Rio Tinto officials have announced that coal production is under way at their Kestrel mine extension, a $2-billion project near Emerald in central Queensland, Australia. The extension, according to Rio Tinto representatives, will add 20 years to the Kestrel mine, the company’s only underground coal operation. Kestrel produces metallurgical coal using the longwall method for customers in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Europe, India and China.

John Coughlan, Kestrel’s general manager for operations, called the event a “milestone” following four years of construction. As Kestrel North is phased out and Kestrel South ramps up, full capacity is forecast by Q4 2014 to produce 5.7 million metric tons per year (mt/y) through 2024, he added.

The extension involved the installation of a new longwall, along with infrastructure including a 7.9-km overland conveyor—carrying 3,500 mt/h—and upgrades to the existing handling and prep plant. These will allow new underground panels to be mined south of the existing operation.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia manages the Kestrel mine on behalf of the joint venture partners Queensland Coal Pty Ltd. and Mitsui Kestrel Coal Investment. Rio Tinto Coal Australia has operated the asset since 1999.