Rio Tinto (50%) and Wright Prospecting (50%) have announced an agreement to modernise the joint venture covering the Rhodes Ridge project in the East Pilbara in Western Australia, which is home to one of the world’s largest and highest-quality undeveloped iron ore deposits.
In a statement, the companies explained that the binding joint venture updates an existing agreement between the two parties that dates back to 1972. It now provides a pathway for the development of the Rhodes Ridge deposits, while utilising Rio Tinto’s rail, port and power infrastructure.
As such, the participants have commenced an Order of Magnitude study, which will be conducted by Rio Tinto. The study will consider the development of an operation before the end of the decade, with an initial plant capacity of up to 40 million tonnes annually, subject to the receipt of relevant approvals.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott said: “Rhodes Ridge contains one of the biggest and best undeveloped iron ore deposits on the planet with proximate access to existing infrastructure. We are very excited we have been able to strengthen our relationship with Wright Prospecting and have a pathway to bring this high-quality resource to market.
“With its significant resource base, the Rhodes Ridge project has the potential to underpin production of the Pilbara Blend in the decades ahead,” he added.
Rhodes Ridge contains 5.8 billion tonnes of high-grade Mineral Resources at an average grade of 62.3% Fe. The project’s total resource, 6.7 billion tonnes at an average grade of 61.6% Fe, represents approximately one-third of Rio Tinto’s existing Resource base in the Pilbara.
A resource drilling program is currently underway to support future project studies, the statement continued.
A spokesperson for Wright Prospecting added: “We are delighted to have reached this important milestone for the Rhodes Ridge project. We look forward to partnering with Rio Tinto to develop this asset with a world-leading focus on climate, biodiversity and heritage.”
Located 40 kilometres north-west of Newman, the joint venture will utilise Rio Tinto’s existing rail, port and power infrastructure, including the planned installation of 1GW of renewable power assets in the Pilbara, the statement said.
“We are committed to working closely with the Traditional Owners, the Nyiyaparli and Ngarlawangga People, to ensure sites of significant cultural, environmental, and biodiversity value are protected as part of any future development at Rhodes Ridge. Consistent with our revised approach for new operations, a co-management approach to any future mining activity will be developed in partnership with Traditional Owners,” Trott added.
In a statement, the Western Australia government said that they welcomed the joint venture, pointing out that the Rhodes Ridge project is expected to create thousands of jobs and has the potential to underpin production of Rio Tinto’s iron ore in years to come, thus boosting the economy.
It will have a particular focus on climate, biodiversity and heritage, with existing rail, port and power infrastructure to be used, including the planned instalment of one gigawatt of renewable power assets in the Pilbara, it added.
"We welcome the Rhodes Ridge project and the opportunities it will bring to Western Australia," said Mark McGowan, Premier of Western Australia.
"This again reinforces our state’s strength as an ideal location for business and investment which will grow our economy, further contributing to record sales in our resources sector and investment in infrastructure."
The WA government added that the state's delivered a record AU$231 billion of mineral and petroleum sales in 2021-22, with iron ore maintaining its historically high status with sales of AU$137 billion.
"The benefits of this project will extend beyond the Pilbara region in creating thousands of jobs and contributing to our economy," added Roger Cook, State Development, Jobs and Trade Minister.
"We're committed to ensuring we continue to position ourselves as a secure and attractive destination for investment and employment."