Rio Tinto has unveiled plans to commence development of the Koodaideri iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia next year.

With a final decision on the mine scheduled to be made before the end of this year, the company aims to begin production in 2021.

Over the next three years, the company expects to spend around $2.2bn on replacement mines including initial spending on the Koodaideri, West Angelas and Robe Valley developments.

“It will be a new production hub, which will be a key feature for the Pilbara for many years to come.”

Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said: “The Koodaideri orebody is 50km long and 5km wide. It will be a new production hub, which will be a key feature for the Pilbara for many years to come.”

A feasibility study on Koodaideri is under progress, with the project set to become the first mine to take full advantage of automation in trucking and drilling.

It is focused on the development of its automation and fully integrated system, with more than 4,500 mine-to-market productivity initiatives being pursued in the iron ore sector.

Currently, the company is operating 95 autonomous trucks and 11 autonomous drills.

The company intends to leverage the demand for the Pilbara Blend in the Chinese markets.

Salisbury added: “The steel industry in China has undergone a significant shift in recent times due to supply-side reforms and environmental policy improvements.

“We believe these reforms are structural and that our business is well positioned to take advantage of these changes due to robust demand for our high quality products, including the Pilbara Blend.”

Furthermore, Rio Tinto expects to implement its autonomous rail project, AutoHaul, by the end of the year.

Another key focus area is removing bottlenecks in rail and increasing flexibility, as the company aims to bring the rail and mine capacity in line with nameplate port capacity by the end of next year.

Additionally, the miner has outlined a drilling programme, which includes 700km of drilling scheduled at various operational hubs near existing mines, as well as exploration on new leases.