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Rio Tinto hires new partners to develop new block cave mining technology

Rio Tinto (LSE, ASX: RIO) announced it is expanding the Mine of the Future programme to develop new equipment and systems for deep underground mines. The group 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 on the development of a new shaft boring machine.

Rio Tinto's initial Mine of the Future programme, unveiled in January 2008, focused on the Pilbara iron ore operations in Australia. In broad terms, the programme is designed to create next generation mining technologies, resulting in greater efficiency, lower production costs, and more attractive working conditions.

One of these next-generation mining technologies is the underground block cave mining method, which is planned to be deployed at Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper project in Arizona and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. The method requires the construction of significant underground infrastructure prior to ore production. Consequently, Rio Tinto has been engaged in a long-running development programme in order to significantly improve both the safety and speed of constructing underground infrastructure such as shafts and tunnels.

The two new tunnelling concepts from Atlas Copco and Aker Wirth will enable fast and cost effective tunnel creation, while the shaft boring machinery being developed by Herrenknecht will combine rock excavation, rock transport and structural support. The new boring machine will integrate these three currently separate functions into a single system.

According to Rio Tinto, each of the three new concepts are being developed  through the combination of civil tunnelling industry technologies, combined with input from its own mining experts, and contractor partners Redpath and Cementation.

“Our new partners will be very valuable in helping us to solve the challenges of developing block cave mines", McGagh concluded.

Disclosure: The author holds no positions in the company