Mining Thrives in Scandinavia
Walking the carbon-free talk, Swedish majors partner with suppliers
By Steve Fiscor, Editor
The event took place during mid-June in Skellefteå, Sweden, which is famous geologically for gold-bearing ores. Many mining executives as well as midlevel managers turned up for the event and gave presentations talking about the great things their companies were doing. While Skellefteå still has several modern gold mining operations nearby, it draws more attention today as the site for the Northvolt battery factory, which seemed to fit perfectly with most of the discussions.
When it comes to mining in Scandinavia, there is more than just Sweden. Across the bay, Finland is also a hotbed of mining activity these days. During the summer, several new projects were commissioned.
Boliden Opens its Doors for R&D
Boliden’s Mikael Staffas made his first public appearance as the new president and CEO during Euro Mine Expo 2018. He joined the company in 2011, first serving as CFO before accepting the position of director of business area mines in 2015. Staffas pointed out that the demand for base metals will remain high.
“Many people think we are only in this business to generate profit for shareholders and to provide jobs, but the main reason we exist is to produce base metals, which are needed for many aspects of life,” Staffas said. “That is also why there is a demand.”
He believes the answer to the climate challenge is not to mine less, but to mine more base metals. According to him, Boliden’s copper value-chain Aitik-Rönnskär is the one that produces the lowest-carbon dioxide per pound of copper in the world.
Staffas presented figures that showed the effectiveness of Boliden’s mining operations. A major part of this productivity improvement has been achieved through the use of new technologies, developed by opening up their research and development facilities to other companies. As an example, the company’s Kankberg mine now has 5G cellular service at the face underground provided by Ericsson. Data and communication networks have eliminated foremen. Miners equipped with tablets can make the decisions. Tracking systems show the location of each miner underground so they no longer need to travel in pairs for safety.
On the surface, Boliden launched a pilot project for the electrification of in-pit haulage at Aitik, Sweden’s largest open-pit copper mine, together with key partners. The project consists of a 700-m trolley assist system, where four trucks are connected to a pantograph. This project could save 800 m3 of diesel each year. For the two-year project, Boliden joined forces with Eitech and ABB to supply electrical infrastructure; Pon Equipment and Cat for truck modifications; and Chalmers University with supporting research on system aspects of the electrification. The project is supported by the Swedish Energy Agency.
While truck-trolley systems are not new, they have not operated in this climate or with the size of the trucks Aitik operates, explained Rikard Mäki, Boliden’s project manager for the R&D. “To prove the technology in this climate with the size of vehicles we operate, it is critical to establish partnerships,” Mäki said.
Boliden also announced its plans to invest SEK 750 million ($83 million) in a leaching plant at Rönnskär, which follows an ongoing investment of SEK 650 million ($72 million) in a deep repository for the smelter. Provided that the environmental permits for the projects are granted in a timely fashion, the repository and the plant are expected to be operational by the end of 2020.
The leaching plant will extract more of the remaining metal from waste at the site. It should also reduce the amount of waste for disposal in deep repository. The leaching project should produce 25,000 metric tons per year (mt/y) of lead sulphate and 25,000 mt/y of copper/zinc sulphate.
LKAB Sets Sustainable Goals
After Euro Mine Expo at the end of June, LKAB discussed its plans for the mine of the future, which will be carbon-free, digitalized and autonomous. To set a new world standard for sustainable mining at great depth, the company partnered with ABB, Epiroc Combitech and Volvo to create a testbed in northern Sweden.
The testbed, SUM, Sustainable Underground Mining, will be created in LKAB’s underground mines in Kiruna and Malmberget and will also take the form of a virtual mine. Here, new technology will be developed and tested in a real mining environment to ensure that the Swedish mining industry can remain competitive and create jobs and growth, both locally in Norrbotten and nationally. This requires new control systems, new and improved mining equipment, as well as complex and efficient management systems that meet future demands for a sustainable industry. Reaching that goal will demand a new type of collaboration, a digital ecosystem in which the partners’ digital systems and operations are linked.
After 2030, LKAB must be ready to mine at greater depth in the Kiruna and Malmberget mines. For this, one of Sweden’s biggest industrial investments ever, decisions will have to be taken in the mid- 2020s. To be able to realize the technology shift and reduce climate impact, LKAB, ABB, Epiroc, Combitech and AB Volvo have joined forces to find solutions and set a new world standard for sustainable mining at great depth that would entail a major leap in technological development.
“LKAB has a longstanding tradition of innovation and, to secure long-term competitiveness, we must find new methods and smarter solutions for continued mining of the world’s best and purest iron ore deposits deeper in our underground mines. We are proud to enter into one of the biggest collaborative ventures in Sweden today, a venture involving industry leaders that are contributing expertise and technical resources. Together, we will develop a future mining industry that is sustainable, safe, carbon-dioxide-free, digitalized and autonomous,” said Jan Moström, president and CEO, LKAB.
Kaunis Iron Starts Fresh
Kaunis Iron bought the Kaunisvaara mine in Pajala along with the associated processing plant and support facilities from the bankrupt Northland Resources. The deposit contains a high-grade iron ore that commands a premium price. Production began again in July 2018, with the hope of producing at least 2 million metric tons per year (mt/y).
Working together with Carnegie Bank and about 80 Swedish contractors, Kaunis Iron organized a private placement of more than 500 million SEK ($56 million) to reopen the mine. “We have been met with strong investor optimism,” said Anders Sundström, chairman, Kaunis Iron. “The response has been fantastic. [The private placement] gives us a safe base to start from. Even though we know exactly what product we have and how much we can produce, we cannot control the world market price of iron ore. It is the only uncertainty factor in all this. But we are very optimistic.”
In early October, Kaunis Iron loaded its first vessel with 72,000 mt of iron ore concentrate at the Narvik Harbor. The ore was destined for Tata Steel in Holland.
Terraframe Bioleaches Base Metals
A subsidiary of Finnish Minerals Group, Terraframe, is creating cleaner and cost-efficient ways to produce metals and reduce the carbon footprint for the process. Bioheap- leaching, their production technology, uses naturally occurring microbes to extract metals from sulphide minerals.
Ore is first mined at the open-pit mine, then crushed, agglomerated, transported and then heaped onto bio-leach pads. Air is blown into stacks of ore and the stacks are irrigated with an acidic solution, creating optimal conditions for microbial activity. Stacked ore is first leached for approximately 15 months at a primary heap. Then it’s reclaimed and conveyed onto a secondary heap for final leaching.
The greenhouse gas emissions of the nickel production process are around 40%, sulphur dioxide emissions are 2% and energy consumption is 20% lower than traditional methods, according to the company. Finnish Minerals Group is a special- purpose company wholly-owned by the state of Finland. It is responsible for the state’s holdings and development in the mining and battery sector as well as for promoting the development of a battery cluster in Finland.
In related news, the municipality of Sotkamo granted construction permits to Terraframe for two new buildings for battery chemicals plant. Earthwork related to the plant project was started in July. Through the first half of 2018, Terraframe has mined 9.1 million mt of ore and leached 12,341 mt of nickel and 29,104 mt zinc from the heaps.
“Tapojärvi has extensive experience in the mining industry and that gives a solid base to our cooperation,” said Timo Lindborg, CEO of Sotkamo Silver AB. Sotkamo Silver also recently entered into the off-take agreement for silver and zinc concentrates from Silver Mine to Boliden’s Kokkola smelter in Finland and Rönnskär smelter in Sweden.
The estimated value of deliveries during the four-year agreement is about EUR 120 million ($139 million) at current metal prices. The concentrate shipments are expected to start in early 2019. “These smelters are the closest to the Silver Mine project,” Lindborg said. “The concluded agreements combined with the deliveries will bring logistical and economic benefits to both parties.”
Equipment is currently being installed in the processing plant. The construction of the water treatment plant, ore mining and recruitment of employees will also begin soon. Sotkamo Silver is also working with VAPO to develop a bioenergy-based solution for ventilation air heating as part of energy efficient and responsible underground mining.
Finnish Regulators Approve Laiva Startup
Nordic Gold, formerly known as Firesteel Resources, announced that it has received written confirmation from Finnish supervisory authority ELY, that it has provided all documentation required and that it can recommence mining and processing operations at its Laiva gold mine near Raahe, Finland. The company reported that this was the result of ongoing communications with, and environmental reporting for, the Finnish regulators in the region.
Mining activities started at Laiva in mid-August, to establish access and clear working areas. The company has been conducting three blasts a week and has stockpiled 62,000 mt of ore preparing for plant startup. Roughly 15,000 mt of ore been run through the primary crusher as part of the recommissioning process. With the ELY approval, the mill and plant can now begin operating.
“This is a significant advance for the company,” Michael Hepworth, president and CEO, Nordic Gold said. “We are now able to operate the plant and prepare for processing. The plant is being restarted in stages with the grinding circuit now in its final stages of testing. The CIL circuits are ready to operate and will be filled as ore passes through the comminution circuit. We plan to pour our first gold on November 27.”
Located on the west coast of Finland, the Laiva mine was previously in production from June 2012 to March 2014 and produced 77,000 ounces (oz) of gold from 2.8 million tons of ore processed at an average recovery rate of 79% to 85%.
The company said it should be able to implement even greater rates of recovery and plant utilization given its recent improvements to the processing circuit, which includes better crushing, leaching, grinding and cyanide recovery processes than in the past. The previous owner (Nordic Mines) was blasting ore and waste at the same time, and using large-scale, bulk open-pit methods, which led to significant dilution. Nordic Gold has a plan to blast ore on a more selective basis.
A Procurement Perspective
On the morning of the last day of Euro Mine Expo, a session focused on how to become a supplier to the mining industry. Representatives from LKAB, Boliden and Mandalay Resources emphasized the importance of safety and the hope for more innovation by working with their suppliers. Frida Pettersson, purchasing manager at Mandalay Resources, opened the session by talking about what demands they have on their suppliers. “We depend on good suppliers and are not looking only for the best price,” Pettersson said. “To be a supplier you need financial stability, security of supply and we are also looking for quality and overall performance. But you also must meet our demands, have a high level of service and flexibility.” She also pointed out that security is also very important.
Björn Stenecker, chief procurement officer for Boliden Mines, agreed on the topic of safety. “For us, safety is No. 1,” Stenecker said. “We will not tolerate suppliers with bad luck. We will never deviate from that policy.” When it comes to innovation, Pettersson wants to see suppliers that want to improve their business. “Help us rethink and show us your innovation projects,” she said. Stenecker said this is the most important topic today. “How can innovation among the supply base be increased and how can we do this better together?,” he asked. “Without innovation, we would not have a mining business in Sweden at all. There is so many different innovations which is why our business flourishes.”
He also pointed out that the mining industry represents an extremely stable customer base.“We want suppliers to stay with us in good times and in bad,” Stenecker said. “Please do not leave us in good times, we will remember it when bad times comes around.”