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Technology is central to producing metals more efficiently

Outotec is a leading global provider of process solutions, technologies, and services for the mining and metals industries. Building on decades of experience and advanced process expertise, the company’s solutions are largely based on its proprietary know-how.

The use of metals has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks in large part to the dynamism of the world’s growth economies. Rising demand has resulted in shortages of some metals and pushed up prices as well, and has triggered a wave of investments across the mining and metallurgical sector on a scale that few can remember. Investments are expected to continue at a high level for some time to come.

The scale and longevity of mining and metallurgical projects mean that technological decisions made early on can have far-reaching consequences. Technologies, once installed, are often in use for decades, and selecting systems that have been designed to generate a low level of ecological impact can benefit the environment significantly for decades to come, in terms of things like emissions and energy efficiency.

Investment decisions are shaped not only by environmental norms, of course, but also by the expectations of banks and financial institutions and shareholders, all of which are placing increasing emphasis on sustainability and responsibility. This is as true of projects in developing countries as of those in the industrialised world.

Outotec has an impressive track record in supplying sulphuric acid plants, and these account for over 30% of world production today.

Environmental practice in Europe is often used as the reference for new projects, and the system of Best Available Techniques (BAT) established there is a widespread yardstick for deciding which technologies to go with. Finland, in particular, has been a leading developer of BAT processes, and virtually all the metallurgical processes developed and currently in use in Finland meet BAT criteria.

The relatively short history of the metallurgical industry in Finland and the fact that Finland has traditionally lacked capital, energy, and many key commodities in large quantities have contributed to this innovative mind-set. An early awareness of the importance of the environment and environmentally friendly technology has also been a factor.

Built-in excellence

By combining the inherent advantages of fluidised bed combustion technology with knowledge gained from extensive R&D in solids fluidisation and heat transfer, Outotec has achieved a new quality benchmark in alumina calcination.
The best results are achieved when excellent environmental and energy-efficient performance is built into processes from the very start, at the system level. Done intelligently, this also results in processes that offer significantly better economic competitiveness than conventional solutions.

Good examples of this approach are Outotec’s Flash Smelting and Flash Converting technologies for producing copper, its innovative approach to producing sulphuric acid, and its pelletising, sintering, and smelting systems for ferrous metals and ferroalloys – all of which are at the cutting edge of technological development in their respective fields.

These and other Outotec technologies deliver improved environmental – and economic – performance by making better use of raw material inputs, using less energy to produce a given amount of output, consuming less water and other utilities, reducing emissions, and creating a safer operational and working environment.

A technology leader

Innovative in-house R&D and close cooperation with its customers have made Outotec a leading developer of technology for the minerals processing and metallurgical industries. Proprietary technology has been a key element in this success, and the company has an excellent track record of moving rapidly from technological breakthroughs to cost-effective and environmentally sustainable commercial processes.

Although Outotec is probably still best known for the revolutionary flash smelting technology originally developed in the 1940s and the flash converting process that followed – and which are responsible for nearly half of copper produced worldwide today – the company is very strong in other areas. One of these is pelletising iron ore; the bulk of the world’s iron ore pellets today are produced using Outotec processes. The company is also the market leader in flotation technology, thickeners, on-line analyzers, alumina calcination and the roasting of sulphidic ores, and a forerunner in sulphuric acid production processes.

Outotec’s offering today covers the entire production chain of processing minerals to metals – and includes technologies for the production of ferrous metals and ferroalloys, alumina and aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, precious metals, niobium, synthetic rutile, and various industrial minerals.

Outotec’s extensive research facilities and resources in Finland and Germany ensure that customers can always rely on having access to the latest advances. By focusing on the best available technology, optimised project timetables, and smooth start-ups, Outotec’s solutions offer excellent plant availability and reliable, high output levels, together with industry-leading cost performance.

> Kari Knuutila
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)