Rio Tinto recently released an update on its mining operations, detailing some remarkable figures for a year that did not start too well for many of its mines. “This was another record-breaking year in the Pilbara, with both quarterly and full year iron ore production and shipments beating previous achievements, as our expansion program continues apace,” said Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese. “Across the Group, production has bounced back from the severe weather conditions experienced in the first half which had the biggest impact on Australian iron ore, coal and uranium.”

Even though they were below production estimates due to extreme weather conditions experienced in the first half of the year, Rio Tinto shipped a record 239 million metric tons (mt) of iron ore in 2011. Rio Tinto’s Pilbara ports operated at above annualized capacity rates and shipped record volumes of 61 million mt in the fourth quarter and 225 million mt for the full year. The company produced a record 65 million mt of iron ore during the quarter and 245 million mt for the full year.

Lower grades at Escondida and Kennecott Utah Copper impacted mined copper throughout most of 2011, driving production down 23% year-on-year, in line with guidance.

Full year bauxite production was 7% higher than 2010. Aluminum was 1% higher while alumina was 1% lower. The Group’s annual aluminum capacity has been reduced by 462,000 mt across the entire portfolio, due to the orderly shutdown of two thirds of Alma and power issues at Lynemouth and Shawinigan.

Australian hard coking coal production was 16% higher than fourth quarter of 2010 and 2% lower year on year. Australian thermal coal was 3% lower year on year while semi-soft coal production slipped 7% compared with 2010.

Rio Tinto expects to invest at least $15 billion in operations during 2012, including $2.7 billion to modernize the Kitimat aluminum smelter.