Full-year global iron ore shipments reached a record 247Mt on a 100% basis, despite weather disruptions and a maintenance shutdown, while global production was 253Mt (Rio share 199Mt), a new annual record and a 4% increase on 2011.
In the Pilbara, fourth-quarter production was 62.2Mt and sales reached 63Mt, a new record, while full-year production was 239.2Mt and annual sales hit a new record of 233Mt.
Rio says production will continue to be higher than sales as it stockpiles ahead of the expansion to 290Mtpa, which is on track to be commissioned by the end of the year.
The Pilbara operations hit a run rate of 237Mtpa during the year, above the 230Mtpa initially slated.
The increase came as a result of debottlenecking and productivity improvement. As a result, the ultimate expansion target of 353Mtpa has been upgraded to 360Mtpa.
Rio chief executive Tom Albanese said 2012 was another year of strong operational performance across the group.
“We achieved record annual iron ore production and shipments as our expansion program continues on schedule, delivering industry leading returns for our shareholders,” he said.
“Markets remain volatile, but our business continues to perform well. Across the Group we are taking action to roll back unsustainable cost increases.
“This further enhances our resilience and competitive edge as we enter 2013.”
Meanwhile, Rio also boosted annual production across copper, bauxite, alumina, thermal coal and titanium dioxide.
Total mined copper production of 548,800 tonnes was 6% up on 2011 due to a recovery in ore grades at Kennecott Utah and Escondida.
Copper production is set to increase in 2013 as the massive Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia begins production in the first half.
First concentrate production is expected later this month ahead of commercial production by June.
Thermal coal production jumped 16% to 20.6Mt due to the ramp-up of Benga in Mozambique and the increased plant capacity at Bengalla in Australia.
Annual hard coking coal production was down 11% on 2011 to 8Mt and quarterly output fell 31% on the previous year due to dragline maintenance at Hail Creek and a major preparation plant shutdown at Kestrel.
Bauxite and alumina production rose by 11% and 12% respectively due to higher demand for bauxite and expanded capacity at Yarwun.
Aluminium output dropped 10% as the division recovered from a labour dispute at Alma.
Rio said it would make a decision on the future of the Gove refinery by the end of the month, but securing long-term gas supply was critical to its future.
Uranium production at Ranger and Rossing was 49% and 26% respectively up on 2012, while diamond production at Argyle and Diavik rose by 14% and 8% respectively.
Pre-tax and pre-divestment exploration and evaluation expenditure charged to the profit-and-loss account for 2012 was $US1.9 billion ($A1.8 billion), up from $1.4 billion in 2011.
Of that figure, 41% was on copper, 22% on iron ore, 15% on energy, 7% by diamonds and minerals, 2% on Rio Tinto Alcan and the remainder on central exploration.
The company realised $109 million pre-tax from the divestment of central exploration properties, up from $89 million in 2011.
This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication MiningNews.net.