Rio Tinto has approved funding of $146 million to undertake initial work at the Koodaideri iron ore project in Western Australia.

The money will be spent on detailed engineering work on key elements of the project, the development of a rail construction camp and stage one of the Koodaideri accommodation camp.

Koodaideri is being described as an ‘intelligent mine’ that will incorporate the latest high-tech equipment and utilise ‘an increased level of automation and robotics’.

“It’s a large scale, low-cost, high-quality project, producing replacement tonnes and forming a new production hub for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara for decades to come,” said the company.

If the project is approved, construction should begin next year and first production expected in 2021. An estimated 2,000 jobs will be created during the construction phase and 600 permanent operational roles.

“This is an important step for our Koodaideri project,” said Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury. He described it as ‘a significant leap forward for the global mining industry and Rio Tinto.

According to Salisbury, Rio Tinto has been building mines in the Pilbara for over 50 years. He said that Koodaideri will incorporate all of that knowledge, enabling the company to build ‘the smartest, safest and most efficient mine’ ever constructed.

Salisbury said that the deployment of leading edge technology will deliver a step-change in both safety and productivity for Rio Tinto.