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Rio Tinto details copper growth aspirations

Rio Tinto copper growth

Rio Tinto has lofty copper ambitions in the years to come, with hopes to account for 25 per cent of growth volumes in global copper supply in the next five years.

The major miner held an investor site visit at the Oyu Tolgoi operation in Mongolia this week, where it detailed its copper aspirations and provided an update on Oyu Tolgoi’s production ramp-up.

Rio Tinto said Oyu Tolgoi was on track to reach 500,000 tonnes of annual copper production by 2028, which would coincide with a boost in head grade to about 1.25 per cent copper.

This would be done by unlocking various deposits such as the Oyut open pit (ore reserves: 702 million tonnes at 0.44 per cent copper), Hugo North (ore reserves: 447 million tonnes at 1.55 per cent copper) and Hugo South (inferred resources: 731 million tonnes at 0.83 per cent copper).

The company produced 28,100 tonnes of copper from Oyu Tolgoi in the first quarter of 2023 at a head grade of 0.49 per cent.

Rio said as it uplifts Oyu Tolgoi and its Kennecott copper mine in the US, and benefits from its interest in the Escondida operation and the emerging Resolution and La Granja projects, the company is targeting one million tonnes of annual copper production within five years.

This will be further supported by other US advancements, including the growth of Rio Tinto’s Nuton project which looks to boost copper recoveries from 25–35 per cent (from traditional heap leach) to at least 80 per cent.

Nuton not only has the potential to unlock copper sulphide resources but also copper-bearing waste and tailings, all the while achieving increased recoveries on oxide and transitional material.

This has the potential to deliver improved environmental performance by reducing water usage and carbon emissions, while also giving old mine sites a second life through the reprocessing of mine waste.

Rio Tinto said the US has jurisdictional advantages, with a growing local electric vehicle (EV) market boosting copper demand projections.

Rio acquired a majority interest in Oyu Tolgoi (66 per cent) when it bought out Turquoise Hill Resources at the end of last year. The Government of Mongolia owns the balance.

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