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Rio Tinto accelerates Africa plans as iron ore shores up profits

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-biggest miner, is accelerating its work on potential development of the giant Simandou iron ore project in Guinea as half-year earnings showed the steel-making ingredient dominated the producer’s profits.

New studies with partners are aimed at cutting the project’s capital intensity, operating costs and development timetable, with some fieldwork to start this half, London-based Rio said Wednesday in an earnings statement. Profit fell 4% to about $4.8 billion in the first six months as stronger iron ore prices helped to offset a coronavirus-fueled slump in aluminum and copper markets.

“There is a growing demand for high-quality iron ore and I think Simandou is one of the best sources of high-grade iron ore,” Chief Executive Officer Jean-Sebastien Jacques told reporters. “It’s important for people to understand that Simandou will happen with or without Rio Tinto involvement.”

Rio, which has surpassed Brazil’s Vale SA as the top supplier of iron ore, could generate an additional $1 billion in annual revenue by replacing some lower-grade exports from Australia with better quality material from Guinea, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Paul Young wrote in a July 23 note.

Forming a joint venture between two separate projects at the vast site could also cut total capital expenditure by as much as $7 billion, through the sharing of costs for rail, port and power infrastructure, the Goldman analysts said.

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Rio controls 45% of Simandou’s blocks 3 and 4, and steel giant China Baowu Steel Group is leading a consortium to acquire a 40% stake in that project held by Aluminum Corp. of China, Caixin reported last month.

A separate Simandou venture about 70 kilometers (44 miles) to the north, could be up and running within five years, producing about 60 million tons a year in an initial stage, according to Societe Miniere de Boke, part of a consortium with Singapore’s Winning Shipping Ltd. and Guinea’s government.

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