From the days of antiquity, copper has been used for its many benefits: tough but malleable, corrosion-resistant and recyclable, and an excellent conductor of heat and transmitter of electricity. Copper is also antimicrobial, helping to keep us safe from infection.
Today, we use copper in pots and pans, in the water pipes in our homes, and in the radiators in our cars. Copper also plays an essential role in computers, smartphones, electronics, appliances and construction.
Copper also promises to play an essential role in the transition to the low-carbon economy. Just one 1MW wind turbine, for example, uses three tonnes of copper. And electric vehicles have a copper intensity 3-4 times higher than traditional vehicles. As a result, global demand for copper is set to grow 1.5%-2.5% per year, driven by electrification and increasing requirements for renewable energy.
Rio Tinto Copper
Our very first mine was a copper mine on the banks of the Rio Tinto river, in Andalusia, Spain – bought in 1873 by a British-European investor group led by Scottish entrepreneur Hugh Matheson.
Today, our copper operations around the world are at various stages in the mining lifecycle, from exploration to rehabilitation. At each of our copper operations, we use leading-edge technologies that drive safe, efficient and productive methods of extracting, processing and refining copper, supplying customers in China, Japan and the US.
Ingenuity at Work
Deep inside our Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, western United States, we use a remote operated vehicle team – including drones and other equipment – to help keep people safe and save the business money. The newest team member is a robot named Mark II, designed and built by our chief drone pilot, Matt Key, using an over-the-counter rock crawler and a 3D printer. Matt’s ingenuity meant Mark II cost a mere $10,000 to build, a fraction of the $100,000 it could have cost to buy a similar robot.
Mark II squeezes into small spaces and manoeuvres over tough terrain to test oxygen levels and collect soil and water samples.
Sending in a robot to check hazards in advance has obvious safety benefits – and can also save the business time and money. The team is already designing Mark II’s little brother, Mark III.