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Copper

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 plays a critical role in the clean energy transition

Just one 1MW wind turbine, for example, uses 3 tonnes of copper. And electric vehicles use 4 times more copper 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. With mines in the United States at Kennecott, the Resolution Copper project, and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, Rio Tinto can lead the way.

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Copper powers our everyday lives

Copper has many important jobs. It’s found in everything from pots and pans, to the water pipes in our homes, and the radiators in our cars. And it plays an essential role in computers, smartphones, electronics, appliances, and construction. 

Used as a tiny antenna in many hearing aids, Copper helps people hear for the first time. And bonus: it has antimicrobial properties, meaning it helps keep bacteria away. 

Copper is the best non-precious conductor of heat and electricity on the planet. So it’s found in everything from the electrical wiring in your house to renewable power sources like wind turbines. And because it can help things work more efficiently, it’s going to play an important part in a more sustainable future.

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. 

Oyu Tolgoi, in the South Gobi region of Mongolia, is one of the largest known copper and gold deposits in the world. When the underground mine is complete, it will be the fourth-largest copper mine in the world.

Our Kennecott mine is a world-class, integrated copper mining operation located just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States. Our Kennecott mine produces gold, silver and tellurium as byproducts of our copper mining. We’ve also progressed pre-feasibility studies further push back the northern wall to extend open-pit mining beyond 2032, and are advancing studies to support an underground mine below the existing open pit, due to be complete by 2024. Potential underground mining would occur concurrently with open pit operations and result in increased copper output.

In 2019, after 75 years of operation, Kennecott retired its coal-fired power plant in Magna, Utah. Power for the operation will come from renewable energy certificates purchased from Rocky Mountain Power – primarily from wind and solar resources. 

Closing the plant and acquiring renewable energy certificates will remove more than one million tons of carbon dioxide every year from Kennecott’s Wasatch Front operations, reducing its annual carbon footprint by as much as 65%. The renewable energy certificate program is Green-e energy certified, and meets the environmental and consumer-protection standards set by the Center for Resource Solutions. 

In 2020, Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi became the first producers to be awarded the Copper Mark, the copper industry’s new independent responsible production programme. To achieve the Copper Mark – developed according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – Kennecott’s and Oyu Tolgoi’s copper was assessed against 32 criteria covering Environment, Community, Business and Human Rights, Labour and Working Conditions and Governance.

At the Resolution Copper Project in the US, we continue ongoing stakeholder engagement in our effort to seek consent to progress the project consistent with the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Statement on Indigenous Peoples and Mining.

And in 2020 we announced the maiden resource at Winu, a copper and gold project in Western Australia with the potential to become a large-scale operation over time.

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Operations awarded the Copper Mark, verifying copper from Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi is responsibly produced

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Copper growth projects in the US, Mongolia & Australia

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Introducing Nuton

The world needs better, cleaner, and more responsible ways to produce copper. Our new venture Nuton is a suite of technologies built on nature-based alchemy. These bio-heap leaching technologies offer the potential to unlock new sources of the much-needed metal while also producing it in a more sustainable way.

US copper products and by-products

Copper cathode

Copper cathode is a primary raw material used in semi-fabricated products such as copper wire rods for the wire and cable industry. Copper is a crucial raw material used in electrification and clean energy infrastructure and is essential for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Molybdenum 

Molybdenum is a common by-product of copper mining. It is a primary raw material used in a variety of applications in the metal manufacturing industry.

Sulfuric acid

Sulfuric acid is a useful by-product obtained during the smelter's copper production process. It is used in a variety of applications, such as the manufacturing of fertiliser and paper processing.

Silver and gold

Our silver and gold bars are accredited through the Responsible Jewellery Council’s Code of Practice, the Responsible Jewellery Council’s Chain of Custody, and the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) Responsible Gold and Silver refiner/delivery list.

Copper telluride, crude selenium and lead carbonate

Tellurium is an essential component of cadmium telluride, which is a semiconductor used to manufacture thin film photovoltaic solar panels. Selenium is commonly used in the glass manufacturing industry to produce pigments, while lead carbonate is used for manufacturing batteries.

Copper Cathode
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Molybdenum
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Sulfuric Acid
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2.17 MB
Silver
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1.34 MB
Gold
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1.61 MB
Copper Telluride, Crude Selenium and Lead Carbonate
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1.67 MB

5 facts about copper

1. Copper increases energy efficiency

Copper is the best non-precious-metal conductor of heat and electricity on the planet, so items that contain copper tend to operate more efficiently. According to the International Copper Association (ICA), using more copper in motors and appliances can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.25 gigatonnes – equivalent to taking half a billion cars off the road.

2. Copper helps renewable energy systems work better

Renewable energy systems – like solar, wind and hydropower – rely on copper to generate and transmit energy with maximum efficiency.

3. Copper is critical to greener vehicle technology

Copper is the primary conductor in the world’s electrical infrastructure, contributing to the electrification of transportation. For example, electric vehicles have a copper intensity 3-4 times higher than traditional vehicles.

4. Copper is infinitely recyclable

Copper is 100% recyclable, and it can be recycled without losing any of its properties, including its high conductivity. The majority of the around 550 million tonnes of copper produced since 1900 is still in use today, according to the ICA. At our Kennecott operations in the US, we offer our smelting services to other concentrate producers and are able to use our facilities to purify copper from recycled scrap, such as old copper wiring. In fact, we have been smelting recycled scrap since 2005 and have processed up to 2.8 million pounds of copper from scrap per year, enough to provide the electrical wiring in 6,400 new homes.

5. It can keep people safe from infection

Copper is naturally antimicrobial, and using copper surfaces in hospitals reduces the spread of infection in hospitals. According to the ICA, copper kills nearly all bacteria, keeping surfaces clean for longer.

Our copper operations

Employee at Kennecott operations

Kennecott

120 years of mining Premier American copper. Many more to come.
Concentrator, Oyu Tolgoi

Oyu Tolgoi

Oyu Tolgoi is one of the largest known copper and gold deposits in the world
  • Rio Tinto General T&Cs

    Rio Tinto General Terms & Conditions of Sale APAC
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    Rio Tinto General Terms & Conditions of Sale EMEA
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    Rio Tinto General Terms & Conditions of Sale US
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    223 KB
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Independently verified, responsibly produced

Independent industry stewardship programs help assure our customers of our responsible value chain. Our Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi copper operations have been awarded the Copper Mark, the copper industry’s independently assessed responsible production program. Kennecott has also been awarded the Molybdenum Mark, an application of the same rigorous framework to molybdenum producers - molybdenum is a copper mining byproduct and a vital material in clean energy technologies and sustainable construction practices. These 2 certifications demonstrate our continued commitment to responsible production as we find better ways to provide the materials the world needs.

Contact Copper

Copper Cathodes

Copper Concentrate

Sulfuric Acid

Precious Metals

Molybdenum