Mining firm Rio Tinto has signed an agreement with renewable energy company Heliogen to explore the use of solar technology to power the Borax open-pit mine in Boron, California, US.

Heliogen will implement its artificial intelligence (AI) technology at the Boron operation to power the mine’s industrial processes.

The mine produces approximately 1Mt of refined borates annually.

Heliogen’s high-temperature solar technology is designed to use heat from the sun to generate and store carbon-free energy. The company aims to cost-effectively replace fossil fuels.

The companies are expected to start detailed planning for the project, with operations scheduled to commence from 2022.

Rio Tinto CEO 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.

“Our work with Heliogen is part of Rio Tinto’s commitment to spend approximately $1bn on emissions reduction initiatives through to 2025 and our commitment to work with world-leading technology providers to achieve this goal.”

The two parties will also assess the potential for deployments of Heliogen’s technology at Rio Tinto’s other operations.

Rio Tinto anticipates the larger scale use of the Heliogen technology at the Boron site to reduce up to 24% of carbon footprint.

Heliogen CEO and Founder Bill Gross said: “We’re also pleased that Rio Tinto is exploring our technology to play an important role in helping reach its sustainability goals while dramatically reducing its energy costs.

“More broadly, we’re excited to take this important step as we pursue Heliogen’s goal of avoiding more than one gigaton of CO₂ emissions – 5% of the world’s annual total – from the global economy by turning sunlight into an industrial energy source.”

According to estimates, the mine holds 16 million tonnes (Mt) of boron dioxide (B₂O₃) in proven and probable reserves.