In the next few years, Geological Survey of Finland will heavily invest into material efficiency and circular economy research. This means substantial investments in expanding and digitalising GTK Mintec’s research environment in the town of Outokumpu.
Increased sustainability is a key target for the mining industry
The future of the mining industry is determined by an increasing need for batteries and critical minerals, declining water resources, the depletion of new ore deposits, and decreasing concentrations of ores. These factors – alongside climate change, the green transition, and the resulting political and social pressure – are increasingly driving the industry towards new sustainability goals.
As the need for metals and other valuable substances is increasing due to vehicle electrification, effective side stream management is more important than ever. This is where circular economy solutions play a key part: new solutions enable increasing recovery of raw materials, thus significantly reducing the amount of extractive waste. However, reducing its amount e is only one part of the solution – effective reuse of side streams is just as essential. All things considered, innovative research platforms and overall process management are needed to enable companies to test their processes and make them more sustainable.
GTK Mintec – the world’s best mineral processing pilot plant in 2025?
Geological Survey Finland’s research and pilot plant environment GTK Mintec provides extensive services for companies operating in the mining, mineral prospecting, metals, and circular economy industries, as well as research communities. The mineral processing pilot plant and laboratories in Outokumpu are an important part of this research infrastructure. As part of the ongoing green transition and digitalisation trends, a development and digitalisation project is underway. Its ambitious objective is to be no less than the world’s best digital mineral processing pilot plant. The research unit will be renewed in stages over the next four years – plans are currently running until the end of 2025.
The current research infrastructure will be upgraded in a number of ways. The, laboratory and pilot plant and office facilities will be upgraded and expanded to meet current demand. An intelligent tailings research platform will be built in connection with the tailings area, and the pilot plant will be digitalised enable real-time online monitoring of trial runs.
Laboratory and office buildings to be renewed and research facilities modernised
The first step in the modernisation process is the constructing new office and state-of-the-art laboratory facilities by the end of 2023. The new office will include rentable workstations for customers and partners. A renovated mineral processing laboratory, a laboratory crushing plant and a water pilot will enable developments in the refinement process. In addition, robotics will be used in the processing of future samples: the new laboratory will have an automatic chemistry analysis cell, MintecRobo, where sample grinding, division and analysis will be automated. Geological Survey of Finland has allocated a total EUR 15 million to support this renewal.
The renovation, expansion and digitalisation of the pilot plant opens up up new research opportunities
After the completion of the new office and laboratory facilities, the next investment will be the modernisation of Outokumpu’s pilot plant. At present, it already provides unique possibilities to test processes in the mining industry.
In the autumn of 2021, new intelligent flotation cells were installed at the pilot plant. They allow for better monitoring and process design of mineral processing studies. Next up is the design of a new process line, put out to tender in early December 2021. According to the current plan, construction will begin in 2024 and the state-of the-art pilot plant will be in operation by the end of 2025. Regarding the plant’s digitalisation, the main emphasis is on the development of laboratory data management and automation, which enable e.g. flexible use of data flows.
SMARTT – an ultra-modern platform for tailings management
In the next few years, GTK Mintec’s current tailings area will be upgraded into an ultra-modern Smart Tailings Facility (SMARTT) research platform.
The predominant method of tailings disposal is wet disposal, i.e. pond storage: water is separated from the tailings and returned to the water cycle of the plant. However, with the new research platform, dried residue stacking , which is better suited for further use. Further research topics are the suitability of tailings for 3D printing and development of new mineral-based printing materials. The main goal is to minimise the amount of tailings and to optimise their management methods on a case-by-case basis.