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copper wires layered

Rio Tinto Expands Investments in Utah Copper Mining Operations

copper wires layered
(Credit: Pixabay)

Global mining company Rio Tinto has announced it is investing in the Salt Lake City area to increase the production of copper and supply to the United States, materials which could enhanve electric vehicle production. The investment will expand the company’s Kennecott operation in Utah.

The company announced funding of $498 million for underground development and infrastructure for an area known as the North Rim Skarn. Production from the site is expected to start in 2024 and ramp up over two years, with the expectation of delivering 250,000 metric tons of additional mined copper over the next 10 years alongside open-cut operations. 

Copper is an important element in net-zero emissions goals, as demand has increased significantly – and is expected to continue rising over the next several decades – for use in technologies. Namely, all-electric vehicles require substantial use of copper. Rio Tinto is one of the largest mining companies operating in the U.S.

The company noted that its production targets are underpinned by Inferred Resources and “that there is a low level of geological confidence associated with Inferred Mineral Resources and there is no certainty that further exploration work will result in the determination of Indicated Mineral Resources or that the production target itself will be (realized).”

The announcement comes after Rio Tinto started underground mining in an area known as the Lower Commercial Skarn (LCS) in September 2022 with $55 million in development capital. Production began in February 2023, and the area is expected to deliver a total of around 30,000 metric tons of additional mined copper through the period to 2027.

“These two investments will support Kennecott in building a world-class underground mine which will leverage battery electric vehicle technology, following a successful trial in 2022,” the company said. “BEVs create a safer and healthier workplace for employees underground, increase the productivity of the mine and reduce emissions from operations.”

Rio Tinto is also underway with a $300 million rebuild of its Kennecott smelter, which is the largest rebuild in the operation’s history and commenced in May 2023. Another $120 million is being invested in upgrading the refinery tank house structure and updating Kennecott’s molybdenum flotation circuit with a state-of-the-art, fully automated system, the company said. 

“We are investing to build a world-class underground mine at Kennecott and strengthen our processing facilities, to meet the growing demand for copper in the United States, a key material for domestic manufacturing and the energy transition,” Rio Tinto Copper Chief Operating Officer Clayton Walker said in a statement. “This investment will position Kennecott to continue the strong contribution it has made as part of the Salt Lake Valley community for 120 years, injecting about $1.5 billion annually to the local Utah economy.”

The news also comes four years after Rio Tinto closed its coal power plant for its Kennecott Utah copper operation. Last year, Rio Tinto received $2.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore carbon storage possibilities at the Tamarack Nickel Project site in Minnesota to explore carbon storage possibilities at the Tamarack Nickel Project site in Minnesota. The carbon capture aim was to study carbon mineralization technology as a way to store carbon as rock. The method uses natural chemical reactions to transform captured carbon dioxide into rock and store it underground, which then can’t be released back into the atmosphere. 

Editor’s note: Don’t miss the virtual Environment+Energy Leader Solutions Summit ’23 on July 18-19. Learn tangible, innovative solutions to help with sustainable transitions across industries. Speakers from companies and organizations including Schneider Electric, Cority, Jump Associates, Mycocycle, Plainsight, LRQA, the Alliance to Save Energy, and many more will share tactics and lessons that can help you solve your energy management, sustainability, and ESG challenges. Learn more about the #EESummit23, and then register today!

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