Rio Tinto is planning to enhance the capacity of its Gudai-Darri iron ore mine in Pilbara, Western Australia, to 50 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) by spending around $70m through incremental productivity gains.

The company aims to achieve capacity expansion through upgrades within the plant, including chutes and conveyor belts, and using an existing incremental crushing and screening facility.

The expanded operation would require an additional mining fleet, including haul trucks and diggers, along with a small expansion of the product stockyards.

The Gudai-Darri capacity expansion, subject to environmental, heritage and other relevant approvals, is expected to have a capital intensity of around $10 per tonne.

Rio Tinto Pilbara mines iron ore managing director Matthew Holcz said: “What we have learnt during the rapid ramp-up of Gudai-Darri has given us the confidence to find better ways to increase capacity at our newest and most technologically advanced mine.

“Rather than taking a capital-intensive approach to replicate existing infrastructure, we have now identified a low-capital pathway to creep capacity to 50 million tonnes a year.”

The Gudai-Darri mine started production last year and reached its planned capacity of 43 million tonnes within a year from the first ore production.

The mine is already equipped with autonomous trucks and drills, the world’s first autonomous water carts, autonomous trains (AutoHaul), bucketwheel reclaimer, ore sampling laboratory, paperless field mobility, digital assets, and a solar farm.

Gudai-Darri has 26 CAT 793F autonomous haul trucks, three CAT MD6310 and two MD6250 autonomous drills, and will be the world’s first mine to deploy Caterpillar 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks.

In collaboration with engineering equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, Rio Tinto is developing zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks, and autonomous water carts.

The new vehicles will be primarily used for dust suppression, digitally tracking water consumption, reducing waste, and enhancing productivity.

AutoHaul was the world’s first fully autonomous long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, monitored remotely by operators from the company’s Operations Centre in Perth.

The Gudai-Darri has an ore sampling laboratory that receives production samples through a conveyor and transfers them to the automated production cell by a robot.

Furthermore, the mine will be supported by a 34MW solar farm, featuring around 83,000 photovoltaic panels to address about one-third of the mine’s average electricity demand.