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Rio Tinto looks to copper future

AAP logoAAP 2/08/2016 Kim Christian

Mining giant Rio Tinto is keen to add a major new copper resource to its books and is teaming up with junior explorers in the hope of finding the next big world-class asset.

Rio Tinto's group executive of growth and innovation, Stephen McIntosh, says the miner is exploring for eight commodities across 17 countries at present, with a global greenfields exploration budget of around US$200 million per year.

"We see copper as an attractive commodity sector," Mr McIntosh told the Diggers and Dealers mining conference in Kalgoorlie on Tuesday.

"We like to describe ourselves as commodity agnostic but it's fair to say we're keen to find a tier one copper asset."

In the past year Rio Tinto has signed 10 partnerships with junior explorers in Australia, Chile, the United States, Serbia, Zambia and Botswana.

Rio is slowly building up its global exploration budget after slashing it by more than $1 billion in 2012 following major writedowns.

The company is now focusing its efforts on OECD countries and wants to carry out greenfields exploration to ensure it has a pipeline of high quality options to grow its business.

"The best way to do that is through fresh discovery," Mr McIntosh said.

It has been decades since a tier one discovery was made in Australia, he said.

"It's long overdue," said Mr McIntosh.

"Now we want to continue to build a deeper, lasting relationship with the junior mining sector."

Mr McIntosh said the company's ambition to deliver a tier one copper deposit would not be easy.

Internal analysis shows globally, tier one greenfields copper discoveries are made on average once every four years.

It takes around 25 years from the inception of the initial exploration program to reach first production.

In Australia, Rio Tinto's Perth and Brisbane offices host the majority of exploration geologists and the company plans to use technology to "turbocharge" discovery selection and activity.

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