Rio Tinto’s investment in Kennecott operations nears $1 billion

June 20, 2023

Rio Tinto announced that further investment in its Kennecott operation near Salt Lake City, UT to strengthen its supply of copper in the United States by increasing production from underground mining and improving the health of key assets.

Included in the investment is $498 million of funding that was 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 kt (275,000 st) of additional mined copper over the next 10 years alongside current opencut operations.

In September 2022, Rio Tinto approved development capital totaling $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 kt (33,000 st) 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 (BEV) technology, following a successful trial in 2022. BEV’s create a safer and healthier workplace for employees underground, increase the productivity of the mine and reduce emissions from operations,” the company said in a statement.

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. As the second largest copper producer in the US, this will allow Kennecott to continue to deliver a high quality product to customers.

“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. “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.”

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



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