Valuable battery minerals are hidden deep in Finland’s bedrock

GTK increases the surveying of battery minerals

Finland’s bedrock offers promising potential for discovering minerals used in batteries. As demand increases, the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) is increasing its research and survey activities for battery minerals.

Text: Timo Hämäläinen

Batteries are used to store electric energy in various mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. They are also needed in electric cars and in power grids, in which electric energy is increasingly being produced using wind and solar power.

– Electricity is close to making a real breakthrough in all mobile applications, says Pasi Heino, Head of Unit, Ore and Industrial Minerals at GTK.

Electric technologies increase the demand for cobalt, lithium, graphite and nickel, in particular. In addition, small volumes of dozens of other minerals are required to manufacture batteries.

Finland is a rare producer of cobalt

Cobalt has a broad range of applications. It is particularly used in metal alloys and coating agents that need to withstand high temperatures, corrosion, wear and oxidation. Cobalt is also known as a colouring agent. In the plastic and petrochemical industry, cobalt is used as a catalyst.

– Currently, the demand for cobalt is
increasing most rapidly in the battery industry. The demand for battery minerals is expected to increase tenfold  by 2022 and a further sevenfold by 2030, Heino says.

To ensure supply, cobalt-containing minerals are actively being explored in Finland and in other parts of the world. In Europe, Finland and Sweden have the highest potential for discovering cobalt-containing minerals. In 2012–2016, Finland and Poland were the only EU states in which cobalt was produced.

Cobalt does not appear on its own. Usually, it is mixed with nickel or copper.

In Finland, Terrafame produces cobalt at the Talvivaara mine in Sotkamo
alongside nickel, zinc and copper sulphide products. Boliden produces cobalt as a by-product at the Kylylahti copper mine in eastern Finland and at the Kevitsa copper and nickel mine in Lapland.

Cobalt does not appear on its own.

The first lithium mine about to open

Lithium is produced globally either in saline solutions or it is extracted at mines. Its production is divided fairly evenly between these two methods. The global production volumes of lithium are fairly low, considering the known mineral resources.

In Finland, Keliber Oy owns a significant lithium deposit in central Ostrobothnia. The company is preparing a technical and financial survey and an environmental impact assessment procedure for a mine. If the permit process goes as planned, the company’s lithium mine will open in 2019, alongside the production of lithium carbonate. As the demand for lithium is increasing, Keliber has a lead over many other projects.

Keliber’s lithium mine would be the first of its kind in Europe. The company
would produce roughly five per cent of all lithium carbonate sold in global markets and suitable for use in batteries. Currently, it is mainly produced in China.

Lithium minerals are also being explored in other parts of Finland. Finland’s lithium reserves are located in spodumene-containing pegmatite. GTK has surveyed extensions of the known Kaustinen lithium province. Promising findings have been discovered tens of kilometres south of the previously known deposits. For example, GTK has conducted surveys and drillings in Veteli.

– Finland has a high potential for discovering more lithium reserves related to pegmatites, Heino says.

Promising graphite deposits

Natural graphite is one of the 27 critical raw materials listed by the European Commission. A raw material is considered to be critical if it is highly significant for the EU economy and it has a high availability risk. Cobalt is also on the same list.

China is the key producer of many critical raw materials. In total, 69 per cent of all graphite is produced in China. India accounts for 12 per cent and Brazil for eight per cent.

Australian Beowulf is currently exploring graphite from the Finnish bedrock. The company is looking for minerals in Heinävesi in Central Finland.

GTK provides mineral explorers with full-range services

As part of its basic operations, GTK surveys Finland’s mineral potential. Currently, its surveys are focused on lithium, graphite, cobalt, nickel and copper. Later, GTK will shift its focus more extensively to cobalt,   while lithium and graphite surveys will also be continued.

– The aim of research on battery minerals is to bring new investments in Finland. We are continuously working to discover new deposits. We are also surveying already discovered deposits, partly together with companies operating in the field, Heino says.

This year, GTK has, for example, conducted drillings in Rautalampi in Central Finland to identify the graphite potential of two deposits. In autumn, GTK conducted drillings in Central Ostrobothnia to identify the lithium potential of a deposit.

According to Heino, GTK will increase its resources to identify the potential of battery minerals in 2019. Its work is supported by the additional funding of one million euros granted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

This additional funding is targeted at GTK’s core operations. GTK produces data on attractive and potential mineral exploration locations. Most of its digital data are freely available.

– GTK has extensive experience in and a successful history of mineral research. By continuously updating its data collected over several decades, GTK is in an excellent position to survey the mineral potential, model mineral deposits and evaluate mineral reserves, Heino says.

GTK Mintec provides its customers with all types of surveys related to mineralogy and mineral processing technologies. Laboratories and a testing facility are all located under one roof.

In Europe, Finland and Sweden have the highest potential for discovering cobalt- containing Minerals. Pasi Heino, Head of Unit, Ore and Industrial minerals at GTK

Finland wants to become number one in the battery markets

Finland is striving to become number one in European battery markets. The Finnish Government provided GTK with additional four-year funding of one million euros per annum for research on Finland’s battery mineral potential.

– With this additional funding, we want to speed up the development of the industrial cluster formed around battery technologies in Finland, says Riikka Aaltonen, senior adviser on mineral policy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Aaltonen points out that a mining cluster has formed in Finland over several decades which lays a solid foundation for expertise in battery technologies: research, mining, service companies, equipment construction and further processing.

– Most importantly, battery minerals are also located in our bedrock. Value chains can easily be built on this strong base. Versatility produces synergy benefits and helps the industry to withstand any market fluctuations.

A transparent permit process

The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) is the primary permit authority for mineral exploration and mining operations. Permits are granted on the basis of the Mining Act.

According to Aaltonen, all permit applications for mineral exploration and mining operations pass through a single
process, whether they concern battery or other minerals. The only exception is uranium. Applications for its exploration and use are subject to special regulations.

– Based largely on EU legislation, the environmental permit process is fairly cumbersome. Then again, it is also transparent. Companies have easy access to the rules and requirements of the process. There are rarely any delays in the promised processing times.

Aaltonen’s views are supported by the Fraser Institute’s annual review Permit Times for Mining Exploration in 2017, where Finland and Sweden alike are given high scores in “timeline certainty” and “transparency.”

To speed up the permit process, environmental authorities have tested a new type of a permit application process. During advance negotiations, all the authorities needed in the permit process meet the company in question to discuss the permit.

– The parties involved meet face to face. As a result, the company gets a complete view of the permit conditions. What is more, the authorities obtain a detailed picture of each other’s requirements and the project.

There is also an ongoing project with the aim of assigning permit and monitoring processes to a single authority. The goal is to make these processes easier. The new cross-governmental and multidisciplinary LuoVa unit will start operating on 1 January 2021.


Finncobalt aims to open a cobalt mine

Finncobalt aims to start the production of cobalt and nickel chemicals that are used in batteries. Its deposit is located in Outokumpu, in the area of a former copper mine.

Originally, Outokumpu Oy entered the deposit into production in the mid-1980s.  However, the sudden decline in the price of cobalt forced the company to interrupt the use of the deposit. After this, the deposit has changed hands many times over. Finncobalt acquired rights to the deposit in 2016.

During its history, the deposit has been surveyed in detail. Its nearly horizontal plate is located 150 metres above the previously excavated copper deposit. To inventory the deposit, more than 20,000 metres have been drilled. Outokumpu Oy dug a tunnel of 2,100 metres for production.

– The deposit is now known in sufficient detail for the final profitability survey. Negotiations over funding are currently in progress, says geologist Markus Ekberg, one of the three shareholders of the company.

Finncobalt aims to produce cobalt and nickel chemicals from enrichments by means of tank dissolution. In addition, the mine is expected to produce copper enrichments for smelting plants.

The company uses GTK Mintec’s services to develop the process.

– GTK Mintec already carried out process development and testing for the previous owner. In addition, GTK has taken an active part in the geological modelling of the Outokumpu zone. We will now use this research and expertise to develop our operations, Ekberg says.