Markku Iljina, GeoConsulting Oy

Mining Finland speeds up the mining industry

Text: Outi Airaksinen

Excitement over Finland’s ore resources has increased rapidly. The growth programme lead by GTK offers a thorough look at mining operators and opportunities in Finland.

While the mining industry faced quiet times a little more than a year ago, now every single drilling machine in Finland is up and running. Within one year, more than 20 new companies have started operating in Finland, especially in the field of early stage mineral exploration.

– In addition to gold and nickel, cobalt and lithium are currently raising special interest, says Harry Sandström, programme director at GTK.

Sandström is the director of the Mining Finland growth programme which is a partnership network of roughly 40 companies. The aim of the programme is to attract mining companies to explore minerals in Finland and to speed up exports for small and medium- sized Finnish mining companies.

Finland is already attractive

When comparing mining industries on an international scale, Finland is nearly always ranked at the top, both in terms of mineral and investment potential. In Finland, the mining industry has a long tradition and our soil contains many valuable elements, such as chromium and phosphate. What is more, Finland is the largest producer of gold in the EU and has good exploration potential for hi-tech metals like cobalt, lithium and rare earth metals. When it comes to attracting international mining companies, it is also important that Finland already has an extensive mining industry and existing technologies.

– Finland and Sweden have an incredible reputation around the world in terms of mining technology. We are the source of many significant technologies, such as flash smelting. Many Finnish brands, such as Outotec, Metso and Normet, are well-known and perceived reliable, Sandström says.

Large corporations often open up doors, but Finland has nearly 300 small and medium-sized mining technology companies that operate in different parts of the value chain, ranging from mineral exploration to the decommissioning of mines, some as subcontractors and some as independent and international operators.

Local knowledge and networks

Markku Iljina GeoConsulting Oy, a member of the Mining Finland network, helps international mineral explorers in Finland by providing them with exploration targeting services in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

According to Markku Iljina, exploration targeting has turned out to be an unexpectedly large field.

– I have not run into a single customer who would simply ask where to start. Some are interested in locations with previous mining activities, while some want to go to places where no mining has been carried out before. The selection of the location is preceded by a survey of geology, mineral indicators and potential. This requires geological expertise and is the most intriguing part of the targeting process. What is more, while some are attracted by iron alloys, others may seek precious metals or base metals. Targeting largely depends on the customer, and it includes a wide array of different options, Iljina says.

Markku Iljina GeoConsulting is often hired for projects as the local representative of international companies to establish relationships with partners and, for example, landowners. Local presence is often necessary, as is knowledge of the local legislation and practices.

Geodata helps to get started

What attracts international mining companies to come to Finland is that not all parts of the country have been fully explored, even though the Nordic countries have long mining traditions and areas with a high mining potential. According to Markku Iljina, the highly functional Mining Act and good governance are important factors for new companies. Political predictability in Finland is indicated in that mines have so far been opened, if not every year, at least every few years.

Finland also attracts mining investments because of the solid research infrastructure and the geodata material which is competitive in terms of volume and usability and which is easily available to everyone. The situation will only improve in the future, as the aim is to convert Finland’s drill core archive into digital format. It offers volumes of information to support claims, as many samples were taken decades ago when completely different tools and measuring technologies were in use. In addition, there are now lower demands, for example, for copper content in profitable mining operations.

Finland is also attractive in terms of its functional infrastructure.

– There are normally roads within 50 kilometres of every deposit. This also applies to energy, as the power grid is always nearby, Sandström says.

To make mining more sustainable

A few years ago, a model of sustainable mining was established in Finland. Its aim is to make mining more sustainable and prevent any conflicts between mining companies and their stakeholders.

– Mining and exploration companies should openly communicate their plans beforehand. By listening to stakeholders and revising plans, it is possible to reach a sustainable solution that satisfies all parties, says Eero Yrjö-Koskinen, secretary general of the Finnish Network for Sustainable Mining.

– In the network, stakeholders are in an equal position with mining companies. As a result, we have been able to prepare ambitious tools for mining and exploration companies, Yrjö- Koskinen says.

The network uses two sustainability systems: one for mineral exploration and one for mining operations. In addition, it has developed a toolbox, with which companies can prevent any unnecessary conflicts with the local community. The network has developed separate evaluation tools for the protection of biodiversity, the treatment of tailings and water management.

The network offers practical instructions. Before mineral exploration, it is useful to notify landowners of any future activities and listen to stakeholders. Plans should be modifiable so that different viewpoints can be taken into account, if possible.

According to Yrjö-Koskinen, the mining industry should aim at a closed cycle in which, by decreasing material flows and through circulation, it can be ensured that no pollutants can access the soil or watercourse surrounding the mine.

– The fewer repercussions there are, the easier it is to accept mining operations. It is important for the reputation of companies that, for example, wastewater containing heavy metals are not released into the environment, Yrjö-Koskinen says.

Quickly to profitable mining operations

Why should it take 10 to 15 years from the discovery of a deposit to the launch of mining operations? IMA Engineering Ltd Oy, a member of Mining Finland, has developed the Time to Mine vision, the aim of which is to shorten this timespan.

This is possible by improving the efficiency of deposit surveying. Using IMA Engineering’s method, samples are scanned and analysed as the drilling process proceeds.

– The purpose is that drilling can be controlled according to each sample drilled, already during the campaign. Potential areas are accessible even before any samples have been delivered to the laboratory, says Jukka Raatikainen, managing director of IMA Engineering.

The method is also suitable for the digitalisation of drill samples in the Loppi drill core archive of GTK.

As drilling can be controlled almost in real time, there is less machine downtime and unnecessary drilling. Instead of taking unproductive adjoining rock samples, resources can be allocated to ore analyses. Mine On-Line Service is currently applying this new method in the Nordic countries.

Time and money can also be saved after a deposit has been discovered. IMA has developed a method, in which a deposit is analysed in real time by measuring and analysing drilled chippings. When measuring data is combined with real-time borehole imaging, the result is hyperdata, on the basis of which geologists can determine the direction of the deposit. Astrock Oy, a Sodankylä-based member of the mining cluster, offers borehole imaging and hyperdata services.

– By using these methods, the time spent on mineral exploration and the launch of mining operations can be reduced by one third or more. When we talk about five years instead of 10 to 15 years, not only major corporations, but also private investors may be attracted, Raatikainen says.

Jukka Raatikainen, IMA Engineering Ltd Oy