Rio Tinto has approved a $749 million (A$1 billion) investment in its existing Greater Tom Price operations to help sustain the production capacity of its world-class iron ore business in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The investment in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 (WTS2) mine will facilitate mining of existing and new deposits and includes construction of a new crusher as well as a 13-kilometre conveyor.

The new conveyor system will help lower greenhouse gas emissions from the mine by 3.5 per cent compared to road haulage and the business is continuing to assess additional options to reduce emissions including renewable energy solutions.

Pending final government approvals, construction will start in the first quarter of 2020 with first ore from the crusher expected in 2021. Production of high-quality Brockman ore will support the company’s flagship Pilbara Blend, which continues to be the preferred baseload product for China’s steel mills.

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The project is expected to deliver an attractive internal rate of return with a capital intensity of about $25 per tonne of production capacity. The investment is included in Rio Tinto’s existing guidance for Pilbara replacement capital for 2020 to 2022.

As part of the investment, the haul truck fleet at the mine will be fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology to enable autonomous haulage at WTS2 from 2021.

The ongoing deployment of autonomous haulage at the company’s Pilbara operations is delivering significant safety benefits as well as enhancing productivity and reducing costs.