Good air quality in and around our operations is essential to the health and safety of our employees and communities, and we are committed to managing air quality impacts.
We comply with local and state regulations to protect air quality, and we also have our own Air quality protection Standard. This standard is applied at all of our managed activities and outlines requirements for how to monitor and manage air emissions. It also provides the framework to prevent, or otherwise mitigate effects that our activities could have on communities and environment. To do this, we work to understand our emissions and potential impacts, control emissions at their source, and implement strategies to deal with adverse conditions.
Mining processes, such as the use of fossil fuels, moving ores, waste streams, and smelting metals release gases and particulates into the atmosphere. The major air emissions from our operations are:
- greenhouse gases, predominantly from the generation of electricity, combustion of fuel, and the production of aluminium
- sulphur oxides (SOx), mainly at our aluminium and copper smelters and coal and fuel oil fired power stations
- nitrogen oxides (NOx) from burning fossil fuels
- particulate and gaseous fluoride emissions from aluminium smelters and, to a lesser extent, from processes that use coke and coal
- particulate emissions less than ten micrometres in diameter (PM10) in dust associated with our mining activities
We monitor and control air emissions where we operate. Our site based monitoring includes tracking and reporting air quality parameters at intervals related to the type of emission risk, and the requirements of stakeholders and regulators. We use this data on a continual basis to ensure mitigation and control systems are working as expected and if necessary make adjustments.
Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions
We have publicly acknowledged the reality of climate change – and its potential to affect our business, communities where we operate and the world.
We help address the climate change challenge not just by managing our own footprint – we have reduced our GHG emissions by 43% since 2008 – but also by applying new technologies that will reduce our emissions to the atmosphere. Finally, the minerals and metals that we produce like aluminium, copper, lithium, amongst others, are essential to building a low-carbon economy with its foundations in wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and batteries.
In 2019, we announced that our Kennecott copper operation, near Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Western United States, would decommission the existing coal-fired power plant and commit to renewable energy.
Jenny leads the team managing air quality at Kennecott Copper.
“I have a lot of conversations with Uber drivers about air. In Salt Lake Valley, we’re surrounded by mountains and so have a winter weather condition called an inversion – where stagnant air fills up the Valley. It looks like fog.
The drivers, like many people, see the mine and smelter stack and think ‘well, the air quality would be better if Rio Tinto Kennecott wasn’t in the Valley’.
The reality is that even if we shut off industry in the area – that’s only about 15% of the whole Valley’s pollutants, so it wouldn’t solve the problem. Every house has a boiler heating their house, every car produces pollution – we’re all in this together, and the good news is – we can all be part of the solution.
It’s about a balance – the world needs industry to produce important materials like copper, and places like Salt Lake City benefit from the jobs and economic growth our operation supports. But we’re also part of a community – we all live here, with our kids and families, and we care just as much about the air and environment here as anyone else. So I’m glad I work for a company that looks forward and considers the local community and environment in our decision-making process.
That’s why I value our move to renewable energy here at Kennecott. We could have shut the coal power plant and just purchased another kind of fossil fuel, like natural gas. Instead, we decided to commit to renewable energy for all our power needs.
I’m proud to be part of that.”