Rio Tinto aims to keep Resolution's copper in US, executive says

17th April 2024 By: Reuters

Rio Tinto aims to keep Resolution's copper in US, executive says

Head of Rio Tinto copper, Bold Baatar

SANTIAGO - Rio Tinto aims to keep all of the copper from its Resolution mine inside the United States should the long-delayed and controversial project win regulatory approval, a senior executive said on Tuesday.

The Arizona mine would, if developed, over its life produce more than 40-billion pounds of copper and supply more than a quarter of US demand, but it is strongly opposed by some Native Americans given concerns the project could destroy a site of religious and cultural import.

That has placed Resolution at the center of a simmering debate about where best to secure copper and other critical minerals for the clean energy transition.

Some of Resolution's opponents have repeatedly alleged that Anglo-Australian miner Rio would export the project's copper, but the company sees strong demand inside the United States, Bold Baatar, head of Rio's copper business, said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Copper Conference in Santiago.

"Certainly if Resolution comes on stream, all of that copper we would like it to be sold in the US," he said.

Rio operates Utah's Kennecott copper mine and smelter, with all of its production consumed inside the country. The only other US copper smelter is operated by Freeport-McMoRan.

A Native American group on Monday asked all members of a US appeals court to overturn an earlier ruling that granted land to Rio and minority partner BHP to develop Resolution. US President Joe Biden had separately paused a regulatory decision on the project in 2021.

Baatar said he would be tracking the court case. He and Rio have long said they believe Resolution can be developed safely.

"The US is endowed with the resources. It's probably one of the most stringent environmental, legal and regulatory frameworks in the world," Baatar said.

"I think the US will be making a choice between 'in our backyard' or 'in somebody else's backyard.' But there's no security of supply if it's somebody else's backyard."


The global copper industry has in recent years faced rising opposition to a slew of projects, including Resolution as well as First Quantum's Cobre Panama, which Panamanian officials forced to close last year, taking 1% of the world's supply of the red metal offline.

That has sparked concerns from Baatar and other industry executives about how the world can obtain the copper needed for the energy transition.

Given growing appetite for copper from the personal electronics industry, as well as for use in artificial intelligence technologies, prices are expected to jump more than 30% in coming years, analysts say.

"(Copper) demand is really the least of the issues at the moment. I think it's the supply side," said Baatar, who will become Rio's chief commercial officer later this year in a move widely seen as positioning him to eventually become its CEO.