In its most recent quarterly production report, Rio Tinto reported production increases for iron ore, copper and bauxite. “We have delivered improved production across the majority of our products in the third quarter, with a solid result at our Pilbara mines driving increased sales of iron ore into robust markets,” said Rio Tinto Chief Executive J-S Jacques.
Pilbara iron ore shipments of 86.1 million metric tons (mt) (100% basis) in the third quarter were 5% higher than the third quarter of 2018. Pilbara iron ore production of 87.3 million mt (100% basis) were 6% higher than the third quarter of 2018 and 10% higher than the previous quarter.
“This reflects a solid performance in the mines, with actions progressing as planned,” Jacques said. “Our increased focus on waste material movement and pit development will continue over 2019 and 2020 to improve mine performance and pit sequencing.”
Third quarter bauxite production and shipments to third parties were 9% and 23% higher, respectively, than the same period of 2018. Bauxite production from non-managed joint ventures was lower than planned year to date.
Mined copper production of 158,000 mt was 1% lower than the third quarter of 2018, but 15% higher than the second quarter, reflecting higher grades at Kennecott and improved throughput at Escondida.
Kennecott’s third quarter mined copper production was 2% lower than the same period of 2018, but 40% higher than the previous quarter, as mining activity moved to an area of higher grades following the low grades experienced in the second quarter. Refined copper production was lower than comparable prior periods, reflecting reduced copper concentrate availability from the previous quarter, a planned smelter shut-down in July and additional unplanned maintenance which reduced furnace online time.
Jacques said Kennecott continues to toll and purchase third party concentrate to optimize smelter utilization, with 11,900 mt of concentrate received for processing in the third quarter of 2019, compared with 6,300 mt in the third quarter of 2018. He also mentioned that higher molybdenum grades were sustained in the third quarter, with production of 2,100 mt, compared with 1,400 mt in the same quarter in 2018.
Third quarter mined copper production at Escondida was 4% higher than the same period of 2018, mainly due to higher concentrator throughput and an increase in recoverable copper in ore stacked for leaching.
Mined copper production from Oyu Tolgoi’s open pit in the third quarter of 2019 was 28% lower than the same period in 2018 and 27% lower than the prior quarter as mining activity moved to lower grade areas of the pit, as planned. “Commissioning milestones for the primary production shaft [shaft 2] remain on target for completion in October,” Jacques said. “Rope-up of the service and production hoists was completed as planned, and testing of the braking system has also been completed.”
Earlier this year, Rio Tinto reported that enhanced geotechnical information and data modelling suggested possible stability risks with Oyu Tolgoi’s block cave mine design and so a number of mine design options are under consideration.