Ground Breakers: IGO goes to Rio, Rio goes to Karratha and death at MinRes project
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After more than six months of speculation, IGO (ASX:IGO) has finally tapped its new boss, with the $11 billion battery metals producer turning to a Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) stalwart to carry on the legacy of late boss Peter Bradford.
Ivan Vella, the aluminium boss at the world’s second biggest miner, will take the reins as the first permanent CEO and MD at IGO since the sudden death of Bradford in October last year, the man who steered it from a mid-table nickel and gold producer to one of the world’s largest lithium names.
Vella was notably the temporary chief of Rio’s iron ore business following the Juukan Gorge debacle, when he started the process of rebuilding its tattered relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People, and held COO roles with its coal business and Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in Mongolia.
The move into IGO, replacing temporary CEO Matt Dusci, will see Vella relocate to Perth from Montreal and take the reins no later than December 11.
It comes at what could be a major inflection point for the company, which is transitioning from its status as a miner of nickel and lithium into a producer of downstream products for the electric vehicle industry.
IGO will this year hit 60-70% capacity at the first stage of its Kwinana lithium hydroxide JV with Greenbushes mine partner Tianqi Lithium.
It has also secured a site in Kwinana for a proposed nickel refinery in partnership with Andrew Forrest’s Wyloo Metals.
The partnership could see the companies combine forces to build only the second nickel sulphate plant in Australia, just down the road from BHP Nickel West’s long running Kwinana refinery, and potentially head a step further to making pre-cursor for nickel-cobalt-manganese cathode lithium ion batteries.
“I am thrilled and honoured to be given the opportunity to join and lead the talented and strong team at this important time in IGO’s history,” Vella said.
“The company’s purpose and values deeply resonate with me and IGO has positioned itself brilliantly to be at the forefront of the global transition to a green energy future. I am looking forward to playing a key role in this next stage of the company’s development.
“Beyond the current asset base, IGO has an impressive team of highly talented individuals. Together, they have built a highly regarded reputation for having an innovative and dynamic culture underpinned by a true commitment to a unique set of values.
“I am very much looking forward to spending time meeting and learning from everyone at IGO as we work together to take the business to even greater success in the future.”
Rio Tinto has pulled out a string of announcements in recent days, including a green steel collab with China’s Baowu, one of the major investors in its Western Range iron ore JV and Simandou iron ore mine in Guinea, as well as a US$1.1 billion investment to expand the AP60 aluminium smelter in Canada from 2026.
That one will see 96 new pots producing “low carbon” aluminium, increasing its capacity by 160,000t to 220,000t, enough for 400,000 EVs we’re told by Rio.
It will offset the loss of 170,000tpa from the 2024 closure of the Arvida smelter, which will also be replaced by an additional 30,000t of capacity via a previously announced recycling facility.
But today’s news is closer to home, with Rio announcing a $150 million plan to invest in rail car manufacturing in Karratha, near its 330Mtpa iron ore network in the Pilbara.
It follows BHP’s decision to onshore rail manufacturing in Perth last year via a flatpack ore car design.
Rio will purchase 100 locally built ore rail cars over six years from Gemco Rail, which will deliver its first model in 2024, constructing its first 40 at its existing factory in Forrestfield in Perth before delivering the rest from a new plant in Karratha in WA’s remote north.
Rio says that takes 150 truck journeys and 300tpa of CO2 off of WA roads every year.
It’s good news too for Engenco (ASX:EGN), the engineering stock that will deliver the goods via Gemco.
The firm is up 17.6% today.
“In securing this opportunity with Rio Tinto, Gemco Rail is proud to utilise its experience and capabilities to re-establish the manufacture of iron ore rail cars in Western Australia,” CEO Dean Draper said.
“Gemco Rail’s investment in the Pilbara reflects our long-term commitment to customers and communities in Western Australia.
We acknowledge the conscious efforts of Rio Tinto to increase their spend with WA based suppliers, our supply partner QRRS (Qiqihar Railway Rolling Stock), and the support from the Western Australian Government in facilitating this investment in Karratha.”
And now some sad news to report, with the death of a contractor at the Ken’s Bore site working on the Onslow Iron project for Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN).
Little has been released so far regarding the news, though MinRes has said the incident which caused the tragic fatality happened around 4pm yesterday.
Mines department inspectors and WA Police are heading to the site, where operations have been suspended. Pending approvals, the 35Mtpa project, which is also supported by China’s Baowu among other minority partners, is expected to ship its first iron ore next year through the Port of Ashburton.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts are with the family, friends and the whole Onslow Iron team, and our focus is on supporting them during this difficult time,” MinRes MD Chris Ellison said.
It came after the death earlier this month of rope access technician Michael Jurman at Woodside’s North Rankin gas platform.