Rio Tinto will sustain the production capacity of its Pilbara iron ore business in Western Australia after approving a $US749 million ($1 billion) investment in the Greater Tom Price operations.
The investment in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 (WTS2) mine will facilitate mining of existing and new deposits, including the construction of a new crusher and a 13-kilometre conveyor.
The conveyer system will help lower greenhouse gas emissions from the mine by 3.5 per cent compared with road haulage and the business is set to access additional options to reduce emissions, including renewable energy solutions.
Pending final government approvals, Rio Tinto expects construction to begin in the first quarter of 2020 with first ore from the crusher scheduled for 2021.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the company’s iron ore business continued to deliver “industry-leading margins as we drive performance from our mines”.
“This significant investment in the Greater Tom Price hub is one of a pipeline of high-quality, low-cost options that will underpin production of our flagship Pilbara Blend product well into the future,” he said.
The investment in the WTS2 mine is set to sustain the current workforce at Rio Tinto’s Greater Tom Price production hub, with the construction workforce expected to exceed more than 1000 people at peak.
Production of high-quality Brockman ore will support the company’s flagship Pilbara Blend, which continues to be the preferred baseload product for China’s steel mills.
The project is also expected to deliver an attractive internal rate of return with a capital intensity of about $25 per tonne of production capacity.
As part of the investment, the haul truck fleet at the mine will be fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology from 2021 to engage autonomous operations at WTS2.
The ongoing deployment of autonomous haulage at the company’s Pilbara operations is delivering significant safety benefits as well as enhancing productivity and reducing costs.
Following the recent success, 50 per cent of Rio Tinto’s haul truck fleet will be capable of operating autonomously by the end of the year with plans being assessed to expand this in the future.