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Rio Tinto’s iron ore shipments surge to second highest level in company history

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By Colin Hay - 
Rio Tinto ASX mining resources Pilbara iron ore

Global mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) continues to power ahead thanks to its world-class Pilbara iron ore operations.

A strong fourth quarter that saw the Pilbara site produce 331.5 million tonnes, up 2% on the same 2022 period, helped Rio achieve full year shipments of 331.8Mt.

This was approximately 3% higher than in the whole of 2022.

The company pointed to improved productivity, supported by its ongoing implementation of the safe production system and the ramp-up of the Gudai-Darri project to its nameplate capacity of 43Mtpa, as providing key impetus for overall shipments, which were the second highest on record.

Rio also confirmed that its 2024 production guidance is unchanged since December 2023, with expectations for Pilbara iron ore shipments in 2024 remaining at 323 to 338Mt.

The company’s guidance for its 2023 Pilbara iron ore unit cash costs is unchanged at the lower half of the $21 to $22.50 per tonne range.

Pilbara still growing

Already a major player in Western Australia, Rio is continuing to grow its Pilbara iron ore assets.

The company said construction of the Western Range mine is currently on schedule with civil work well advanced, while work on the primary crusher works, bulk earthworks and mine pre-strip are making good progress.

Rio also reported it continues to advance its next tranche of Pilbara mine replacement project studies including those for Hope Downs 1 (Hope Downs 2 and Bedded Hilltop), Brockman 4 (Brockman Syncline 1), Greater Nammuldi and West Angelas.

Rhodes Ridge potential

In early December, Rio announced approval of a $77m pre-feasibility study (PFS) to progress development of the Rhodes Ridge project in the East Pilbara – one of the world’s best undeveloped iron ore deposits.

The commencement of the PFS follows completion of an order of magnitude study that considered development of an operation with initial capacity of up to 40Mtpa, subject to relevant approvals.

The PFS is expected to be completed by the end of 2025 and will be followed by a feasibility study.

First ore from the initial development is expected by the end of this decade.

Rio Tinto is planning to spend more than $400m on exploration at Rhodes Ridge over five years from 2024 to 2028 as part of the ongoing study phases.

Study work to date indicates a staged development with an initial hub likely to be located in the northern part of the project, adjacent to existing rail infrastructure.

In 2022, Rio Tinto and Wright Prospecting, each of whom has a 50% interest in the project, agreed to modernise the joint venture covering the Rhodes Ridge project, located 40km north-west of Newman.

Rhodes Ridge contains 6.8 billion tonnes of mineral resources at an average grade of 61.6% iron, including 5.3Bt at 62.2% iron and 0.6Bt at 63.9% iron.