Could mineral resources extracted from the bedrock be used both sustainably and profitably? Keliber, a company planning lithium production in Finland`s Central Ostrobothnia, believes so. The partnership of GTK and Keliber has lasted for almost 20 years.
Challenge of Keliber
The goal is a complete lithium production value chain
Keliber was established as a mining project in Kaustinen nearly 20 years ago. The first surveys indicating lithium deposits were conducted in the area as early as in the late 1950s. After many decades and endless surveys, we now know that Finland`s Central Ostrobothnia area is home to the most significant known lithium ore reserves in Europe. Spodumene, a lithium-containing mineral, is interesting right now because it is one of the key so-called battery minerals.
Keliber’s goal is to build a largely Finnish lithium production value chain. Local mineral resources in Central Ostrobothnia include spodumene, which will be processed at Keliber’s Päiväneva concentration plant and further processed into battery-grade lithium hydroxide at a chemical plant planned for the Kokkola port industrial area. Finnish supply chain brings additional local benefits, while the Port of Kokkola opens up a route to the rest of Europe.
The project has consisted of multiple stages, ranging from the identification of mineral deposits to groundwater surveys. As a result of bidding processes, Keliber has often selected the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) as its partner. This means that Keliber and GTK have cooperated since Keliber was established. “It’s always an advantage if a partner provides services with a “one-stop shop” principle. After working for so many years with the same partner, our trust in GTK`s staff and their professional skills is strong”, says Pentti Grönholm, Chief Geologist at Keliber. Now, after years of hard work, Keliber is the most advanced lithium mining project in Europe.
GTK Offering Solutions
GTK Mintec has played an important role in testing lithium ores and concentration processes
Cooperation between Keliber and GTK has reached a stage where new information is built on previous achievements. Above all, to take Keliber forward, working processes, testing and the right type of expertise have been needed. From the very beginning, GTK Mintec laboratories and pilot plant in Outokumpu, have played an important role in testing the mining project’s lithium ores and concentration processes.
“Through GTK Mintec’s cooperation, we now have a clearer idea of the technical solutions required at the Päiväneva concentration plant. This has been no scientific breakthrough, but we now have all the information needed for the project. Mintec has a high level of expertise and the staff always responds to customer questions, be they big or small. The atmosphere in the Outokumpu unit is comfortably informal, as it should be in North Karelia”, says Ville Vähäkangas, Mill Manager of Keliber`s concentration plant, who has worked with GTK Mintec for a long time.
Water management is another service provided by GTK, the importance of which is growing all the time. Keliber also hopes that through the targeted development of GTK Mintec, more investment will be made on water recycling research, which is important in the mining and minerals industry.
Keliber has ordered several water solution services from GTK, such as groundwater surveys for the Syväjärvi and, most recently, the Rapasaari open-pit mines. Research is expected to produce new and more precise information about the quality and quantity of groundwater. The information obtained from groundwater surveys is key not only in mining cost estimates and the permit process, but also in the planning of water management during the operational and closure phases. It means a lot to the company that basic scientific research always leads to concrete solutions that produce added value.
“GTK’s active approach in different jointly funded projects and networks has been a great advantage. Its role in the application process alone has been a big help. A company gets to hop on a train, that`s already on the move.” Pentti Grönholm, Chief Geologist, Keliber
“Companies may not always have the resources to invest in interesting projects that could lead to innovation. GTK’s active approach in different jointly funded projects and networks has been a great advantage. Its role in the application process alone has been a big help. A company gets to hop on a train, that`s already on the move. Cooperation with other companies and research institutions often leads to new ideas that are then passed around. This benefits all parties involved”, Pentti Grönholm says.
Currently, Keliber and GTK are involved in a number of joint development projects. For example, GTK runs the European Morecovery project, which studies the recovery of metals from by-products of industrial waters.
Sustainable mineral production creates value
Solutions to combat climate change are current global megatrends. Keliber has addressed this issue from the beginning of the project. Battery metals, such as lithium and cobalt, are required to meet the growing needs of electrified transport and carbon-neutral energy generation. In Europe, the peak in demand for lithium still lies head. Sustainable mineral production includes the exploitation of deposits located in Europe. This not only produces savings in energy costs and emissions related to logistics, but also ensures environmental impact assessment and sustainable working conditions.
The traceability of battery minerals, or identifying the origin of production, is the goal of the BATTrace project, in which GTK and Keliber are involved as a result of their cooperation. Traceability gives raw materials produced in responsible conditions a competitive edge. This is where companies like Keliber are in strong position.
The cooperation between GTK and Keliber continues from here. Pentti Grönholm and Ville Vähäkangas agree that the long history, successful joint projects and GTK’s professional experts are assets when Keliber starts to look for partners for its next steps.
“Deposits are surveyed, and mineral exploration methods are developed continuously. There are always research-related challenges along the way, where it is necessary to consider where to get the most cost-effective and quality producing partner. The most important thing is that research moves forward and ideas are refined so that they can be applied in practice”, Grönholm stresses.