Iron ore guides Rio Tinto through pandemic

The Koodaideri project. Image: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto anticipates that its production ramp up at the Koodaideri iron ore project in Western Australia will occur in early 2022.

The company received the delivery of its first significant structural component for the Koodaideri processing plant – the primary crusher surge bin – on-site in May.

It also announced in today’s second quarter production update that first ore from the Robe River joint venture sustaining production projects (West Angelas C&D and Mesa B, C and H) is expected next year. All primary approvals for the Mesa H deposit have been received.

Rio Tinto boosted its Pilbara iron ore shipments during the June quarter by 19 per cent against the previous period.

The company shipped 86.7 million tonnes on the back of 83.2 million tonnes of production, which is a 4 per cent hike on the first quarter.

Rio Tinto’s port operations achieved a record week of shipping with rates exceeding 400 million tonnes a year in early June.

The favourable prices of iron ore are reflected in Rio Tinto’s average realised price for the commodity, increasing from $US77.3 ($110.87) per wet metric tonne on a free on board basis in the first quarter to $US79.6 in the following period.

“Our iron ore assets are performing well in a strong pricing environment and we are on track to meet our 2020 iron ore guidance,” Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques said.

Bauxite was the other strong performer in Rio Tinto’s commodity portfolio during the June quarter.

Rio Tinto produced 14.6 million tonnes of bauxite during the period – a 5 per cent increase on the prior corresponding period.

This follows the ramp up of Rio Tinto’s Amrun bauxite mine in Queensland last year, and higher production at the CBG (Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée) JV in Guinea as the expansion ramps up.

Rio Tinto owns 23 per cent of the mine via an interest in Guinea-based Halco, with the government holding the remaining stake.

COVID-19’s impact on bauxite demand has been limited to date, according to Rio Tinto.

“Our bauxite integrated operations centre (BIOC) in Brisbane, Australia provides 24/7 operation and monitoring of all safety, production and quality aspects at our remote bauxite sites in Weipa, Queensland and Gove, Northern Territory,” Rio Tinto stated.

“We continue to apply technology solutions for optimising supply chain, leveraging data analytics and progressing automation initiatives.

“For instance, we are utilising a fully automated ‘drone in a box’ for remote monitoring of stockpiles, removing the need for manual visual inspection.”

At the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia, carat production in the June period was 1 per cent lower than the same period in 2019 as a result of an 11 per cent reduction in recovered grade. This was partially offset by higher tonnes mined and processed.

Rio Tinto has continued preparing for Argyle’s end of operations by the end of the year, with closure activities to commence next year.

Other commodities such as aluminium and copper delivered lower production in the June quarter compared with the same period last year.

This is partly due to Rio Tinto’s decision to operate the Icelandic Aluminium Company (ISAL) smelter at 85 per cent capacity and the curtailment of the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) due to COVID-19 impacts.

Rio Tinto also reported lower head grade and suffered from the impact of the 5.7 magnitude earthquake earlier this year at the Kennecott copper mine in Utah, the United States.

“Despite various COVID-19 related challenges, all our assets have continued to operate, with our first priority to protect the health and safety of all our employees and communities,” Jacques said.

Rio Tinto selected Australia to be one of the countries where it will focus its exploration activities.

Mine-lease exploration continued at Rio Tinto’s managed businesses, including Pilbara Iron in Australia and the Winu copper project in Western Australia.

“Our focus is to maintain a business as usual approach with many safeguards at a very unusual time,” Jacques said.

“… We remain even more committed to our relationship with communities, following the Juukan Gorge events in the Pilbara, and we are engaging extensively with Traditional Owners around our operations and across Australia.”

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