Artificial Intelligence

R&D and technology

We’re using new technologies, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence across our business

Technology and research and development (R&D) are integral to our business, helping us run safer, more efficient operations and leave a lighter footprint.

For the world to reach net zero we must find better ways provide the materials it needs. Some of the technology we need to get to net zero by 2050 doesn’t exist today, so we need to contribute, support and partner to make it a reality. That’s why we’re nurturing an innovative culture – one where our people can help to meet these challenges with courage and creativity.

We’ve built an industry-leading technology and R&D organisation, and we’re partnering with universities, governments, other companies and start-ups to test, develop and accelerate technology that can support our strategy.

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ELYSIS, our joint venture with Alcoa, supported by Apple, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, is developing a breakthrough inert anode technology that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases from the aluminium smelting process.

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BlueSmelting™ is a new ilmenite smelting technology that could generate 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than the current reduction process, enabling the production of titanium dioxide, steel and metal powders with a significantly lower carbon footprint.

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BioIron™ uses raw, sustainable biomass and microwave energy instead of coal to convert Pilbara iron ore to iron in the steelmaking process. BioIron has the potential to be carbon neutral and can result in net negative emissions when linked with carbon capture and storage. The pilot has been successful and now we’re planning to test it on a larger scale.

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Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot

In partnership with Sumitomo Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we’re building a first-of-a-kind hydrogen pilot plant at our Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland, Australia.

Our technology roadmap

We are disciplined in our approach to research and development. Our technology roadmap focused on 5 areas aligned to our strategic priorities.
  • Health and safety

    • Reducing frontline exposure to hazards
    • Managing health and wellbeing of our people
  • Reducing our environmental footprint

    • Reducing water consumption
    • Improving water treatment
    • Dry tailings
    • Dry processing
    • Closure
  • Supporting growth

    • Discovering new orebodies
    • Reducing capital intensity
    • Creating new revenue streams
  • Decarbonising our business and products

    • Green steel and low-carbon products
    • Energy storage options
    • Green processing
    • Green energy
    • Green fleet
  • Improving productivity

    • Maximise value from each orebody
    • Equipment utilisation
    • Automation
    • Energy efficiency

Office of the Chief Scientist

To help us find better ways to provide the materials the world needs, our Chief Scientist Nigel and the team search the world for the most innovative technologies and ideas that can shape the future of sustainable mining. Today we have over 500 experts dedicated to R&D, spread across Canada, France, Australia, the US, the UK and China. Alongside our in-house expertise, we also have an ecosystem of partners across the globe including universities, government research labs and start-ups.

Meet Nigel Steward, our Chief Scientist

Nigel is our Chief Scientist and holds a Bachelor of Science (Engineering) and a PhD in Metallurgy and Materials Science from Imperial College London, UK and is an Associate of the Royal School of Mines. He also holds an MBA from Queen’s University, Canada. Nigel has more than 30 years’ experience in operational roles in our aluminium, copper and diamonds divisions, including as Managing Director of Copper and Diamonds Operations.  

Nigel shares how we plan to use hydrogen in our business to reduce emissions
Wind energy

Firming up renewables in mining

Our Chief Scientist, Nigel Steward, on long-term energy storage
Hydrogen banner

Hydrogen’s role in producing lower-carbon materials

Our Chief Scientist, Nigel Steward, on green hydrogen

Innovation Advisory Committee

In 2023 we established an Innovation Advisory Committee comprising innovation and R&D experts from around the world. The Committee will provide insights on ways we can accelerate our innovation portfolio as well as offer guidance on emerging and disruptive technologies in areas including health and safety, environmental, social and governance, growth, carbon abatement and productivity.

Technology already in use across our business

We harness new and emerging technologies to make our operations safer and more efficient, and to leave a lighter environmental footprint. And we do this all the way through the mining life cycle as we explore, design, build, operate and close our operations.

Autonomous trucks, trains and drills

We operate one of the largest fleets of autonomous drills in the world. We use 40 autonomous drills on 5 drill platforms across 7 mine sites, to safely and accurately drill blast-holes in the Pilbara from a remote location. A controller, located at our Perth Operations Centre, can remotely plan an entire shifts activity for up to 8 different drills across several mine sites using a single console, rather than doing the work manually on-site.

One of the biggest benefits of autonomous drills is safety. By removing operators out of harm’s way, we’re reducing the risks associated with working around heavy machinery. And it delivers mine planning, productivity, and environmental benefits through more precise drilling accuracy.

We also operate smart charge trucks, which automate the process of pumping explosives into drill holes. The trucks use computer systems and data analytics to determine the right amount of explosives to use for each drill hole, helping to reduce wastage and improve the effectiveness of the blast.

Operation centres

Our operations centres in Perth and Brisbane in Australia, and the Saguenay region in Canada enable mines, processing facilities, ports and rail systems in these regions to be operated from a single location. The teams work in rooms filled with screens that show the entire operation in action – in real-time. Using tools like predictive maths, clever computer code and powerful software, our operations centres help us identify opportunities for improvements and efficiencies – from finding the best way to get ore from the ground to improving the way we make products.

Drones and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)

We use drones and ROVs for real-time 3D mapping and equipment inspections, as well as checking slopes, crests and walls for safety risks like cracks and signs of rock movement. One of the biggest benefits of our drones is safety. There are some jobs where it is better for drones to do it rather than people – for example high wall mapping. By using drones, we are removing people from harm’s way. We are also using drones fitted with thermal diagnostic capability to identify equipment problems from the air. We can identify high friction rates on equipment in real time and notify the maintenance teams so the issues can be addressed.

Centres of Excellence

Our Centres of Excellence bring together our foremost technical experts to work with our operations around the world. They focus on analytics, automation, asset management, orebody knowledge, underground mining, surface mining and processing. These smart mining teams help us make the right technical judgements and decisions to help us manage our major hazard risks and assure the safety of our assets and operational excellence.

Mine Automation System

Our Mine Automation System (MAS) operates like a network server application, pulling together data at 98% of our sites, and mining it for information. MAS provides this information in a common format, using sophisticated algorithms. It can be displayed visually using RTVis™ – Rio Tinto Visualisation – or through more conventional operational type dashboards with graphs, charts and tables.

We then use artificial intelligence to make the best use of our systems. We can automatically generate orebody models, organise equipment dispatch, and predict and control blasts. We have even optimised the speed and reduced queuing of our autonomous trucks – these small improvements have produced significant gains in productivity.


We built RTVis™ – Rio Tinto Visualisation – with a 3D gaming engine to help us see inside our operations. We can fly over a site and dive down to the detailed information we need. We can hover over an excavator, follow a haul truck, or examine an orebody.

The software brings together geology, geotechnical, drill and blast, production and planning, and visualises surface and sub-surface features. There are also various analytics tools to help us make sense of our data and information for better decision-making.

RTVis has delivered many benefits to our operations, including more accurate drilling and blasting, reduced explosive use, and better waste classification, which means that our trucks carry less waste material and more ore – this boosts productivity and lowers costs.

Mining data

Satellites stream oceans of data telling us everything from the position of a truck to where our next discovery might be. We have built computer systems that analyse data and make decisions in microseconds. An ore crusher at an iron ore processing plant can talk to trucks and let them know when it needs more ore. At our bauxite mine in Weipa, special mathematical software helps our port schedulers manage hundreds of ships a year. Using data in these ways helps us minimise downtime, reduce energy use and cut operating costs.

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