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Going for green in the booming mining sector

Geological Survey of Finland
Finland’s mining sector is booming and several new mines producing base metals, gold, iron ore, and platinum have been opened recently. The growing realisation of the need to develop better ways of operating across the entire mineral production chain has given birth to the concept of ‘Green Mining’.

Located in the middle of the Fennoscandian Shield, Finland has a long history of mining activity and metal production. Iron ore mining began in the mid-sixteenth century, since when close to 300 metal mines have been opened, producing copper, nickel, zinc, cobalt, chromium, iron, gold, vanadium, and other metals. Mining for industrial minerals, for its part, has concentrated on carbonates, apatite, and talc.

There are nine metal mines and 32 industrial minerals mines operational in Finland today; and Finland is Europe’s only chromium producer and its largest producer of talc and wollastonite. A number of new mines have been opened recently, with more under development. Current projections indicate that output could reach over 70 million t/a by 2020, including many metals and minerals critical for high-tech applications.

Finland has also made a name for itself as a leading country in mining technology, machinery, and metallurgy, with companies such as Metso, Outokumpu, Outotec, Sandvik Tamrock, and Normet known worldwide for their expertise. The result is a major technology cluster serving the minerals sector all the way from extraction, concentration, and metallurgical refining and fabrication to technical services.

The Geological Survey of Finland believes that securing mineral resources and mines for future generations will depend to a significant extent on a better understanding of geology, more advanced exploration techniques, and greater investment in mineral exploration.

A new initiative

With mining increasingly emerging as one of Finland’s major growth drivers and a national minerals strategy aimed at making Finland a global pioneer in ecologically efficient minerals now in place, there has been a growing realisation of the need to develop better and more sustainable ways of operating across the entire mineral production chain. The result has been a new focus on what is being referred to as ‘Green Mining’.

Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation launched the Green Mining R&D&I programme in 2011 to promote mines with world-leading performance in terms of efficiency and safety, a cluster of companies serving global customers in the process and environmental areas, and new and better working practices that can be used worldwide. The aim is to make Finland a leader in eco-efficiency in the mineral industry by 2020 through new types of intelligent and minimum- impact mines and by opening up new mineral resources.

Finland has made a name for itself as a leading country in mining technology, machinery, and metallurgy.
Tekes is providing half of the funding for the five-year programme, while companies, research institutes, and universities are responsible for the other half. The Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) is closely involved in helping develop the expertise needed, working together with universities, other research organisations, and mining technology and mining companies. Projects include confidential, company-driven projects – which will account for the bulk of the programme – and public research projects. International cooperation is being given particular priority.

The first 27 Green Mining projects were launched in 2012 and cover areas such as sustainable exploration, producing gold by thiosulphate leaching, recovering REE compounds from apatite minerals, new methods for the online monitoring of environmentally critical substances in process water and wastewater streams, and geothermal heating and cooling at mine sites.

What will make mining greener?

Mining has not always had a very enviable reputation in terms of the environment and sustainability, and the Green Mining concept has been developed to give much greater emphasis to methods that make better use of resources and take ecological and social issues into account more effectively. The overall goal is to improve energy and materials efficiency throughout the mineral production chain.

Make better use of mining-related waste and by-products is central to the Green Mining concept and getting to grips with the true implications of the fact that mineral resources are non-renewable. Higher living standards around the world are seeing a rapid increase in the use of minerals and metals, and while the recycling of end-products is improving all the time, recycling alone is insufficient.

Minimising environmental and social impact affecting communities across the production chain is a Green Mining priority, together with the development of new and better working methods and safety standards at mine sites, and a more proactive approach when ore deposits are exhausted and mining ends.


The Geological Survey of Finland

Established in 1885, the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) serves as Finland’s national geoscientific information centre and acts as a European centre of excellence in research on mineral resources and related sustainability, producing and disseminating a wide range of geological information for industry and society.

The minerals sector is GTK’s most important customer segment, and GTK’s offering include geodata and expertise in Fennoscandian geology, customised exploration services, mineral processing, and GIS laboratory services.

GTK is actively involved in numerous R&D projects in Finland and elsewhere, and was selected to lead the European Promine project, a four-year long initiative launched in 2009 that currently includes 30 partners from 11 EU member states.

Promine has been tasked with developing the first-ever, pan-European GIS-based resources and modelling system for all potential metallic and nonmetallic mineral resources within the EU. Detailed 4D computer models will be produced for four regions across Europe.

The Promine project is also focusing on developing various new products and operating methods.

> Pekka A. Nurmi
(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)