Rio Tinto’s iron ore production and shipments for the first half of 2015 increased compared to last year, despite severe and unseasonal weather in the Pilbara throughout the first half. Second quarter production of iron ore was 9% higher than the same quarter of 2014, and was 7% above the first quarter of 2015. Rio Tinto said the key elements of the Pilbara 360-million-metric-tons-per-year (mt/y) infrastructure expansion are complete. The focus now, according to the company, is on generating maximum value from the assets, including debottlenecking and productivity improvements.

“We have maintained our emphasis on efficiency and protecting returns, which is reflected in this solid production performance,” said Sam Walsh, CEO, Rio Tinto. “We have also delivered three significant achievements within our growth portfolio. In aluminum, our Kitimat smelter is now producing metal from its expanded facilities, bringing 80% of our smelting capacity into the first cost quartile. In copper, the Oyu Tolgoi underground project is moving forward following the signing of the underground mine development and financing plan (UDP).”

The modernized Kitimat aluminum smelter in Canada poured first hot metal during the quarter. The progressive ramp up of production toward nameplate capacity of 420,000 mt is expected to complete in early 2016. The modernized smelter will substantially increase output and lower production costs and emissions.

The signing of the UDP at Oyu Tolgoi in May represented a significant step forward for the project. The UDP between the government of Mongolia, Turquoise Hill Resources and Rio Tinto provides a pathway forward in addressing shareholder matters to restart underground development. Next steps include approval of the underground feasibility study and project financing, as well as obtaining necessary permits, according to Rio Tinto.