Rio Tinto has approved a $749 million investment in its existing Greater Tom Price operations (100% owned) to help sustain the production capacity of its world-class iron ore business in the Pilbara of Western Australia. The investment in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 (WTS2) mine will facilitate mining of existing and new deposits and includes construction of a new crusher as well as a 13-kilometer (km) conveyor.

The new conveyor system will help lower greenhouse gas emissions from the mine by 3.5% compared to road haulage and the business is continuing to assess additional options to reduce emissions including renewable energy solutions, according to Rio Tinto.

Pending final government approvals, construction will start in the first quarter of 2020 with first ore from the crusher expected in 2021. Production of high-quality Brockman ore will support the company’s flagship Pilbara Blend, which it said is the preferred baseload product for China’s steel mills.

The project is expected to deliver an attractive internal rate of return with a capital intensity of about $25 per metric ton (mt) of production capacity. The investment is included in Rio Tinto’s existing guidance for Pilbara replacement capital for 2020 to 2022.

As part of the investment, the haul truck fleet at the mine will be fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology to enable autonomous haulage at WTS2 beginning in 2021.

Approximately 50% of the company’s haul truck fleet will be capable of operating autonomously by the end of the year with plans being assessed to expand this in the years ahead.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Chris Salisbury said, “This significant investment in the Greater Tom Price hub is one of a pipeline of high-quality, low-cost options that will underpin production of our flagship Pilbara Blend product well into the future.”

At its peak, the construction workforce at Greater Tom Price is expected to be more than 1,000.