(Reuters) – Rio Tinto Plc said on Tuesday it would spend $1.5 billion to expand its Kennecott copper mine in Utah, part of a growing trend by miners to invest in strategic mineral projects across the United States.
The move more than doubles the mining industry’s recent investment in U.S. copper projects, as Tesla Inc and other automakers demand more of the red metal for electric vehicle motors and other components.
“We like copper. We like the U.S.,” Rio Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in an interview. “If we had not taken this decision, our position in the U.S. market would be shrinking.”
Rio said the investment will extend the life of the more-than 100-year-old open-pit mine near Salt Lake City from 2026 through 2032, with the potential to keep it operational thereafter. The expansion project, which Rio said will generate “attractive returns” without elaborating, is set to get underway next year.
Once seen as a laggard in the global mining industry, U.S. copper deposits have drawn more than $1.1 billion in recent investments from small and large miners alike before Rio’s Tuesday announcement.