We look at growth through a variety of different lenses – starting with exploration for new sources of essential materials.
We have 63 programmes in seven commodities across 17 countries; our spend on exploration over the years has been consistent at around $250 million, which we believe remains a differentiator for Rio Tinto.
We take an advanced approach to data and technology to improve our targeting, allowing us to uncover opportunities in areas that have been well explored by others. Our copper-gold discovery at Winu in Western Australia, in one example of this capability; another is FalCon, a diamond project in Saskatchewan, Canada.
We also focus on investing in high-quality organic growth.
In 2018, for example, we shipped our first tonnes of bauxite from our new Amrun mine in Queensland, Australia – six weeks ahead of schedule. Also in 2018, we announced the development of the $2.6 billion Koodaideri iron ore project – our most intelligent mine – located in the Pilbara, Western Australia. In 2019, we announced a $1.5 billion investment to continue production at our Kennecott copper mine, in the United States, extending operations there to 2032.
We are building a world-class underground mine at Oyu Tolgoi, in Mongolia. We have made significant progress on a number of key elements in the construction during 2019. However, the ground conditions are more challenging than expected and we are reviewing our mine plan and considering a number of mine design options. Delays are not unusual for such a large and complex project and we are focused on finding the right pathway to deliver this high value project.
In the US, the Resolution Copper Project reached a significant milestone in 2019 with the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which will allow us to continue progressing one of the world’s most significant copper deposits towards development.
Finally, we are looking at options to grow our position in minerals relating to battery technology. A good example of this is our lithium project – Jadar – in Serbia.
In 2004, we discovered a new mineral – now known as jadarite – in the Jadar Valley in western Serbia. What makes jadarite unique is that it contains both boron and lithium.
Lithium and borates are essential for our daily lives and a low-carbon future. Lithium is used in a vast array of products, most notably batteries for hybrid and electric cars. Borates are used in fiberglass, glass, ceramics, fertilisers, detergents, wood preservatives and numerous other products.
We completed a detailed exploration of the Jadarite deposit in February 2020, and the project is now progressing through the feasibility study.
The Jadar development will include an underground mine, an industrial processing facility and associated infrastructure. The project is innovative in many ways – it involves a new mineral, new processing technology and a new market – and we are working with local and international experts to design a long-life, sustainable operation.
Since the beginning of the project, we have been working closely with the Serbian government and local officials to ensure the project moves forward safely, responsibly and in a manner that benefits the surrounding communities.