Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) says it will invest more than US$900 million to expand output from its huge Kennecott copper mining and processing operation in the US.
The miner says US$498 million will be spent to deliver underground development infrastructure for an area known as the North Rim Skarn, part of the Kennecott operation near Salt Lake City, Utah.
A further US$420 million rebuild is also underway at the Kennecott smelter. US$300 million of that is being spent to rebuild the smelter itself and will be the largest in Kennecott’s history.
Work started in May of this year.
A further US$120 million is being invested to upgrade the refinery tank house structure and update Kennecott’s molybdenum flotation circuit with a state-of-the art, fully automated system.
As the second largest copper producer in the US, Rio says this will allow Kennecott to continue to deliver a high-quality product to customers.
Rio said the investment is intended to strengthen its copper supply in the US by increasing underground mining production and improving the health of key assets.
Production from the Skarn will start in 2024 and is expected to ramp up over two years, delivering around 250,000 metric tons of additional mined copper over the next 10 years, alongside open cut operations.
This follows on from a US$55 million investment to start underground mining in an area known as the Lower Commercial Skarn. Underground production there started in February and is expected to deliver around 30,000 tons of additional copper through to 2027.
“We are investing to build a world class underground mine at Kennecott and strengthen our processing facilities, to meet the growing demand for copper in the United States, a key material for domestic manufacturing and the energy transition,” Rio Tinto Copper Chief Operating Officer Clayton Walker said.
Rio said the money involved – near US$1 billion – is included in its capital investment guidance for 2023 to 2025 totalling US$26 to US$30 billion.