PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Mining major Rio Tinto has increased production across the majority of its commodities in the full year ended 2022, compared with 2021, and was anticipating higher copper production in 2023 following the acquisition of Turquoise Hill Resources at the end of last year.
“The acquisition of Turquoise Hill Resources strengthens our copper portfolio and demonstrates our ability to allocate capital with discipline to grow in materials the world needs for the energy transition and delivering long- term value for our shareholders. Copper guidance has been increased accordingly. We continue to invest in future growth, progressing the Rincon lithium project in Argentina and are working with our partners to progress the Simandou project in Guinea,” said CEO Jakob Stausholm.
Rio on Tuesday reported that iron-ore production for the full year reached 324.1-million tonnes, up 1% on the 2021 figures, while iron-ore shipments from the Pilbara was maintained at 321.6-million tonnes.
Fourth quarter shipments of 87.3-million tonnes were 4% higher than the fourth quarter of 2021, and 5% higher than the prior quarter, with Rio telling shareholders that a number of operational records were achieved in the second half across the Pilbara iron-ore mine and rail system.
Looking at 2023, Rio expected iron-ore shipments to reach between 320-million to 335-million tonnes, at a unit cost of A$21/t to A$22.50/t. Iron-ore shipments would remain subject to weather and market conditions, and the progression of the ramp-up of shipments from new mine and the management of cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, Rio noted that mined copper production for the full year was up 6% on 2021, to 521 000 t, due to higher grades at Kennecott and Escondida, partly offset by lower grades and recoveries at Oyu Tolgoi as a result of planned mine sequencing.
Unplanned maintenance was required at Kennecott in the fourth quarter of 2022 in the anode furnaces leading to extended downtime and continued poor anode production, likely to result in weak cathode production in the first quarter of 2023, Rio told shareholders.
Refined copper production at Kennecott will continue to be challenged due to the smelter and refinery performance, until the company undertakes the largest rebuild in nine years which is planned for the second quarter of 2023 and is expected to take approximately three months.
In December, Rio completed the $2.9-billion acquisition of Turquoise Hill, simplifying the ownership of the Oyu Tolgoi mine, in Mongolia, and strengthening the company’s copper portfolio.
Rio now holds a 66% direct interest in the copper project, with the remaining 34% interest held by the government of Mongolia.
On the back of the Turquoise Hill acquisition, Rio has increased its mined copper guidance for 2023 to between 650 000 t and 710 000 t, and its refined copper production to between 180 000 t and 210 000 t.
Rio on Tuesday also reported that bauxite production for the full year was up 1%, to 54 600 t, despite equipment reliability issues at the Weipa and Gove operations in Australia.
Aluminium production during the full year bucked the trend, declining by 4% on 2021 figures, to 3-million tonnes, due to reduced output at the Kitimat smelter in British Columbia, Canada and Boyne smelter in Queensland.
Rio said that the rate of pot restarts at Kitimat picked up in the fourth quarter and Boyne smelter cell recovery efforts continued. Recovery at both smelters is progressing with full ramp-up expected to be completed during the course of 2023. All of Rio’s other aluminium smelters continued to demonstrate stable performance.
The miner was expected to produce between 3.1-million and 3.3-million tonnes of aluminium in 2023.01.17
Titanium dioxide slag production of 1.2-million tonnes was 18% higher than 2021, due to community disruptions at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) in South Africa in 2021, and continued improved performance of operations at Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) in Canada.
Production constraints related to nationwide electrical power loadshedding at RBM were experienced in the fourth quarter.
Rio in 2022 also continued capital expenditure on its battery materials ambitions, investing some $161-million.
At the Rincon lithium project in Argentina, development of the 3 000 t/y lithium carbonate starter plant progressed. To optimise the process and recoveries, Rio continued to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate from raw brine from the existing pilot plant operating at site.
The miner said that early works construction activities progressed on phase one camp facilities with rooms for 250 persons completed. In the period, airstrip permits were received and contractors mobilised. Detailed studies for the full scale operation were advanced, and the exploration campaign progressed to further understand Rincon’s basin and brine reservoir.
The company is also continuing to assess its options for the Jadar lithium-borate project, in Serbia, saying it would act as a catalysts for tens of thousands of jobs for current and future generations and would sustainably produce materials critical to the energy transition.
Rio in 2021 announced a $2.4-billion commitment to Jadar, however, the Serbian government in early 2022 cancelled the Spatial Plan for the project, requiring all permits for the project to be revoked.
First saleable production from Jadar had been planned for 2026. The project was expected to produce some 58 000 t of lithium carbonate, 160 000 t of boric acid (B2O3 units) and 255 000 t of sodium sulphate annually over a mine-life of some 40-years.