Rio Tinto expands Mine of the Future programme

Rio Tinto is expanding its Mine of the Future™ programme to develop new equipment and systems for deep underground mines and has selected three partners to work on the project. Aker Wirth and Atlas Copco will individually work with Rio Tinto to develop two new tunneling concepts and Herrenknecht will work with the Group on the development of a new shaft boring machine.

Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future™ programme was unveiled in January 2008 and initially focused on the Group’s Pilbara iron ore operations.  The programme is designed to create next generation technologies for mining operations that result in greater efficiency, lower production costs, improved health, safety and environmental performance, and more attractive working conditions.

Projects such as Resolution Copper in Arizona and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia will use an underground block cave mining method.  This method requires construction of significant underground infrastructure prior to ore production.  In anticipation of this need, Rio Tinto Technology and Innovation has been engaged in a long-running development programme to improve significantly both the safety and speed of constructing underground infrastructure such as shafts and tunnels.

The two new tunneling concepts from Atlas Copco and Aker Wirth will enable fast and cost effective tunnel creation.  The shaft boring machinery being developed by Herrenknecht will combine rock excavation, rock transport and structural support – currently three separate processes – into a single system.  All three new concepts are a result of civil tunneling industry technologies combined with input from Rio Tinto mining experts and contractor partners Redpath and Cementation.

John McGagh, Rio Tinto Head of Innovation, said, “At the heart of our Mine of the Future™ programme is industry-leading work to pioneer new technologies.  The partnerships announced today will help us fundamentally change the world of underground mining by further improving safety and allowing more rapid construction of new underground mines.  Our new partners will be very valuable in helping us to solve the challenges of developing block cave mines.”

The Rio Tinto, Atlas Copco and Herrenknecht teams will present information on their respective mining breakthroughs at the upcoming Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration conference on 1-3 March 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.

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