Rio Tinto forges ahead with plans to dominate global copper as new Mongolian mine picks up

Simone Grogan
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Rio Tinto chair Dominic Barton.
Rio Tinto chair Dominic Barton. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Rio Tinto chair Dominic Barton has stressed the physical and operational demands of bringing new minerals into the fold, as the behemoth affirms ambitions of becoming a global force in copper.

The ASX and London Stock Exchange-listed miner held its annual general meeting for Australian shareholders on Thursday in Brisbane, where Mr Barton told shareholders production at the company’s newest operation, the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia, was ramping up.

“I am excited about our growth, particularly as we execute projects at scale, even in the most challenging of conditions,” he said.

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“We are ramping up copper production at Oyu Tolgoi underground — an ore deposit equivalent to the area of Manhattan in New York, at a depth of 1.3km below the Gobi desert in Mongolia — and connected by around 200km of tunnels.”

The mine is expected to produce about 500,000 tonnes of copper per year, numbers chief executive Jakob Stausholm said would put the miner on track to become one of the “world’s leading suppliers”.

A belief that there will be a shortage in global copper supplies and its use in electrification has spurred prices for the red metal.

Alluding to the level of infrastructure required to bring new commodity projects into production, Mr Barton said he hoped it gave “a sense of physically and operationally demanding it is to provide the vast quantities of metals and minerals the world needs to grow and transition to renewable energy”.

Rio is also building what will be the largest iron ore mine in the world, Simandou in Guinea, once it starts production next year. But the mine will require a huge infrastructure effort to bring the ore it unearths to the nearest port, about a six-day drive from Rio’s planned mine site.

“At Simandou in Guinea, we’re working with our partners to build a mine and 600 kilometres of new rail to unlock incredibly high-grade iron-ore, which will enable low carbon steelmaking,” Mr Barton said.

Rio reiterated to investors in a recent quarterly update that its share of the project, owned alongside Chinese metals giant Chinalco, will cost approximately $US6.2 billion ($9.5b).


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