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By A.J. Roan
For Metal Tech News 

Sun powered mine in the land Down Under

Rio Tinto sets standard for renewable energy at Koodaideri Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – February 26, 2020


Last updated 6/27/2020 at 5:21am

Rio Tinto

Koodaideri solar plant

Mining powerhouse Rio Tinto is raising the renewable energy standard for all global industrialized sectors by completely powering its future Koodaideri iron mine in Pilbara, Australia with solar energy.

Having approved of a US$98 million-dollar (A$144 million) investment in a new solar plant as well as lithium-ion battery storage at Koodaideri, Rio Tinto seeks to achieve a fully renewable mine site as early as 2021.

This is expected to be Rio Tinto's first company-owned solar facility, which will consist of an estimated 100,000 photovoltaic panels, covering an area of 105 hectares of sun-drenched Western Australia.

This solar farm will generate upwards of 34 megawatts to supply all Koodaideri's electricity demand during peak solar generation time, approximately 65% of the mine's average demand.

Complementing this facility will be a new 12 megawatt-hour battery storage system in Tom Price, Western Australia that will provide a reserve energy system during down times to support a stable and reliable network.

These efforts are expected to lower annual carbon emissions by roughly 90,000 metric tons compared to conventional gas-power energy generation. This would be equivalent to removing 28,000 cars off the road.

Low-carbon transition

The solar plant at Koodaideri is not the only effort Rio Tinto is making towards a "clean" mine. Early last year they announced the permanent shutdown of its coal-fired power plant at their Kennecott copper mine in Utah, United States.

A purchase of 1.5 million MWh (1.5 terawatt-hours) of renewable energy certificates supplied by Rocky Mountain Electric, sourced from its Utah allocated portfolio, including wind power from Wyoming, suggest a massive overhaul to complete renewable energy.

This new energy system for Kennecott is expected to reduce the copper mine's carbon dioxide emissions by more than one million metric tons per year.

Similar methods are being used at other Rio Tinto facilities. A solar farm at the Weipa mine in Queensland, Australia is producing an average of 2,800 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

This will reduce greenhouse emissions comparable to 700 cars off the roads.

This project is the first application of renewable energy to power a critical mining operation in a remote location with no access to Australia's main power grids.

Rio Tinto has taken a firm stance with their future green mines and have made remarkable headway in producing results.

"At Rio Tinto, our purpose is to produce materials essential to human progress. As such, we want to be part of the solution to help address the climate change challenge," said Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastian Jacques. "Our aim is to make sure our business, and those in our supply chain, continue to deliver economic and social benefits in the short, medium and long term, as we assist in the transition to a low-carbon future."

In November 2019, the US$2.6 billion investment in the Koodaideri mine was approved with construction already underway. The estimated production capacity will be 43 million metric tons of iron ore annually with first production at the sunshine-powered mine expected to commence by the end of 2021.

Furthermore, in December, Rio Tinto announced that it is investing US$1.5 billion to continue operations at Kennecott to 2032. Meaning that the Utah facility will continue to be a significant source of low-carbon sourced copper that will establish a future for green energy infrastructure to other renewable energy aspirants for at least another decade.

Globally, Rio Tinto's carbon footprint has dropped roughly 43% since 2008 and in 2018 their remaining coal assets were sold making them the first major mining company to have a portfolio free of fossil fuel production.

Their determination could influence other industry leaders to follow suit and produce materials that play a key part in the future transition to a low-carbon economy.

Setting the green standard

For over 20 years Rio Tinto has acknowledged the risk of climate change with the impact being part of their strategic thinking. At the end of 2018, 71% of the electricity powering their operations has come from renewable sources – solar, hydro and wind.

While most improvements have been small-scale, the global miner is now beginning to install renewable energy plants at its larger facilities, with the solar plant at Koodaideri being the first.

Rio Tinto hopes to continue to integrate renewable energy while continuing to develop and operate its mines as the company continues to grow and become more sustainable.

"The construction of our first solar plant in the Pilbara is a significant milestone for the business and an important step in reducing our carbon footprint in the region." Said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Chris Salisbury. "We are investigating additional renewable energy options in the Pilbara, as well as other opportunities to reduce emissions across our entire global portfolio, building on the 43% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions since 2008."

It is evident that this is the standard that companies of a green future will adhere to as Rio Tinto freely shares the knowledge and lessons learned in implementing new renewable technology.

The ideology of Rio Tinto is certainly the defining quality of their success but change for a low carbon future will not come so easily.

Signing the Paris Pledge of Action, a vow to implement the aims of the Paris Agreement, the future aims of the company is a substantial decarbonization by 2050 while actively working towards new emissions targets as part of a transition to a lower carbon world.

While Rio Tinto has set the bar high, with desire and commitment to projects such as the solar power plant at Koodaideri this global miner is demonstrating that something can be done about it.


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