Canada-based bauxite mining company Rio Tinto Alcan is planning to expand its Weipa bauxite mining operation in Australia to cater to the growing demand for bauxite in China.

Bauxite at Weipa was first reported in the late 1700s in remote north Queensland, around 600km from Cairns.

Rio Tinto Alcan, which owns 100% of the Weipa bauxite mine, undertook a feasibility study to extend its Weipa bauxite mine near the Embley River and secured approval for the project in May 2012 from the Queensland Coordinator-General.

The mine, which has indicated ore reserves of around 1.2 billion tonnes in an area of approximately 2,500km², produced 23.7 million tonnes of metal-grade bauxite in 2012.

Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum unit chief executive officer Jacynthe Cote told reporters that bauxite is ‘the healthiest’ of the three products sold by the company.

"China imports a great deal of bauxite and output is constrained.

"When we think about the next project we could seriously take a look at, it’s definitely the expansion of our Weipa bauxite mine," Cote added.

Although the number of bauxite deposits in China make the country one of the world’s leading bauxite resources by volume, the resources have low ratios of alumina and silica.

In April, China imported 6.74 million tonnes of bauxite, up 29.72% year-on-year, according to Chinese customs data.

From January to April, bauxite imports in China amounted to 20.65 million tonnes, up by 14.62% from the same period last year.

Following this, Rio Tinto Alcan expects to produce 34 million tonnes of bauxite in 2013.

Annual production at its Weipa bauxite mine is around 16.3 million tonnes per annum, with most of the mined bauxite shipped to Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) and Rio Tinto Alcan’s Yarwun Alumina Refinery.

Based in Montreal, Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan is a merger between Rio Tinto PLC’s Canadian subsidiary, Rio Tinto Canada Holding and Canadian company Alcan.

Image: China imported 6.74 million tonnes of bauxite in April. Photo: Courtesy of Werner Schellmann.

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