Miner signs MOU with Cat for lithium-boron project

By Chad Elmore19 February 2021

Ioneer mine expected to be the first greenfield operation in North America to use an autonomous haul system.

Ioneer Ltd., an emerging lithium-boron supplier, has announced the completion of a joint automation study conducted with Caterpillar and its dealer for Nevada, Cashman Equipment Co. The study targeted the early introduction of Cat Command for Hauling autonomous haul system (AHS) at Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project in Esmerelda county, Nevada.

The results of the Rhyolite Ridge feasibility study show the viability of AHS at the mine and the proposed application of AHS could positively impact the overall cost structure of the operations. The mining company said fully integrated mining automation systems offer improvements in operator safety, equipment utilization and site productivity.

Key anticipated drivers include increased operating hours, reduced cycle times and improved cycle efficiency, and decreased operating costs in terms of maintenance, fuel, labor and tires. AHS is also expected to improve in-cycle productivity and overall utilization, reducing the number of trucks required.

Cat haul truck A Caterpillar 785 haul truck.

Ioneer and Caterpillar have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the use of Cat Command for Hauling at the Rhyolite Ridge mine. The companies have engaged in preliminary, non-binding negotiations regarding the terms of the proposed transaction and intend to negotiate formal agreements in the coming months. The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment.

The operations are scheduled to start in 2023 with a fleet of Cat 785 Next Generation mining trucks equipped with Cat Command for Hauling, and the fleet is scheduled to expand significantly in year four. All support equipment will feature the latest MineStar technology utilizing high-precision GPS and real-time analytics to help maximize efficiency and accuracy in material loading.

When operational, it will be the first greenfield operation in North America to utilize AHS and will mark the expansion of Command for Hauling automation technology to the 140-tonne class Cat 785 Next Generation mining truck.

“Our agreement with Caterpillar represents much more than just the purchase of equipment; it is a true ongoing partnership as we commence production at Rhyolite Ridge,” said Ioneer’s managing director, Bernard Rowe. “We are very pleased with the results of the automation study and look forward to working with Caterpillar, Cashman, and Intermountain Mining Technology in our effort to produce materials that are vital to a sustainable future. The incorporation of an autonomous haulage system and other Caterpillar technologies at Rhyolite Ridge will only further our goal to improve project safety and operational efficiency.”

The fleet and initial auxiliary equipment will all be equipped with Cat MineStar Terrain, sold and supported by Intermountain Mining Technologies, an authorized distributor with an office in Elko, Nev. This GPS system provides improved data for drilling, excavation, grading and dozing and should allow for better delineation of the overburden and ore for Rhyolite Ridge.

As stated in an October 2020 release, the equipment and services supplied by Caterpillar during the first five years of operation is valued at approximately $100 million.

Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project is the only known lithium-boron deposit in North America and one of only two known such deposits in the world. Last month, the company announced that its metallurgy and process engineering team successfully converted lithium carbonate from its pilot plant into battery grade lithium hydroxide, which the company said demonstrated its ability to provide high purity technical grade lithium carbonate and battery grade lithium hydroxide to the battery electric vehicle sector.

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