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Rio Tinto selects solar technology for Boron mine

(Posted on 28/03/21)

International mining and metals company Rio Tinto and renewable energy technology company Heliogen has announced an agreement to explore the deployment of Heliogen’s breakthrough solar technology at Rio Tinto’s borates mine in Boron, California.

Rio Tinto produces high-quality iron ore, copper, aluminium and minerals that have an essential role in enabling the low-carbon transition.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding, Heliogen will deploy its proprietary, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technology at the Boron operation, where it will use heat from the sun to generate and store carbon-free energy to power the mine’s industrial processes. The two companies will begin detailed planning and securing government permits for the project, with the aim of starting operations from 2022. The companies will also use the Boron installation to begin exploring the potential for deployments of Heliogen’s technology at Rio Tinto’s other operations around the world to supply process heat, which accounted for 14 per cent of Scope 1 & 2 emissions from the Group’s managed operations in 2020.

Heliogen’s high-temperature solar technology is designed to cost-effectively replace fossil fuels with sunlight for a range of industrial processes, including those used in mining. At Rio Tinto’s Boron mine, the company’s proprietary technology will use AI to control a network of mirrors that concentrate sunlight to capture energy used to make steam. Heliogen’s system will also store the captured energy in the form of heat, allowing it to power nighttime operations and providing the same uninterrupted energy stream offered by legacy fuels.

The Boron operation mines and refines borates into products ranging from fertilizers to construction materials and is producing lithium carbonate from a demonstration plant. The site currently generates steam using a natural gas cogeneration plant and natural gas fired boilers. Heliogen’s installation will supplement these energy sources by generating up to 35,000 pounds per hour of steam to power operations, with the potential to reduce carbon emissions at the Boron site by around 7 per cent – equivalent to taking more than 5,000 cars off the road. Rio Tinto will also be assessing the potential for larger scale use of the Heliogen technology at Boron to reduce the site’s carbon footprint by up to 24 per cent.

Heliogen’s mission of slashing global carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with sunlight, as well as its focus on industrial sectors, made them an ideal partner for Rio Tinto, which is committed to decarbonizing its global operations.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said: “This partnership with Heliogen has the potential to significantly reduce our emissions at Boron by using this groundbreaking solar technology, and we look forward to exploring opportunities across our global portfolio.

“Addressing climate change effectively will require businesses, governments and society to work together through partnerships like this one, to explore innovative new solutions throughout the entire value chain. Our work with Heliogen is part of Rio Tinto’s commitment to spend approximately $1 billion on emissions reduction initiatives through to 2025 and our commitment to work with world-leading technology providers to achieve this goal.”

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