In December 2010, Rio Tinto approved investment of $1.2-billion for significant expansions of its wholly-owned Brockman 4 and Western Turner Syncline iron ore mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The expansions are part of a wider program to lift Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore production from its current level of 220 million mt/y to 283 million mt/y by the second half of 2013. The investment brings to $7.2 billion (Rio Tinto’s share, $5.1 billion) the amount in new Pilbara iron ore investment announced by Rio Tinto since July 2010.

The Brockman 4 mine, about 60 km west of Tom Price, will be expanded from a capacity of 22 million mt/y to 40 million mt/y. The project includes an expansion of the village, additional mine fleet, and construction of a primary crusher and a 4-km overland conveyor. The mine is currently ramping up to reach its first phase capacity in the first half of 2011. Opened in September 2010, it will become Rio Tinto’s second-largest iron mine within three years.

The Western Turner Syncline mine, about 30 km west of Tom Price, will be expanded from its current 6 million mt/y capacity to 15 million mt/y. The expansion incorporates construction of a primary crusher and a 20-km overland conveyor to deliver ore to the Tom Price primary stockpiles. Existing Tom Price infrastructure will be utilized, including the high-grade and low-grade processing plants, stockyards, train load-out and on-site facilities. The first phase will provide 15 million mt/y of capacity from the second half of 2013.

Both developments will require a number of government and regulatory approvals.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Iron Ore and Australia Sam Walsh said the expanded mines will provide the bulk of the additional throughput for the recently announced $3.1-billion expansion of rail and port works around Cape Lambert (E&MJ, November 2010, p. 5). “These expansion decisions highlight our strategy of bringing on new capacity in line with infrastructure developments, using 100% Rio Tinto-owned brownfield developments to dovetail with existing infrastructure where possible,” Walsh said. “They also highlight the wealth of large, long-life, well situated, and wholly-owned deposits we can bring forward in conjunction with our expansions of port and rail capacity.” 

Rio Tinto is also studying an expansion of its Nammuldi mine, 50 km west of Tom Price, with an investment decision expected in 2011.

Longer term, Rio Tinto plans to expand its Pilbara iron ore capacity to 333 million mt/y over the next five years.