May 17, 2020

Rio Tinto enlists drone technology in Western Australia to drive efficiency and safety

Rio Tinto
2 min
Rio Tinto continues to drive innovation in the mining industry, enlisting the help of autonomous trucks, trains, drills and now drones.
Mining behemoth Rio Tinto continues to drive innovation in the mining industry, enlisting the help of autonomous trucks, trains, drills and now drones...

Mining behemoth Rio Tinto continues to drive innovation in the mining industry, enlisting the help of autonomous trucks, trains, drills and now drones.

The company is turning its focus on expanding its unmanned aerial technology in order to safely and easily survey and inspects its vast infrastructure of assets.  Rio Tinto's aviation manager Kevan Reeve said that's one reason why the technology is so attractive.

"The biggest thing for us is driving efficiency. Gaining information is the core of what we need to do," said Reeve. "We need to know what our operations are doing."

• Related content: The Mining Sector Puts Drones to Work

For Rio, the benefit of utilizing drones is the ability to replace monitoring and inspection tasks that are either safety risks for staff or take a significant amount of time to cover. So far, the company has been testing the technology in its Western Australian, Queensland and NSW aluminium, coal and diamond operations.

"At our Argyle diamond mine they are taking footage of the open pit where they're mining directly underneath," Reeve said. "We can't put people into the pit to actually measure the pit now, so we're using the rotary wing drone."

"We are also using small fixed wing drones to survey our stockpiles and to look at rehab work,” Reeve added.

As part of the testing, Rio Tinto is utilizing an array of drones that vary in size for operations.

• Related content: Rio Tinto: Mine of the Future

"I think the one that Argyle use is a six-bladed rotary wing so it is like a small helicopter," Reeve said. "The ones we use in our operations for iron ore are a small aircraft essentially, one-and-a-half kilogram; very, very small and made with polystyrene.”

While Rio Tinto has been one of the industrial sector’s biggest advocates for automation technology, the company confirms the technology isn’t going to replace people.

"We'll give people other roles, so people are able to use the drone technology to do work that they would do otherwise,” said Reeve.

The use of drones continues to garner massive appeal in the mining industry as their usage appears to be limitless. 

WATCH: Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future

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Jun 30, 2021

Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech

Rio Tinto
3 min
Rio Tinto and Alcoa’s JV project ELYSIS has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint

Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.

ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production

ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.

The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.

The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).

The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.

The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.

ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.

ELYSIS technology at a glance:

  • The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
  • The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
  • In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
  • ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.

ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.

Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.


Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”

Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”

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