Energy & Minerals in-depth

Energy & Minerals in-depth

Rio Tinto’s Energy & Minerals portfolio consists of mines and development projects spanning five continents. These businesses serve a range of industries but have a shared track record of creating new and profitable markets for their products.

Our energy portfolio

Energy is essential for modern life and the demand for energy continues to grow, driven by increasing prosperity, urbanisation and industrialisation in developing countries. Globally, energy demand grew by 50 per cent between 1990 and 2011, and the International Energy Agency expects it to grow by a further 40 per cent to 2035. All energy sources will be needed to meet increased demand, however, much of it is expected to be met by coal.

Coal

Rio Tinto operates two coal mines in Queensland, Australia. Products, which include hard coking coal and smaller amounts of thermal coal, are sold to customers primarily in Asia.

Coking or metallurgical coal produces steel when mixed in furnaces with iron ore. Coking coal supplies both heat and carbon to the process that converts iron ore into steel. It is also used in the production of cement.

Thermal coal is primarily used to generate electricity in power stations. The energy released when the coal is burned is used to turn water into steam, which drives turbines that generate electricity.

Uranium

Uranium is one of the most powerful known natural energy sources, and is used in the production of clean, stable, base-load electricity. After uranium ore is mined, it is processed into uranium oxide. This product is sold for processing into fuel rods for use in nuclear power stations. Our uranium portfolio includes two operations in Australia and Namibia, and a project in Canada.

Energy Resources of Australia

Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA) is Australia's longest continually operating uranium producer.

ERA has operated the Ranger uranium mine for more than three decades and has an excellent track record of reliably supplying customers. Ranger is one of only three mines in the world to have produced in excess of 110,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (U308).

Following the completion of mining operations in Pit 3 in 2012, ERA has begun the transition from open cut mining to underground exploration of the Ranger 3 Deeps mineral resource and potential underground mining.

Rio Tinto owns 68.4 per cent of ERA shares. The balance of the Company's shares are publicly held and traded on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Rössing

The Rössing Uranium Mine is one of the largest and longest-running open pit uranium mines in the world. It is located in the Namib Desert 65 kilometres from Swakopmund near the town of Arandis. Discovered in 1928, it started operations in 1976 as Namibia's first uranium mine and in 2013, produced 2,409 tonnes of uranium oxide, producing 3.4 per cent of the world's uranium.

Rössing currently has around 1,141 employees with 98 per cent Namibians. The mine provides stable, long-term and rewarding employment, backed by training and career development opportunities.

All uranium produced by Rio Tinto's mines is marketed by London-based Rio Tinto Uranium Limited and supplies electricity companies located in all three major markets: Asia, North America and Europe.

Our industrial minerals portfolio

Our industrial minerals portfolio includes a suite of industry-leading, demand-led businesses across a range of sectors.

Rio Tinto Iron & Titanium

Rio Tinto Iron & Titanium (RTIT) is our titanium dioxide business. Our competitive advantage lies in our strong reserve position, efficient operations and proprietary processes and products.

RTIT comprises Richards Bay Minerals in South Africa, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane in Quebec and QIT Madagascar Minerals. We also have a greenfield deposit in Mozambique.

In South Africa, Canada and Madagascar, we mine ilmenite, one of the primary sources of titanium dioxide (TiO2). This very white, opaque compound is an important pigment used in products such as paint, plastics and paper. TiO2 reflects and scatters light like thousands of tiny mirrors, and when used as a pigment it gives brilliance and opacity to these materials. Other, smaller volume uses for TiO2 include cosmetics, sunscreen and toothpaste.

While TiO2 is bright white, ilmenite is brown or black due to its iron content. We process ilmenite to remove the iron, and sell the resulting "titanium dioxide feedstock" products mainly to pigment manufacturers.

Pigment manufacturers refine the feedstock further to produce a titanium dioxide pigment. There are two process routes – the chloride and the sulphate route – to produce TiO2 pigment. We offer our products to both sectors of the market.

Titanium dioxide feedstock is RTIT's primary product, but we also sell other products that are derived during ilmenite mining and processing. The iron that is removed from the ilmenite is sold as a high purity pig iron. We convert some of this pig iron into steel billets, and iron and steel powders.

We also sell some of the ilmenite ore to steel manufacturers as a product called SORELFLUX™ that helps extend the life of blast furnaces. Other co-products also include zircon and rutile.

Rio Tinto Borates

Rio Tinto Borates is a global leader in industrial mineral supply and science. We are 1,200 people serving more than 1,000 customers in 100 countries. We supply nearly half the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in California.

Borates are naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. Plants need borates to grow and they are part of a healthy diet for people. Borates are key ingredients in a diverse range of products including:

  • fibreglass, wood preservatives and ceramics used to make homes safer and more energy efficient
  • heat-resistant glass used in flat-screen televisions and laptop computers
  • textile fibreglass used in sporting equipment and wind energy systems
  • fertilisers that help farmers increase crop quality and yield

To serve this vast array of sectors, Rio Tinto Borates operates mining, refining and shipping facilities on four continents. We also maintain a global network of sales offices and stock points. Our researchers work to advance borate science, pioneering new products and applications that harness the many properties of this versatile resource.

Rounding out the minerals portfolio are development projects in new sectors. We have a joint venture potash exploration project in Saskatchewan, and Jadar, our lithium-borate project in Serbia.

Find out more at the 20 Mule Team Borax website.

Dampier Salt Limited

Dampier Salt is a joint venture between Rio Tinto (68 per cent), Marubeni Corporation (22 per cent) and Sojitz (10 per cent), Dampier Salt (DSL) is located in the hot, dry climate of northern Western Australia.

Dampier Salt has three salt operations located at Dampier, Port Hedland and Lake MacLeod and is headquartered in Perth, Western Australia. The sales, marketing and logistics activities are performed in Singapore.

The Dampier operation was the first DSL site and was established in 1967. This site is currently the largest producer of the three sites with a capacity of 4.2 million tonnes per annum. The first shipment was to Japan in 1972.

The Lake MacLeod site was acquired in 1978 and has the greatest potential for expansion of the three sites with a current production capacity of 2.9 million tonnes per annum.

The Port Hedland operation was acquired in 2001 and has a current production capacity of 3.2 million tonnes per annum.

Our approach to salt production involves extracting seawater (our primary resource for Dampier and Port Hedland) or naturally occurring underground brines (at Lake MacLeod) and then using the evaporative power of the sun and the wind to crystallise pure sodium chloride salt in a series of ponds called crystallisers.

Sun and wind energy comprise around 99 per cent of the total energy required to grow, process and ship our salt. Our sustainability strategy is founded on long-term operational viability and maximising the use of renewable energy sources.

Our Lake MacLeod and Port Hedland operations have been harvesting salt for over 40 years. The demonstrated sustainability of our approach indicates that our operations will continue well beyond the next 40 years.

Our iron ore portfolio

Iron Ore Company of Canada

The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) is a leading Canadian producer of iron ore concentrate and iron ore pellets that serves customers worldwide. The company operates a mine, a concentrator and a pelletising plant in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as port facilities in Sept-Îles, Quebec. It also operates a 418-kilometre railroad that links the mine to the port.

Simandou iron ore project

Simandou is a project located in the Republic of Guinea that aims to provide access to one of the world’s largest untapped, high grade iron ore resources in the world. It will comprise:

  • A world-class iron ore deposit with estimated reserves of over 1.8 billion tonnes grading 65.5 per cent Fe, designed to produce 100mtpa for a period in excess of 40 years
  • A new railway, the Trans-Guinean: a multi-use, multi-user railway line 650 km long linking south-east Guinea with the coast along the Southern Growth Corridor
  • A new deep-water port at Moribaya: the multi-use, multi-user facility will be the first in Guinea to provide access to large cargo ships

The current Simandou partners in the project and in the mine’s operating company, Simfer S.A., are the Government of Guinea (7.5 per cent), Rio Tinto (46.57 per cent), Aluminium Corporation of China (“Chinalco”) (41.3 per cent) and the International Finance Corporation (“IFC”) (4.625 per cent) with Rio Tinto as project lead.

The participation of the Guinean Government could eventually reach 35 per cent, comprising a 15 per cent no cost stake and a 20 per cent contributing stake in the mine.

The mine and the infrastructure will be developed and structured as two separate entities.
The Simandou partners have agreed to outsource the infrastructure to a third-party consortium that will fund, build and own the multipurpose rail and port infrastructure. Ownership will transfer without counterparty to the government after 30 years.

Find out about our Iron Ore product group and our operations in Western Australia