Rio Tinto’s Winu copper project in Western Australia has excited investors with its massive potential and recently, it was learned that the project might come to fruition sooner than expected.
Bloomberg reported that Rio Tinto Copper and Diamonds chief executive officer Arnaud Soirat told reporters that the project could possible leap frog the Resolution Copper Project in the United States.
Rio Tinto is still working to assess the size and quality of the Winu project with exploration work that includes as many 190 staff and 12 drilling rigs.
The Winu project is one of three major copper projects that the company if focused on. In Mongolia, Rio Tinto is advancing an underground expansion of the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine that’s scheduled to boost production from the early 2020s. In the United States, key studies on Resolution are expected to be completed by 2021. Rio Tinto has been working on the Resolution project — a joint venture with BHP Group — since 2004, and disclosed the first key details about Winu in February.
“If the deposit is right, and the metallurgy is right, then potentially” Winu could come before Resolution, Soirat told reporters at the Argyle diamond mine, also in Western Australia. The site looks “not that difficult to mine from what we have seen so far, and so potentially it’s a mine that could come in between” Oyu Tolgoi’s expansion and the development of Resolution, he said.
Copper demand is seen growing about 2-3 percent a year. Rising global living standards as developing nations urbanize will require about an extra 428 million tons of copper by 2050, or about two-and-a-half times the current amount of the metal installed today, according to Glencore Plc.
While the Winu find, about 350 km (220 miles) southeast of Port Hedland, has excited investors and competitors more assessment is still needed, Soirat said. Additional drilling this year should allow Rio to understand “how rich the deposit is, and how big it is as well,” he told reporters.
Exploration staff are also ready to begin studying potential other targets nearby, according to Soirat. There’s potential that the Winu discovery could be part of a much a larger system that may eventually host multiple different mines, Rio’s CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in May.
“This is also a very big mining license, so we will also be looking at other potential sites in the region,” Soirat said. “There are some signs where our exploration team are saying it would be worth going to having a look.”
Photo courtesy of Rio Tinto "Copyright @2018 Rio Tinto"