Rio Tinto expands US production with new copper supply investment

Image credit: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is strengthening its position in the US copper supply chain by investing in its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, through funding worth $498 million intended for the development of an area known as the North Rim Skarn (NRS).

In an ASX announcement, the company revealed NRS will commence production in 2024 and ramp up over the course of two years to supply about 250 thousand tonnes of extra mined copper over the next 10 years. 

“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,” said Rio Tinto Copper CEO Clayton Walker.

Walker emphasised that the investment will position Kennecott to maintain its strong commitment to the Salt Lake Valley region for the past 120 years, injecting about $1.5 billion into the local Utah economy.

In addition to the new supply, Rio said it will invest $300 million to rebuild the smelter, including a furnace, and another $120 million to upgrade Kennecott’s refinery tank house structure and to update its molybdenum flotation circuit.

A capital expenditure of $55 million was also approved by Rio Tinto in September 2022 in order to begin underground mining in the Lower Commercial Skarn. 

The business aims to mine a total of about 30,000 tonnes of copper between February 2023 and February 2027.

The company said that following a successful trial in 2022, these two investments will help Kennecott create a world-class underground mine using battery electric vehicle (BEV) technology. 

BEVs boost the efficiency of the mine and decrease emissions from operations while making the underground work environment safer and healthier for the workers.

Parallel to work being progressed to extend open pit mining at Kennecott past 2032, studies to guide decisions on the subsequent phases of growing underground output continue, noted the company. 

Kennecott is claimed as the second-largest copper producer in the United States.