Rio Tinto partners with Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute for recovery of critical minerals and metals

South Jordan, Utah (Oct. 11, 2016) – Rio Tinto today announced a new research initiative with the Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames Laboratory, to assure the U.S. fully leverages domestic mineral and metal resources required for global leadership in clean power manufacturing. Rio Tinto will combine its operational expertise with CMI’s research capabilities, materials science expertise and computing power.

The partnership will focus on the efficient extraction of critical minerals from the copper smelting process across three core work streams:

1. Researching the improvement of potential recovery rates of critical minerals and metals (rhenium, selenium, tellurium, scandium, etc.) from samples sourced from Rio Tinto’s operating Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and Resolution Copper project currently under regulatory review and permitting in Arizona.

2. Exploring potential for increasing recovery rates of rare minerals and metals through tailings processing.

3. Examining process improvements that would facilitate the blending of processed electronic waste (‘e-waste’) with copper concentrates to materially increase the recovery of valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, platinum, lithium and rare earths present in spent cellphones, computers and solar panels, subject to any necessary permitting requirements.

Nigel Steward, managing director Rio Tinto Copper and Diamonds Operations, commented, “Rio Tinto has been at the forefront of companies that recognize climate change as a risk to our business, but we also believe the transition to a clean power economy creates economic opportunity. ”  Steward also commented, “CMI’s focus on the materials required for the US to be a global leader in clean-tech manufacturing fits well with our operational expertise in mining and smelting.  We know there is potential to recover more rare metals and minerals in our current smelting process; we just need to find ways to do it more efficiently and economically.  We are excited to be working with CMI to find innovative solutions.”

Along with producing 20 percent of U.S. copper demand, Kennecott’s smelting process also recovers by-products such as gold, silver and molybdenum. The CMI Rio Tinto research will explore additional rare mineral by-products that can be used in a variety of applications that include photovoltaic cells and catalytic converters, hardening steel and consumer electronics. Additional minerals that could potentially be recovered and their uses include:

  • Rhenium – clean-tech applications in power generation turbines (wind, hydro, gas & steam)
  • Tellerium – thin-film photovoltaic cells (cadmium telluride) (also see bismuth, below)
  • Lithium – lithium ion batteries and improving battery storage technology
  • Bismuth – bismuth telluride thermovoltaics for waste heat recovery
  • Platinum, PGMs – catalytic converters

The Resolution Copper Mine project has the potential to meet an additional 25 percent of U.S. copper demand and may be a source of other key metals such as molybdenum, scandium and rhenium.

 

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About Rio Tinto Kennecott

As one of the largest copper producers in the United States, Rio Tinto Kennecott comprises nearly 20 percent of U.S. copper production. Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the top producing copper mines in the world with production at more than 19 million tons. Rio Tinto purchased Kennecott and related facilities in 1989 and has invested more than $2 billion in modernization since that time. Kennecott has also spent more than $350 million on the cleanup of historic mining waste and $100 million on groundwater cleanup. Take a closer look at riotintokennecott.com.

 

About Resolution Copper

Resolution Copper Mining is a limited liability company working to develop the third largest undeveloped copper resource in the world near Superior, AZ. The project will mine ore using underground block-caving methods at depths of nearly 7,000 feet below surface. When in full production, the mine will employ 1,400 workers directly and generate an additional 2,300 indirect and induced jobs. The mine will be North America’s largest copper producer when in full production, capable of producing more than 25 percent of the nation’s demand based on today’s usage. Take a closer look at www.resolutioncopper.com.

 

About Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the United Kingdom, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Rio Tinto's business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminum, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and Southern Africa. www.riotinto.com.