The investment in the WTS2 mine, located 35km north-west of the Tom Price mine in the Pilbara region, will enable mining of existing and new deposits

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The WTS2 mine is part of Rio Tinto’s Greater Tom Price operations in the Pilbara region. Photo: courtesy of csfoto - Christian Sprogoe photographer/Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto has sanctioned an investment of A$1bn ($749m) in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 mine (WTS2 mine), which is part of the company’s Greater Tom Price operations in Western Australia.

The mining company said that the investment will help in maintaining the production capacity of its iron ore business in the Pilbara region.

The investment in the WTS2 mine, located 35km north-west of the Tom Price mine, will enable mining of existing and new deposits. To facilitate this, Rio Tinto will be constructing a new crusher along with a 13km long conveyor system.

According to the miner, the new conveyor system will help in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the iron ore mine by 3.5% compared to road haulage. Additional options like renewable energy solutions and others are being continuously assessed to bring down emissions at the mine, said Rio Tinto.

Subject to final government approvals, the mining company expects to begin construction on the expansion project in the first quarter of 2020. First ore from the crusher is expected to be drawn in 2021.

Rio Tinto said that production of high-quality Brockman ore will support its flagship product Pilbara Blend, which is said to have a demand as a baseload commodity for Chinese steel mills.

The announced investment will also enable the integration of the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology to the mine’s haul truck fleet to initiate autonomous haulage from 2021.

Rio Tinto claimed that nearly 50% of its haul truck fleet at its Pilbara iron ore assets will be capable of autonomous operations by the year-end.

Investment in the WTS2 mine will sustain workforce at the Greater Tom Price operations

The investment in the WTS2 mine will also help in maintaining the present workforce at the Greater Tom Price production hub, said Rio Tinto. The company said that at its peak, the expansion project at the mine could see a construction workforce of more than 1,000 people.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said: “Our iron ore business continues to deliver industry- leading margins as we drive performance from our mines. This significant investment in the Greater Tom Price hub is one of a pipeline of high-quality, low-cost options that will underpin production of our flagship Pilbara Blend product well into the future.”

In June 2019, Rio Tinto completed deployment of AutoHaul, a project focused on automating trains that transport iron ore produced at its Pilbara operations.