Rio Tinto

Low Impact Mining Challenge

Low Impact Mining Challenge

Seeking ideas for new mining approaches to reduce the footprint on the area mined and avoid the need for traditionally costly infrastructure

Challenge Overview

Rio Tinto supplies the metals and minerals that help the world to grow. Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT), the group originating this challenge, is continuously looking for new deposits of mineral sands to mine, which contain valuable heavy minerals such as ilmenite, zircon and rutile. These deposits can be high in grade but small in size, or of considerable size but low in grade and located in difficult to mine areas, creating social and environmental concerns.

Traditional sand mining methods include significant infrastructure and disruption to the area in order to perform initial mineral concentration on-site, using wet separation methods. In this challenge, we seek your ideas for conceptual solutions related to new mining approaches whereby mineral sands are mined and processed using unconventional means that minimize or eliminate the need for water, infrastructure or other disruptions to the area.

The Guidelines and Technical Description sections of this challenge further outline the key process steps we are exploring, including excavation, initial separation/concentration, and backfill of materials. We are looking for conceptual solutions and novel ideas for addressing these process steps, including potential combination approaches. Your ideas can address one part of the process or all of the elements that are defined to be within scope. 

This is an Ideation Challenge, where a guaranteed $25K award pool will be shared among winning solutions selected by Rio Tinto. Winners (and all Challenge participants) will retain ownership of their ideas, but provide Rio Tinto with a royalty-free, non-exclusive right to your awarded idea. There is also a high likelihood that Rio Tinto will launch a follow-on, larger-scale challenge during 2020, with up to $500k in awards for more complete and validated solutions. The later challenge would be open to participants in this first challenge, as well as any other innovators who are interested in participating.


About Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto supplies the metals and minerals that help the world to grow. Under our group-wide organizational structure, four product groups – Aluminum, Copper & Diamonds, Energy & Minerals and Iron Ore – are complemented by our Growth & Innovation and Commercial groups.

Our 47,000 people work in around 35 countries across six continents. We are strongly represented in Australia and North America; we also have significant businesses in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.

RTIT (Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium), part of Energy & Minerals, is the group originating this challenge.

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Description of the Current Process

The current process consists of dredging and physically separating the valuable heavy minerals sand from silica sand using centrifugal spirals and electrostatic and magnetic separators (Average ratio of 5-10% HM to 90-95% silica). The process does not require chemical processing of the minerals.  On average, Rio Tinto mineral sand dredging operations are mining approximately 100 to 200 Hectares of land yearly.

The mining preparation process implies that any vegetation remaining ahead of the dredge is removed before mining and a continuous process of ecological restoration or reforestation with fast-growing tree species is following immediately behind the dredge.

After dredging, the sand minerals are separated by feeding a mixture of sand and water through centrifugal spirals, in a plant floating behind the dredge. The fresh-water supply for this separation process is coming from nearby water sources. Freshwater is used for mineral separation to permit ecological rehabilitation of the land following mining. 

Following initial separation at the floating wet plant, the heavy mineral concentrate is then pumped to a fixed mineral separation plant for final mineral separation.

In the fixed mineral separation plant, the ilmenite and small quantities of zircon are separated by additional centrifugal spirals and by electrostatic and magnetic separators. Both the ilmenite and small quantities of zircon are then transported by truck to shipping facilities, for export. The non-valuable minerals, resulting from the secondary separation are returned to the deposit area.



Particle size distribution to be tested