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Rio Tinto has unveiled a $10 billion plan to lower emissions between 2022 and 2030, including work on technologies for carbon-free aluminium and green steel.

The company has revealed a new target to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, more than tripling its previous target.

A 15 per cent reduction in emissions is now targeted for 2025, five years earlier than previously slated.

Rio Tinto also plans to pour more money into areas of its business that will feed the world’s march towards net zero emissions.

It said it would prioritise growth capital in commodities vital for the transition with an ambition to double growth capex to about $4 billion ($US3 billion) a year from 2023.

“Rio Tinto is taking action to strengthen our business and improve our performance by unleashing the full potential of our people and assets, working in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders,” Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said.

“All our commodities are vital for the energy transition and continue to benefit from ongoing urbanisation. We have a clear pathway to decarbonise our business and are actively developing technologies that will enable our customers and our customers’ customers to decarbonise.

“We are able to do this, while continuing to provide attractive returns to our shareholders in line with our policy, because we have a strong balance sheet and world-class assets that deliver strong free cash flows through the cycle.”

The $10 billion ($US7.5 billion) in direct capital expenditure to be ploughed into decarbonising Rio Tinto’s assets from 2022 to 2030, will have a focus on renewable power for iron ore in the Pilbara and for the Australian aluminium smelters.

The company will kick off with a $0.5 billion per year spend in this area from 2022 to 2024.

Rio Tinto Aluminium is progressing options to switch the Boyne Island smelter at Gladstone and Tomago smelter in New South Wales to renewable energy.

It said this would require an estimated 5GW (equity basis) of solar and wind power, along with a robust firming solution.

Development of ELYSIS technology to eliminate carbon emissions from the smelting process is progressing, with commercial scale technology on track for 2024.

ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Alcoa and Rio Tinto that is developing technology known as inert anode to eliminate all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produce oxygen.

Rio Tinto predicted a positive outlook for the aluminium market driven by continued demand growth and supply-side constraints including ongoing pressures on fossil-fuel sourced energy.

At its iron ore operations in the Pilbara, decarbonisation will be accelerated by targeting the rapid deployment of 1GW of wind and solar power.

The company said full electrification of its Pilbara system, including all trucks, mobile equipment and rail operations, would require further gigawatt-scale renewable deployment and advances in fleet technologies.

Options to provide a greener steelmaking pathway for Pilbara iron ore are being investigated, including with biomass and hydrogen.

Rio Tinto flicks the switch on emissions
Vanadium developer QEM is seeking to connect with the proposed CopperString 2.0 high-voltage electricity transmission line to link the North West Minerals Province with the national electricity grid near Townsville.

Managing director Gavin Loyden said QEM planned to develop a mine, processing facilities and associated infrastructure to take advantage of the increasing supply gap associated with the global demand for vanadium pentoxide.

“We are encouraged by the fact the vanadium market is predicted to grow steadily due to increasing production of high-strength steel, upward trends with vanadium batteries and the emergence of vanadium in new technologies and that is why vanadium has been declared a ‘critical mineral’ by Australia, the USA, and Europe,” Mr Loyden said.

QEM is working towards the mining, extraction, processing, and export of vanadium pentoxide, oil shale and green hydrogen from its Julia Creek project.

The executive chairman of CopperString 2.0 proponent CuString. John O’Brien, said connection to CopperString’s high-voltage transmission network could be utilised by QEM to accommodate shortfalls and surpluses in power requirements for their industrial complex.

“QEM is focussed on the exploration and development of its Julia Creek project which sits to the immediate north of the proposed CopperString corridor,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We believe that affordable and reliable electricity delivered by CopperString’s connection to the National Electricity Market will help QEM to fulfill its ambitions and also unlock the globally significant reserves of critical minerals and rare earths in the North West Minerals Province.”

QEM has this week bolstered its board of directors with the appointment of John Henderson as a non-executive director.

Mr Henderson has more than 35 years’ experience in major project development, which includes executive roles with oil and mining multinationals, as well as mid-tier and start-up energy companies.

Among his achievements, Mr Henderson developed Rio Tinto’s unconventional energy project portfolio
in Mozambique.

Most recently, Mr Henderson has been with Siecap, a specialist project management consultancy which has been working with QEM to streamline the company’s green hydrogen strategy at Julia Creek.

Mr Loyden said Mr Henderson’s appointment came at an optimal time for the company.

“QEM is venturing into a new and exciting phase, with the company positioned to complete the oil and vanadium pilot plant development and subsequently advance to the first stage of the Julia Creek project pre-feasibility study,” Mr Loyden said.

“Having John come on the board will enhance his ability to help drive the company’s strategy to the next level to unlock the significant latent value potential the multi-commodity Julia Creek project possesses.”

Central Queensland is set to see the economic spin-offs from a $7.1 billion boost to the state’s train manufacturing industry, the State Government says.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Central Queensland would play a key role in the supply-chain as she released plans to build 65 trains in Maryborough, creating up to 3000 jobs throughout Queensland.

“At the election, we pledged $600 million to build 20 new trains in Maryborough with an option for a further 45,” she said.

“It’s now clear we’ll need a full complement of trains to cater for growth in years to come.”

Member for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke said the government was in the process of acquiring the Rockhampton Rail Workshops.

The government’s historic investment in Queensland rail manufacturing and supply would no doubt attract more rail suppliers to the region, he said.

“Once set up, the Rockhampton Rail Workshops have the potential to play a pivotal role in the supply chain.

“The industry can come to Central Queensland with confidence, knowing the Palaszczuk Government is committed to keeping rail manufacturing and supply local.”

It comes after the announcement last week Rockhampton manufacturer Austrak had secured a multi-million dollar contract extension to supply Queensland Rail with concrete sleepers over the next three years.

Austrak managing director Murray Adams said the company’s partnership with Queensland Rail had resulted in economic benefits for generations of Queenslanders.

“Queensland Rail is Austrak’s longest standing customer, and we are delighted that they have chosen to extend their sleeper contract,” Mr Adams said.

“The contract with Queensland Rail underpins our factory in Rockhampton and helps to keep over 50 people in regional jobs.”

The Federal and State governments have agreed to unlock $6 million in funding to help cover pre-construction work for the $60 million Big Rocks Weir project,  26km north of Charters Towers.

This funding, provided on a 50:50 split, will flow to Charters Towers Regional Council for activities including geotechnical work, environmental analysis and approvals and the development of a market-ready design.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Barnaby Joyce said the project would boost the economy and confidence of communities in the Charters Towers region.

“Supporting over 200 construction and ongoing jobs, this project will provide significant growth and employment opportunities for the region,” he said.

“Agriculture is the beating heart of Australia. Our regions have been doing it tough with recent bushfires, droughts and now a pandemic, and this project will provide a reliable and sustainable source of water to help our northern Queensland farmers to recover and grow their businesses into the future.”

Queensland Minister for Water Glenn Butcher said the construction of this weir was a unique opportunity to deliver an infrastructure project that would bring growth to the broader Charters Towers community.

“Local farmers can have confidence in planning for the future knowing that all levels of government are investing in new projects to deliver additional long-term water security,” Mr Butcher said.

“This project will develop a 188m-long, 10,000-megalitres-capacity weir at Big Rocks, supporting regional communities through an improved water supply network and creating more local jobs.”

The Australian Government has committed $54 million to the Hells Gates Dam Scheme, with $24 million to fully fund the detailed business case completed in August 2020 and $30 million towards the construction of the Big Rocks Weir.

Funding to kick along Big Rocks Weir work 
New Zealand-based Chatham Rock Phosphate has made a $12.3 million deal to acquire the Korella phosphate mine, 150km south-east of Mount Isa.

The company said it planned to supply the domestic fertiliser market rather than exporting the product via Townsville.

The Korella mine, owned by Australia Venus Resource, adjoins Incitec Pivot’s Phosphate Hill Mine.

A trial mining operation at Korella in 2015 recovered and stockpiled more than 10,000 tonnes of direct shipping phosphate from a shallow open pit.

Chatham said the stockpiled phosphate remained on site and would provide early cash flow with sales directly from the mine.

It plans to run Korella on a campaign mining basis to deliver selectively mined phosphate to the mine storage areas to be crushed on demand to meet market requirements.

“Production at Korella is expected to commence after the transfer of the lease to Chatham’s wholly-owned Australian subsidiary, Avenir Makatea Pty Ltd, trading as Korella Fertilizers,” Chatham said in a statemnet to the New Zealand stock exchnage.

“As the phosphate ore will be contract-mined and crushed, our capital costs are expected to be low. However, a detailed overall capital budget for the recommencement of the mine operation is presently being finalised.”

In addition to a significant low-cadmium phosphate resource at Korella, Chatham said exploration within the mining lease had identified a rare earth element (REE) resource which it would also look to capitalise on.

Chatham Rock Phosphate holds a mining permit over an area off the coast of New Zealand with significant seabed deposits of rock phosphate and other potentially valuable minerals which it hopes to extract.

The company described the acquisition of Korella as the next step in its strategy to build an international phosphate mining and trading house with a focus on low cadmium, organic phosphate.

The $12.3 million acquisition, subject to conditions, will be funded by a cash payment of $300,000, an issue of Chatham Rock Phosphate shares to the value of $2 million and $10 million in royalties payable in respect of the first million tonnes of rock phosphate sold.

A new conveyor dust suppression system installed at Glencore Port Operations in Townsville is delivering environmental and commercial benefits by reducing dust emissions and improving shiploading efficiency rates.

Zinc concentrate transported from Mount Isa and unloaded at the port is transferred to ships on a conveyor system for export to customers in Asia, Europe and North America as well as other parts of Australia.

Glencore Port Operations superintendent John Cordingley said the recent installation of a foam dust suppression system – commissioned mid-year – had been instrumental in reducing airborne dust from concentrate being transferred to vessels.

Foam is pumped to six outlets strategically positioned within the shiploading conveyor preventing dust particles from becoming airborne, which is one of the main advantages over alternative systems.

Several steps in the process have now been removed, with less pre-blending of concentrates in storage sheds and a fogging unit at the discharge point of the shiploader no longer required, creating a more efficient process.

Glencore said water sprays were previously used to control dust but at times were counterproductive with the product becoming sticky, which caused blockages in the chutes and held up the shiploading process.

Since the installation of the new system, Mr Cordingley said that vessels were being sent back into the market sooner, which was a significant economic advantage for the business.

“Due to the success of the project, we are investigating options to have a second foam dust suppression system installed on other parts of the out loading system,” he said.

“It’s important to continue the implementation of initiatives like this which streamline our processes and significantly contribute to improving air quality in and around the Port Operations.”