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Rio Tinto recently announced plans to invest $270 million in the construction of a new molybdenum autoclave process (MAP) facility at its Kennecott Utah Copper (KUC) Bingham Canyon operation in Salt Lake City. The facility will enable lower-grade concentrate to be processed more efficiently than conventional roasters, allow improved molybdenum recovery and operating flexibility, and enable production of chemical-grade molybdenum products.
“The outlook for molybdenum demand is very strong, driven by the rapid urbanization and industrialization of China and India,” said Tom Albanese, chief executive of Rio Tinto. “KUC is one of the world’s lowest cost producers of copper, and molybdenum and gold production at Bingham Canyon are major contributors to this position.”
Molybdenum is a by-product of copper production and is used in metal alloys, including steel, to enhance toughness, high-temperature strength and corrosion resistance. It is also a key component in oil refining catalysts used to remove sulfur from fuel and improve air quality. Molybdenum has been a major contributor to the profitability of Rio Tinto’s Copper Group in recent years and is likely to continue to be in the future. The investment will enable Rio Tinto to increase revenue, expand molybdenum production, simplify operations, provide flexibility in mine planning and contribute to its sustainable development initiatives.
“This capital investment will prove to be a tremendous future benefit to Rio Tinto,” said Bret Clayton, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s Copper Group. “MAP will provide significant financial upside and allow us to use energy more efficiently, enhancing our environmental stewardship.”
MAP will also make it possible for Rio Tinto to recover rhenium from its concentrate and become a secure long-term supplier. This is a high-margin market where the average spot price in the last three months was $4300 per pound. The facility will have capacity to produce up to 9000 lbs of rhenium per year.
The MAP design includes a number of energy conservation features and an environmentally responsible technique for producing molybdenum products. A steam recovery system will be included to capture excess steam from the autoclave for use in downstream processes. This recycle system will supply about 40% of the plant’s thermal requirements and emit significantly less sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide by processing molybdenum concentrate through MAP.
Visit www.riotinto.com for more information.