Rio Tinto will invest $55 million to start underground mining and expand production at the Kennecott copper mine in Utah, USA.
The company said the action will increase copper production by 30,000 tonnes from early 2023 to 2027, in addition to open-pit mining at the mine. The open-pit copper mine produced 159,400 tonnes of copper last year.
The new underground ore will first be concentrated in Lower Commercial Skarn, which has reserves of 200,000 tonnes of copper, 2.52% copper, 1.27 g/t of gold, 10.56 g/t of silver and 0.056% of molybdenum.
Rio Tinto CEO Bold Baatar said: "We are conducting a series of assessments of Kennecott's vital untapped resources, which could expand our supply of copper and other critical materials needed for electric vehicle and renewable energy technologies. "
The company said it expects to complete a feasibility study for the next phase of underground production in 2023, while other feasibility studies are underway to extend Kennecott's open-pit mining beyond 2032. Rio Tinto is testing battery-powered electric vehicles in underground venues to reduce carbon emissions, improve employee health and increase productivity.
In 2019, Rio Tinto committed to invest $1.5 billion over 6 years to facilitate Kennecott's operations. The company aims to produce nearly 1 million tonnes of refined copper between 2026 and 2032. The company acquired Kennecott in 1989. It began at the Bingham Canyon Mine in 1903 and has been called the largest artificial excavation ever made.
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