The Year of Geology 2016

A mining company can thrive on recycling

A mining company that does not need a mine. This is one way of describing the operating idea of Mustavaaran Kaivos Oy. The company plans to obtain vanadium from the slag produced by steel industry and re-sell it to steel industry. Vanadium is a metal that is added to steel to strengthen it.

The company uses slag that is rich in vanadium, produced by the three steel mills of Swedish SSAB.

“It is a unique raw material,” says Mustavaaran Kaivos Oy’s Managing Director Jukka Pitkäjärvi.

Finding a source of vanadium and the development of a new kind of refining process changed the company’s plans entirely. Originally the idea was to restart operations in the vanadium mine located in Taivalkoski that was closed over 30 years ago. However, there is so much recycled raw material available that at least so far there is no need to excavate more.

“We have received a lot of encouraging feedback for our plans to recycle,” Pitkäjärvi says.

Steel enforced with Vanadium is used in, for example, construction, aircrafts and vehicles. “The goal of the Mustavaaran Kaivos is to produce 6–7 percent of global production.

Production is now focused in four countries, which are all located outside the EU. We have received positive messages about starting vanadium production also inside the EU,” Pitkäjärvi says.

Electricity into vanadium tanks?

If the ideas presented recently become reality, the demand for vanadium may increase a lot in the coming years.

“Some ideas about storing electricity with vanadium have been presented. Special vanadium tanks would solve a problem of storing wind, water, and solar energy. Some commercial applications have already been developed,” Pitkäjärvi says.

If the demand for vanadium would increase, it would be possible to start to exploit the significant vanadium deposit in Taivalkoski within a couple of years.

For now, Mustavaaran Kaivos plans to concentrate on recycling. A new kind of refining process allows the company to recover vanadium. The process has been developed by the company in cooperation with, for instance, GTK’s Outokumpu unit.

Pitkäjärvi believes that the cooperation will continue.

“It is great that we have been able to restore vanadium expertise to Finland and to GTK through this project.”

The next step for Mustavaaran Kaivos Oy is to establish a plant in Raahe. According to plans, it will start operating in 2019. It is estimated that it will employ over 100 people.