Rio Tinto Brings on $3.1B Pilbara Expansion Ahead of Schedule
Expansion at the Nammuldi iron ore mine and Cape Lambert port is now two months ahead of schedule, Rio Tinto reported. The company has ramped up production at their West Australian iron ore sites as a result of being ahead.
The expansion in the Pilbara region was announced in 2012; $2 billion was allocated to the Nammuldi iron ore mine to extend the life of the mine, while $1.1 billion was given to increase the size of the company’s Cape Lambert port and rail facilities.
The second phase of expansion – which will increase iron ore production to 360 million tons a year by the end of 2015 – is now the focus for the company.
The added capacity has added tremendous value to the business, Andrew Harding, iron ore boss, announced. The expansion in both phases will allow Rio Tinto to move iron through the region at a low cost.
Rio Tinto has also said that there will likely be some run rate variability in coming months as it completes second expansion and integrates its “world first” automated heavy-haul rail system into the business.
At a mining conference in Miami, Rio’s CEO Sam Walsh shared that the use of autonomous technology was already helping the company keep their costs down.
Not only do the automated truck mean that fewer trucks are required at the new mines, but that “innovative sourcing and procurement have also delivered considerable savings, with much of the construction equipment coming from emerging supplier powerhouses such as China, Indonesia and Thailand.”
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.