The Western Range iron-ore project is planned to be developed in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

In September 2022, Rio Tinto and China Baowu Steel Group (Baowu) agreed to form a joint venture to develop the project with an investment of $2bn. Rio Tinto and Baowu will have 54% and 46% stakes in the JV respectively.

A feasibility study of the project was completed in 2021.

As of February 2023, the project has secured all primary environmental and government approvals in Australia, while Chinese regulatory approvals are awaited.

The construction of the project is planned to commence in early 2023, with first production expected in 2025.

The Western Range project will have a production capacity of 25 million tonnes of iron ore per year, thereby maintaining production of the Pilbara Blend from Rio Tinto’s existing Paraburdoo mining hub.

Location and Site details

The Western Range iron-ore project is located in Paraburdoo site in the Pilbara region. The Paraburdoo hub currently comprises three operating mines, namely- Paraburdoo, Channar and Eastern Range.

Western Range has two deposits- 36W–50W and 55W–66W, within the Hamersley Basin. These two deposits are situated within Mining Lease AM70/00246 (ML246SA).

The operations can be accessed via road from the existing Paraburdoo mine.

Geology and Mineralisation

Western Range’s 36W-50W and 55W-66W deposits are defined as typical high-phosphorus, martitegoethite Brockman type deposits.

Mineralisation at the project occurs within the Dales Gorge and Joffre Members of the Brockman Iron Formation as well as in the Whaleback Shale, Yandicoogina Shale and Weeli Wolli Members.

It also hosts minor detrital mineralisation as shallow fan shaped deposits to the south of the range and small canga deposits close to the range front.

Mineral Resource

The 36W–50W and 55W-66W deposits have a Measured Mineral Resource of 22Mt at 59.1% Fe, while Indicated Mineral Resource and Inferred Mineral Resource stand at 102Mt at 61.5% Fe, and 108Mt at 61.4% Fe, respectively.

The Proven Ore Reserve at 36W–50W is 109Mt at 62.1% Fe, and a Probable Ore Reserve is 56Mt at 61.7% Fe.


Western Range iron-ore project is expected to be mined using standard Rio Tinto Iron Ore equipment and methods employed in other Rio Tinto Iron Ore operations.

This will involve using the conventional truck and shovel, open pit mining with an appropriate bench height. The mining practices may include grade control utilising blast hole data.

The iron ore mined from the Western Range 36W-50W and 55W-66W deposits will be blended with other Rio Tinto Iron Ore mine sites to make a saleable ore product.

This move is aligned with current Rio Tinto Iron Ore practices where ore from multiple mines is combined to produce the Pilbara Blend product.

The project will support 1,600 jobs during the construction period and 800 ongoing operational jobs.


The project development plan includes the construction of a primary crusher and an 18km conveyor system that will connect the existing Paraburdoo processing plant. The ore will be transported via rail to Rio Tinto ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert for shipping.

The Paraburdoo mine existing product stockpiles, rail and train load-out system as well as existing support facilities including heavy and light vehicle workshops, explosive facility, and waste fines storage facility will be utilised.

Support facilities located at the Greater Western Range operations will include a fixed plant workshop, bulk fuel storage and refuelling facilities, and bulk lube storage.

Electric power for the project will be supplied via a 33kV connection to the Rio Tinto transmission network at Paraburdoo.

Water supply for the construction and operations of the project will be procured from bores at Western Range, as well as from Paraburdoo borefields.

Contractors Involved

In 2020, Rio Tinto Group Internal Audit engaged SRK Consulting to complete an audit on the 36W-50W deposit.

In December 2022, CIMIC Group’s CPB Contractors secured a contract from Rio Tinto to deliver the main infrastructure bulk earthworks for the Western Range iron-ore mine.

The A$250m contract includes the construction of structural earthworks to support the installation of new materials handling infrastructure, sustaining production at the Paraburdoo Central Facilities.

Civmec won a contract worth A$330m for Rio Tinto’s Western Range Project in January 2023. The company will carry out a vertical package of work utilising its in-house capabilities.

Sales agreement

In September 2022, Rio Tinto and Baowu agreed on an iron ore sales agreement at market prices that includes a total of up to 126.5 million tonnes of iron ore over nearly 13 years.

The sale volume represents Baowu’s 46% interest in the projected 275 million tonnes of production from the property.