Rio Tinto poised to ramp up mineral recovery from waste rock

Global mining giant Rio Tinto is embarking on a pioneering minerals recovery programme that will separate valuable ore from waste rock during underground tunnelling operations.

The company has teamed up with TOMRA Sorting Solutions, a Norwegian supplier of automated sensor-based systems used in recycling and food processing, to develop the separation technology on a commercial scale.

The project, which forms part of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future programme to reduce costs and improve environmental performance, has the capability to be “a potential game-changer in the mining industry” according to the company’s head of innovation John McGagh.

McGagh said: “We are developing machines that use digital and sensing technologies to detect and separate the mineral from rock waste so that we can improve rates of recovery from what is currently being treated as waste rock.”

The work will include scaling up the mining firm’s iron ore and copper sorting technologies to sort up to 1,000 tonnes of rock an hour.

McGagh added: “There is increasing minerals demand around the world, especially from emerging markets. As minerals become harder to mine, it’s innovation from modern science and technology that’s the key to meeting this challenge in a safe and environmentally-friendly way.”

Rio Tinto is also partnering with UK-based e2V to develop machines to improve the efficiency of mineral recovery from previously discarded ore. The machinery uses large-scale microwave and radio frequency generators and is expected to set a new world standard in mineral recovery.

Maxine Perella

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