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Rio Tinto looks to mining in the future

By: Paul Hayes
12 March, 2010

Rio Tinto has announced plans to expand its Mine of the Future program in Western Australia, which will see the company develop new equipment and systems for deep underground mines.

Rio Tinto has selected three partners to work on the project, with Aker Wirth and Atlas Copco set to work individually with Rio developing two new tunneling concepts.

Herrenknecht will work with the company on the development of a new shaft boring machine.

Unveiled by Rio Tinto in January 2008 with a focus on the company's iron ore operations in the Pilbara, the Mine of the Future program is designed to create next generation mining technologies that will see improved efficiency, lower production costs, improved health and safety and environmental performance.

According to Rio Tinto, the two new tunneling concepts from Atlas Copco and Aker Wirth will enable fast and cost effective tunnel creation.

In a further attempt to streamline mining operations, the shaft boring machinery being developed by Herrenknecht is designed to combine rock excavation, rock transport and structural support, which are all currently undertaken as three separate processes, into a single system.

All three of the new concepts are being developed with significant input from Rio Tinto mining experts and contractor partners Redpath and Cementation, the company said.

"At the heart of our Mine of the Future programme is industry leading work to pioneer new technologies," Rio Tinto head of innovation John McGagh said.

"The partnerships 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."

While initially designed for mining operations in the Pilbara, the Mine if the Future program has also looked overseas.

As part of the program, Rio Tinto projects such as Resolution Copper in Arizona and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia will use a new underground block cave mining method which requires construction of significant underground infrastructure prior to ore production.

Rio Tinto Technology and Innovation said it hopes to significantly improve both the safety and speed of constructing underground infrastructure such as shafts and tunnels.

Rio Tinto, Atlas Copco and Herrenknecht presented information on their respective mining technologies at the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

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