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Rio Tinto and Canadian mining company Fortune Minerals have joined forces on the development of new technology to improve the recovery of critical minerals such as cobalt and bismuth.

The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in this regard, with an aim to maximise the value of the critical mineral supply chain.

The companies will conduct tests at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott integrated copper mining and smelting operations in Utah, US, and at Fortune’s planned refinery in Alberta, Canada.

These processes will result in Fortune’s cobalt and bismuth refining operations to process co-product streams of minerals recovered at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott smelter.

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By GlobalData

Rio Tinto and Fortune will assess several process methods and technology options to recover the minerals from Kennecott’s smelter waste streams.

This assessment will include the effectiveness of blending Rio Tinto’s intermediate products with NICO project concentrates, as well as use Fortune’s refinery flow sheets to conduct batch recovery tests.

The partnership follows the Canadian and the US governments’ Joint Action Plan on Critical Mineral Collaboration, signed in 2020, that enables critical minerals used in new technologies, to be produced within the North American region.

Cobalt and bismuth were included in the list and have a role to play in sustainable energy resources.

Rio Tinto Kennecott managing director Nate Foster said: “We are committed to finding better ways to provide the materials the world needs to grow and decarbonise. We are enthusiastic about this partnership with Fortune Minerals as we continue looking at our waste streams to develop new, sustainable sources of critical minerals here in North America.”

Fortune Minerals president and CEO Robin Goad said: “Working with Rio Tinto to recover metals from their co-product streams is part of our corporate strategy to expand production of critical minerals, and we are excited to be working with one of the world’s premier mining companies on the first of these opportunities.

“This collaboration could provide a solution to support greater production of the metals needed for the energy transition and growing sustainable economy.”

Rio Tinto’s Kennecott integrated operations outside of Salt Lake City have been mining and processing copper and other minerals such as gold, silver, molybdenum and tellurium from the rich ore body of the Bingham Canyon mine.

Fortune is developing a vertically integrated NICO cobalt-gold-bismuth-copper project in Canada. The project includes a planned mine, mill, concentrator and a hydrometallurgical refinery in Alberta, where the concentrates from the mine will be processed.