Rio’s new mine taps aluminium boom


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Amrun mines the huge bauxite reserves first found on Cape York in 1955 by geologist Harry Evans, who was being guided by native Aboriginal man George Wilson (Piramu). Bauxite is a key ingredient within the manufacture of aluminium.

The mine is working beneath a 40-year lease, however Rio chief government Jean-Sebastien Jacques mentioned on Friday that there was such a major reserve within the space that it might doubtlessly final for many years past that.

Jacques mentioned there was a vivid outlook for aluminium, with demand being pushed by elements like light-weighting, and concern about local weather change. Aluminium is utilized in cell phones, aeroplanes, automobiles, for instance.

“Aluminium is clearly a product of the longer term … we’re very properly positioned to produce the bauxite both to help our aluminium trade in Australia, or to help our prospects in China,” he mentioned.

Amrun is on the Western coast of Cape York – greater than 40 kilometres south of Weipa – one in every of Australia’s most distant cities -and is the primary mine opened by the Anglo-Australian mining big since 2017.

Its anticipated life places the Weipa neighborhood on monitor for a couple of century of bauxite mining. It’s because Rio or its predecessors have already been mining bauxite within the Weipa area for 55 years.

The miner says Amrun will increase Rio’s annual bauxite export capability by round 10 million tonnes, at a time when higher-grade bauxite is changing into scarcer across the globe. A few of Rio’s competitiors for bauxite embody Australian miners South32 and Alumina and American Alcoa.


Rio’s Weipa bauxite mining operation covers three totally different mines, Amrun, East Weipa and Andoom. All are moderately shut to 1 one other and are thought-about one wider operation. The brand new mine and related services will substitute the depleting East Weipa mine, which is nearing the tip of its working life.

Bauxite flows like a waterfall into the hull of the Illawarra Fortune at the Chith export facility adjoining Rio Tinto's new Amrun bauxite mine on Thursday.

Bauxite flows like a waterfall into the hull of the Illawarra Fortune on the Chith export facility adjoining Rio Tinto’s new Amrun bauxite mine on Thursday.Credit score:Joseph Mayers

At a ceremony held on Friday to declare the mine formally open, Jacques described aluminium as “one of many fastest-growing base metals on this planet,” including that demand was forecast to stay strong and to develop steadily.

I believe everybody has a little bit little bit of Queensland after they have their cell phone with them.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

“Amrun will present jobs, help companies and contribute to progress within the area for the following 50 years, constructing on $2.2 billion of contracts with native, state and nationwide companies [during construction],” he mentioned.

About half of the bauxite from the Amrun mine can be shipped by the Torres Strait and throughout to Rio’s Yarwun alumina refinery close to Gladstone, on Queensland’s east coast. The opposite half can be exported to prospects in China, who will course of the bauxite and switch it into aluminium.

The Amrun mine’s location and about 800 kilometres away from Cairns, means the mine could be very, very distant.

However regardless of the challenges of constructing an enormous mine on Cape York, a location that receives about 2000 millimetres of rain a yr and the odd cyclone, Rio constructed the mine beneath price range and forward of schedule.

The mine had a mission price range of $2.6 billion, however got here in about $140 million under that determine. Amrun additionally dispatched its first cargo of bauxite greater than six weeks forward of schedule, when the RTM Weipa set sail in early December.

Rio says the choice to have a wharf and jetty in-built seven modules abroad, and assembled collectively on the Amrun web site “like a large jigsaw puzzle”, diminished building instances, prices and security dangers.

The wharf and jetty lengthen out into the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria by about one kilometre. When The Age and Sydney Morning Herald visited this week sea birds stretched their wings and flew overhead, whereas within the water under a handful of sharks swum by.

Stationed beside the wharf was the ship named the Illawarra Fortune, which was being loaded with 77,090 tonnes of bauxite ore.

 Rio Tinto CEO JS Jacques at the Amrun mine opening ceremony.

Rio Tinto CEO JS Jacques on the Amrun mine opening ceremony.Credit score:Joseph Mayers

Excessive up within the cabin sat ship loader operator Lachlan Hogan. He was controlling an enormous piece of equipment generally known as the “bucket wheel reclaimer”. The enormous machine grabbed large portions of bauxite, that are then despatched by conveyor belt from the mine and alongside the wharf to the ship loader.

It’s Hogan’s job to rigorously place the ship loader in order that the bauxite drops into the proper place of the hull and to load the ship steadily.

When  the SMH and Age joined him within the cabin, many storeys above the water’s floor, 31,351 tonnes of bauxite had been loaded, which put the loading operation nearing the half-way mark. The ship loader hundreds ore at a charge of about 12,000 tonnes an hour.

Again on dry land, at Weipa, Sebastian Ah-Wang just lately began a brand new function in Rio’s bauxite operations, changing into a crew chief within the gentle car workshop. Whereas most of his work can be performed contained in the workshop, typically he can be out on the new mine.

Native workers

He’s accountable for gentle car servicing and repairs, together with small vans and utilities used on web site. Servicing the sunshine automobiles used at Amrun he described as “the latest problem for me. As a result of in the intervening time we now have to ship them over from Amrun to get serviced, they arrive over on a barge, get serviced after which we ship them again”.

The 38-year-old has labored for Rio for nearly 9 years, and mentioned the work is rewarding and satisfying.

“It is all the time totally different. There’s all the time new challenges. They’re all the time asking you to attempt to discover new methods to do issues,” he mentioned.

Ah-Wang has each Torres Strait and Yupanthgi heritage, with the latter being one of many conventional proprietor teams which are a signatory to Rio’s Aboriginal agreements overlaying indigenous land mined by Rio.


About 25 per cent of the 1300 employees at Rio’s bauxite mining operations at Cape York are indigenous, with lots of them native Aboriginal folks.

Ah-Wang mentioned it was pleasing to see indigenous folks being employed in mining, “particularly the youthful folks, the folks popping out of faculty”.

“Generally it is like a ceremony of passage for a younger child. Mum works within the mine, dad works within the mine, and the younger child will develop up and work within the mine,” he mentioned.

That is the case for each indigenous and non-indigenous locals, he mentioned.

“I’ve some mates, and the entire household (work in mining). The dad’s a diesel fitter, the son’s a diesel fitter, the youthful brother’s a diesel fitter, the daughter’s a diesel fitter, and mum drives vans,” he mentioned.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and federal Assets Minister Matthew Canavan additionally attended the official ceremony on the big wharf, generally known as the Chith export facility.

Palaszczuk mentioned Rio’s new mine was “an incredible funding in Queensland,” and the bauxite could be used to make aluminium that may finally find yourself in cell phones, aeroplanes, automobiles and plenty of extra purposes.

“I believe everybody has a little bit little bit of Queensland after they have their cell phone with them,” she mentioned.

Canavan mentioned the truth that bauxite was mined in Australia, and that a few of it was processed right here too, was an essential characteristic of the trade.

“It is a distinctive shining gentle in our assets trade, the bauxite story. The place we now have efficiently developed downstream industries on the again of it. I need to hold that, and I need to hold sturdy manufacturing in Australia. It is a strategic asset for us,” he mentioned.

Amrun operations supervisor Troy McNamara mentioned the mine was properly out of the development part and had already produced about four million tonnes of bauxite.

“All the pieces is sweet and soiled,” he mentioned.

The reporter travelled to Amrun as a visitor of Rio Tinto.

Darren is the mining and agribusiness reporter for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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