Rio Tinto Kennecott is committed to using sustainable and efficient energy resources. Explore the map to learn how.

It takes a significant amount of energy to extract and produce the copper and other minerals Rio Tinto Kennecott provides. We are committed to finding more efficient ways to power our operation and reduce our energy consumption.

Combined heat and power system

At Kennecott, we are committed to researching and implementing additional ways of increasing power supply and energy efficiency throughout our operations. The new $10-million, 6.2-megawatt (MW) combined heat and power (CHP) system that we commissioned in December 2010 at our refinery is an excellent example of this commitment. The CHP system is more than 80 percent energy efficient compared to separate heat and power systems, which are estimated to be less than 50 percent efficient. The 6.2-MW CHP system produces enough electricity to power 6,000 average-sized homes.

CHP, also known as cogeneration, is an efficient, clean and reliable approach to generating power and thermal energy from a single fuel source. The refinery CHP system meets the steam requirements of the refinery and provides up to 50 percent of the electrical needs of the plant.

The steam produced by waste heat from this CHP system replaces steam that was previously supplied by a natural gas boiler system. It increases the facility's operational efficiency and decreases energy costs. At the same time, CHP reduces the emission of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change. CHP technology represents an innovative approach to energy planning because the electrical power is being generated on-site rather than at an off-site power plant - an approach called "distributed generation."

The CHP system uses a natural-gas-fired turbine generator combined with a heat-recovery steam boiler to capture heat from hot turbine exhaust for the efficient production of process steam used at the refinery. In addition to powering 50 percent of the plant's electrical needs, the CHP system reduces air emissions by more than 90 percent. 

With the addition of the refinery CHP, our power supply from alternative and high-efficiency power sources is now at 13 percent. 

Key benefits of our CHP system:

  • Produces up to 6.2 MW per hour — equivalent to the electrical needs of 6,000 average-size homes
  • Produces up to 70,000 pounds of steam per hour
  • Provides distributed onsite steam and power production for use in the copper refining process
  • Improves power generating efficiency to above 80 percent, compared to about 50 percent for traditional power plants
  • Diversifies our energy generation portfolio and improves power reliability
Smelter cogeneration

The smelter captures and converts the waste heat from the flash smelting and converting furnaces at the acid plant to generate about two-thirds of its electrical demands. The smelter recovers the heat as a low-pressure steam, which is combined with exhaust steam from the acid plant steam turbine compressors. The steam makes its way to the powerhouse where up to 32 megawatts of electricity can be produced in a steam turbine generator.

Solar and wind

An important part of ensuring responsible mineral production is to continually reduce the environmental impact of our energy supply. Kennecott has made a number of energy supply improvements, including the increased usage of renewable energy such as micro-wind turbines and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Kennecott has installed five micro-wind turbines, or windspires, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 12 metric tons per year. They can generate up to 1.2 kilowatts of renewable energy when wind conditions are favorable. The windspires generate approximately 10,000 kilowatts of electricity each year, which is about the amount consumed by one average home.

In addition to generating renewable energy, this system collects valuable wind, sunlight and temperature data, which can be used to determine the location’s solar resource to predict the output of future solar PV systems at Kennecott.

The PV system is part of a Rio Tinto initiative to install solar monitoring systems at all its operations. Rio Tinto has installed more than 20 systems already, primarily in Australia. The data collected will help Rio Tinto prioritize where to install larger solar PV systems globally as they become more competitive with traditional sources of electricity.

Idle reduction program

The award-winning Vehicle Idling Reduction Program started in 2008 as a pilot program and continues to grow each year. The goal is to have 100 percent of our vehicles fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) Insight monitoring equipment. The GPS Insight monitoring system tracks location, idling time, fuel usage, speed and other vehicle metrics.

The idle reduction program has been highly successful and has returned many benefits in fuel savings and emission reductions. Since 2008, the program has grown from 28 vehicles to 360 vehicles and has resulted in more than 53,509 tonnes of CO2e.

This program has also created greater cultural awareness of the impacts of idling. Employees are not only reducing idling at work, they are taking this thinking home and reducing their idling in the community.

For more information, please click here.

CNG vehicle program

In the spirit of energy efficiency, the Kennecott Operational Services team commenced a program to pilot the use of Compressed Natural Gas fuel in our light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2010. This pilot included the trial of 10 different CNG vehicle conversion systems and installation of a CNG fueling station at our northern operations. Replacing gasoline with CNG reduced both criteria emissions and greenhouse gas emissions.

Initially, three different vehicle types were considered for our light- and medium-duty fleet — electric, hybrid and CNG — and were evaluated to determine which type would be most feasible. We chose compressed natural gas technology for this project due to the technology being available for installation in the medium-duty fleet, a roughly five-year payback period on conversions, and the minimal differences between conventional fossil-fuel vehicle maintenance and CNG vehicle maintenance.

Once CNG was selected, Kennecott initiated a pilot project to determine the feasibility of using CNG vehicles. Given the pilot’s large success, we committed to increasing the use of CNG vehicles across the operation. We also installed a CNG fueling station on the north end of our operation with plans to install an additional station. We have since increased our fleet and currently operate 59 CNG vehicles. All vehicles converted to CNG are EPA certified. We chose to use EPA-certified conversion equipment as it has been thoroughly tested and conforms to the highest standards of operation.

To date, 53,509 GHG emissions have been prevented. These steps have saved more than $16 million in fuel. Fuel efficiency has remained the same relative to conventional gasoline mileage for new vehicles. Efficiency for maintenance lubricants has risen as motor oil changes are scheduled every 4,000 miles versus every 3,000 miles for conventional gasoline motors, which is expected to increase to 5,000 miles in the next year.