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Rio Tinto investing nearly $1B in Kennecott copper operations

Rio Tinto is investing in its Kennecott operation near Salt Lake City, Utah, to strengthen its supply of copper in the United States by increasing production from underground mining and improving the health of key assets. The Kennecott integrated copper mining operation includes a concentrator, smelter and refinery and tailings storage facility.

  • $498 million of funding has been approved to deliver underground development and infrastructure for an area known as the North Rim Skarn (NRS). Production from the NRS will commence in 2024 and is expected to ramp up over two years, to deliver around 250 thousand tonnes of additional mined copper over the next 10 years alongside open cut operations.

  • In September 2022, Rio Tinto approved development capital totalling $55 million to start underground mining in an area known as the Lower Commercial Skarn (LCS). Underground production within LCS started in February 2023, and is expected to deliver a total of around 30 thousand tonnes of additional mined copper through the period to 2027.

  • A $300-million rebuild is also underway at the Kennecott smelter. The rebuild is the largest in Kennecott’s history and commenced in May 2023.

  • A further $120 million is being invested to upgrade the refinery tank house structure and update Kennecott’s molybdenum flotation circuit with a state-of-the art, fully automated system.

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

Studies to inform decisions on the next phases of expanding underground production continue in parallel with work that is being advanced to extend open pit mining at Kennecott beyond 2032.

All the above investments are already included in Rio Tinto’s share of capital investment guidance for 2023 to 2025.


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