work, which includes the major overhaul of two tanks associated with the gold production facilities, is expected to commence onsite in July 2022 and be completed in mid-2023.

Swift kicks off work with Rio, Roy Hill, Strandline, OZ Minerals and South32

Swift, a specialist technology company focused on delivering network infrastructure and premium entertainment and communications, has announced it has recently commenced works on seven new projects across Western Australia and Queensland for key clients Rio Tinto, Roy Hill, Strandline, OZ Minerals and South32.

As part of these projects, Swift will be upgrading and installing its various network solutions which have been designed and deployed by Swift’s in-house team. The total contract value of these agreements is A$1.2 million ($866,418).

Swift CEO, Brian Mangano, says: “These new projects not only represent an increase in project activity but are the result of long-standing relationships between Swift and resource sector clients. Maintained by the talent and expertise of our entire team from sales to inhouse network engineers, delivery, installation specialists and support teams, we are excited to see the positive impact that these upgrades have on our clients and their workforces.

While the aggregate revenue from these contracts is material to the company, no individual contract currently generates revenue over A$1.0 million, Swift said.

Canada launches MMAP project to evaluate natural resource genomic sequencing

Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster has launched the Mining Microbiome Analysis Platform (MMAP) project, which, it says, is the largest investment in planned natural resource genomic sequencing in the history of the sector.

With breakthrough biomining solutions, the MMAP project will be the catalyst for sustainable mining practices on a global scale by replacing energy and chemical-intense resource extraction methods and improving mining site clean-up techniques, it says.

Led by Teck Resources, and in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC), BGC Engineering, Koonkie Canada, Rio Tinto, Genome BC, Allonnia, Microsoft and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), this consortium is creating the first integrated online platform to extract the DNA from more than 15,000 mining site samples over the next two years to identify microbes that can be used to replace chemical and other legacy extraction methods for minerals and metals, and to perform safer, more effective remediation of legacy and operational mine sites. UBC’s Bradshaw Research Initiative for Minerals and Mining (BRIMM), in particular, has played a formative role in bringing together the private industry partners, non-profit genomics and mining sector organisations, and academic researchers crucial to this unique partnership.

The combination of technology companies, researchers, and mining sector companies provides MMAP both the critical mass to develop viable solutions and a direct pathway to commercial adoption, it says.

François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said: “As we transition towards our net-zero future, the mining sector can and will play a crucial role in our green recovery. We are proud to see Canadian mining leaders such as Teck Resources driving innovation and accelerating sustainable mining practices.

“Through Digital Technology Supercluster projects such as this one, we are creating well-paying jobs and breakthroughs in biomining that are important to Canada, and those advances will contribute to achieving environmental sustainability not just here but also on a global scale.”

Don Lindsay, President and CEO, Teck, added: “At Teck, we’re continually looking for the most effective ways to protect the environment while we produce the metals and minerals needed to build a better quality of life for people around the world. We’re pleased to partner on the MMAP project which stands to advance the mining industry’s collective commitment to responsible resource development.”

Mark Davies, Chief Technical Officer at Rio Tinto, said: “As an early mining user of the platform, we see the transformative potential for this microbiome-based technology to promote environmental stewardship and help us achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. By providing samples from our mines for genome sequencing, we are contributing to the potential development of breakthrough biological solutions to decarbonize the extraction and processing of metals and minerals, and to support the remediation of mine sites.”

This project is also supported by the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation as well as the Tahltan Central Government, and Illumina, a global genomics sequencing company. The Mining Microbiome Analysis Platform project has a total investment of C$16.6 million ($13.1 million) with C$12.6 million invested by industry and C$3.99 million co-invested through the Digital Supercluster’s Technology Leadership Program.

Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster, concluded: “Changing how the mining industry interacts with the natural world requires broad collaboration so that, together, we can create a more sustainable future. The Digital Supercluster is proud to see Canadian companies and organizations such as Teck, BGC Engineering, Koonkie Canada, Rio Tinto, UBC, Genome BC, Allonnia, Microsoft and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation lead the way in cleaner natural resource extraction and more responsible site management.”

Rio, TRQ and Mongolia agree on Oyu Tolgoi Underground development path

Rio Tinto, Turquoise Hill Resources (TRQ) and the Government of Mongolia have reached an agreement that, Rio says, will move the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project forward, resetting the relationship between the partners and increasing the value the project delivers for Mongolia.

As a result, the OT Board, comprised of representatives of Rio Tinto, TRQ and Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi (EOT), the latter of which is wholly owned by the Government of Mongolia, has unanimously approved commencement of underground operations. This step unlocks the most valuable part of the mine and is expected to begin in the coming days, with first sustainable production expected in the first half of 2023, according to Rio Tinto.

As part of a comprehensive package, TRQ will waive the $2.4 billion EOT carry account loan in full, comprising the amount of common share investments in OT LLC funded by TRQ on behalf of EOT to build the project to date, plus accrued interest.

The Parliament of Mongolia has approved a resolution (Resolution 103) that resolves the outstanding issues that have been subject to negotiations with the Government of Mongolia over the last two years in relation to addressing Parliament Resolution 92 (December 2019).

With this approval, the Parliament of Mongolia has required that certain measures be completed in order for Resolution 92 to be considered formally implemented. Among the measures already addressed are improved cooperation with EOT, implementation of measures to monitor OT underground development financing mechanisms and enhance ESG matters and the approval of the Electricity Supply Agreement.

Rio says it is continuing to work with the Government of Mongolia and TRQ to finalise the remaining outstanding measures of Resolution 92, namely the formal termination of the Oyu Tolgoi Mine Development and Financing Plan (UDP) and resolution of the outstanding OT LLC tax arbitration.

An updated funding plan has been agreed to address TRQ’s current estimated remaining funding requirement for the OT Underground Project. Until sustainable underground production is achieved, OT will be funded by cash on hand and rescheduling of existing debt repayments, together with a pre-paid copper concentrate sales agreement with TRQ. This is in line with restrictions on debt financing contained in Resolution 103, passed on December 30, 2021.

Rio Tinto and TRQ have amended the Heads of Agreement signed in April 2021 to ensure they appropriately fund OT. The capital forecast for the project is $6.925 billion, including $175 million of known COVID-19 impacts to the end of 2021. Forecasted remaining underground capital expenditure is approximately $1.8 billion. A reforecast will be undertaken during the first half of this year to determine a revised cost and schedule estimate that will reflect:

  • Any further COVID-19 impacts;
  • Any additional time-based impacts and market price escalation arising from resequencing due to 2021 budget constraints (as a result of the OT Board not approving the capital budget uplift at the time the Definitive Estimate was finalised); and
  • Updated risk ranging reflecting the latest project execution risks.

The key elements under the amended Heads of Agreement include:

  • Pursuing the rescheduling of principal repayments of existing OT project finance to potentially reduce the OT funding requirement by up to $1.7 billion;
  • Seeking to raise up to $500 million of senior supplemental debt at OT from selected international financial institutions which could be put in place after sustainable underground production is achieved;
  • Rio Tinto providing a co-lending project finance facility to OT of up to $750 million to be made available after sustainable underground production is achieved (with up to $300 million of such amount being available under a short-term secured advance directly to TRQ pending such co-lending); and
  • TRQ agreeing to conduct equity or rights offerings of up to $1.5 billion (with an initial offering of at least $650 million by no later than August 31, 2022).

The re-profiling of the existing OT project finance and any additional senior supplemental debt at OT will be subject to availability and terms and conditions being acceptable to Rio Tinto and TRQ, according to the company.

The OT Board has also approved the signing of an Electricity Supply Agreement to provide OT with a long-term source of power from the Mongolian grid, under terms already agreed with the Government of Mongolia. In meeting OT’s commitment to sourcing power domestically, Rio Tinto will work with the Government to support long-term renewable energy generation in support of the Mongolian grid. The Government of Mongolia and OT are in constructive discussions with the Inner Mongolia Power International Cooperation Company (IMPIC) for an extension of current power import arrangements beyond the current agreement of July 2023. IMPIC has indicated its support for an extension and commercial terms are being finalised.

Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, the Prime Minister of Mongolia, said: “The commencement of Oyu Tolgoi underground mining operations demonstrates to the world that Mongolia can work together with investors in a sustainable manner and become a trusted partner. As part of our ‘New Recovery Policy’, I am happy to express Mongolia’s readiness to work actively and mutually beneficially with global investors and partners.”

Rio Tinto Chief Executive, Jakob Stausholm, said: “We would like to thank the Government of Mongolia for their commitment to working productively with Rio Tinto and TRQ to reach this crucial agreement that will see one of the world’s largest copper growth projects move forward and firmly establish Mongolia as a global investment destination. This agreement represents a reset of our relationship and resolves historical issues between the OT project partners. We strongly believe in the future of this country and I am personally committed to ensuring that the people of Mongolia benefit strongly from OT along with our shareholders.

“I have visited Mongolia twice in the last few months and I cannot help but be proud of what has been achieved by our workforce, hand-in-hand with communities, suppliers and other partners. I would like to thank the many thousands of people involved for what they have achieved.

“The OT underground development will consolidate Rio Tinto’s position as a leading global supplier of copper at a time when demand is increasing, driven by its role in enabling decarbonisation and electrification in the race to net zero. We will also explore additional opportunities to decarbonise the OT operations, including sourcing renewable power.”

Steve Thibeault, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Turquoise Hill Resources, added: “Today is a landmark day for Turquoise Hill and a major milestone in the development of the Oyu Tolgoi underground development project. We are very excited to be starting work on the undercut, which is critical to unlocking the immense potential of this world-class, high-grade deposit for the benefit of all stakeholders. Following the agreements with the Government of Mongolia and the Amended Heads of Agreement with Rio Tinto being put in place, we now have greater certainty and confidence to complete construction of this once-in-a-generation mine that, when finished, is expected to be one of the largest copper producing mines in the world and a generator of vast economic value and employment in Mongolia and of returns for our shareholders for years to come. I want to thank the Government of Mongolia for its commitment to securing a balanced agreement that helps to advance the project while ensuring that all stakeholders including the people of Mongolia truly benefit from the development of this resource. This agreement says a lot about the positive environment for foreign investment in the country.”

By 2030 OT is expected to be the fourth largest copper mine in the world. It is a complex greenfield project comprising an underground block cave mine and copper concentrator as well as an open-pit mine which has been successfully operating for almost 10 years. It is also one of the most modern, safe, sustainable and water-efficient operations globally, with a workforce which is more than 96% Mongolian. Since 2010, OT has spent a total of $13.4 billion in-country, including $3.6 billion of taxes, fees and other payments to the state budget. The size and quality of this Tier 1 asset provides additional expansion options, which could see production sustained for many decades.

At peak production, OT is expected to produce around 500,000 t/y of copper on average from 2028 to 2036 from the open pit and underground, and an average of around 350,000 t for a further five years, compared with 163,000 t in 2021. The underground Ore Reserve has an average copper grade of 1.52%, which is more than three times higher than the open pit reserve, and contains 0.31 g/t Au.

Rio Tinto partners with Pixxel to investigate hyperspectral satellite tech capabilities

Pixxel, an edge earth-imaging technology company, has announced an early adoption partnership with Rio Tinto spanning mineral exploration, active and closed mine site monitoring and ESG metrics.

Pixxel’s imaging satellites, capable of 5 m hyperspectral imaging, will help Rio Tinto assess the benefits the technology may provide in these areas, the company said. Rio will begin its assessment of the technology following the release of imagery from Pixxel’s first high-resolution satellite, set to launch early this year.

This partnership, Pixxel says, validates the potential benefits that its technology may provide to the resources sector.

“Pixxel’s high-resolution hyperspectral satellite imagery has the potential to significantly reduce costs and timelines for exploration and improve monitoring of active and closed mine sites,” the company said. “In the coming months, Pixxel plans to launch a high resolution hyperspectral satellite, which will capture 50x information compared to common multispectral satellites. Rio Tinto will be assessing the potential of Pixxel’s hyperspectral imagery to help reduce the disturbance footprint of exploration activities, monitor the operational and environmental performance of active mining operations, and monitor biodiversity and vegetation health around closed sites.”

Pixxel Co-Founder and CEO, Awais Ahmed, said: “This partnership will be pioneering in its deployment of hyperspectral satellite imagery for commercial mining operations. We’re excited to be partnering with Rio Tinto to explore the use of hyperspectral remote sensing technology across their operations at a global scale.

“Moreover, the exponential leap in image quality (50x more detail than existing multispectral satellite imagery) allows Rio Tinto the ability to assess Pixxel’s imagery for monitoring critical mining operations and make key decisions with sustainability in mind.”

Dave Andrews, Head of Exploration at Rio Tinto, added: “Rio Tinto is participating in Pixxel’s Early Adopter Program because we believe that exploration could benefit from more cost-effective and easier access to hyperspectral satellite data.”