LA Private

Tuesday is news day for Rio Tinto

A busy return from the King’s Holiday weekend for Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) with news of a major billion dollar-plus revamp of a key asset in Canada, news of a major manufacturing plan in the Pilbara iron ore province and the loss of one of its most senior managers to a Perth based mining house.

Rio revealed it will invest $US1.1 billion to expand its “low-carbon” aluminium smelter at Complexe Jonquière in Quebec, Canada, with some financial help from the provincial government.

The investment will see annual capacity grow by about 160,000 tonnes of primary aluminium.

The Canadian government has been involved in such efforts. It has invested in the ELYSIS technology pioneered by Alcoa and Rio Tinto that eliminates all CO2 emissions and replaces them with oxygen.

“This announcement brings us one step closer to the deployment of the first ELYSIS pots, which will make Quebec the leader in greenhouse gas-free aluminium production,” said Pierre Fitzgibbon, Quebec’s minister of economy, innovation and energy.

The Quebec government will provide up to $113 million in support for the latest smelter expansion.

“This is the most significant investment in our aluminium business for more than a decade…,” Rio CEO Jakob Stausholm said in the statement.

Construction will take around 30 months, with commissioning of the new pots expected to start in the first half of 2026 and the smelter fully ramped up by the end of 2026.


Tuesday also saw Rio reveal in a separate statement that it plans to partner with WA group, Gemco Rail to bring local iron ore rail car manufacturing and bearing maintenance to the Pilbara region.

Rio said the partnership will enable Gemco Rail to expand its existing operations “to establish the first ever rail ore car manufacturing and maintenance facility in the Pilbara, creating new jobs, increasing spend with local and Indigenous businesses and supporting local economic growth.”

Rio Tinto expects to invest approximately $A150 million to purchase 100 locally built ore rail cars over six years as well as continued investment in bearing refurbishment over ten years, to support the company’s Pilbara operations.

The first 40 ore cars will be built at Gemco Rail’s existing facility in Forrestfield (southeast of Perth), while the company establishes an additional facility in Karratha.

“Once this new facility is operational, Gemco Rail is expected to build an average of 10 ore cars per year, replacing ore cars as they are retired from Rio Tinto’s existing fleet. The new Karratha facility will also support the supply of new and reconditioned ore car bearings from the Pilbara in an industry-first.”

This partnership has been developed by Rio Tinto, Gemco Rail and Qiqihar Railway Rolling Stock (QRRS) and supported by the WA State Government

The first WA-built rail car is expected to be delivered in 2024 and the Karratha-based facility is expected to be established by the end of 2024, subject to the availability of a suitable property.


And in a third statement Rio revealed that Its global head of Aluminium Ivan Vella would leave at the end of this year for another job in the resources sector – with Perth-based nickel and lithium group IGO revealing not long after that he would be its new boss.

IGO said Mr Vella will replace the late CEO, Peter Bradfield who died in October 2022.

Before his final position as global head of Rio’s aluminium business, Mr Vella was interim chief executive of the iron ore business following the Juukan Gorge debacle.

He has also been chief operating officer of Rio Tinto Coal and Rio’s Oyu Tolgoi copper operations in Mongolia, so he has an extensive background.

“After a rigorous process that considered many high-quality candidates from a number of different jurisdictions, we are delighted to have appointed Ivan to lead IGO through the next stage of our transformation,” IGO chair Michael Nossal said in a statement on Monday

“Ivan has a wealth of international experience across a range of commodities and markets, and has proven his aptitude in some of the most complex operating environments.”

Vella will commence at IGO no later than December 11 as he finishes up at Rio Tinto and he and his family relocates from Montreal to Perth.