In part two of our series of articles on the commodities industry in Norrbotten and Västerbotten we will highlight Boliden, one of the world's largest mining and smelting companies within zinc and the European leader in copper and nickel.
In the previous issue of our newsletter, we published the first article in our series on the commodities industries in Norrbotten and Västerbotten. The purpose of the series is to highlight our region's importance for the EU's raw materials supply based on the commodity sector assets and development in Norrbotten and Västerbotten. The foucs in the article series will be on mining companies in the minerals and metals this fall, and the forest industry early 2016.
In today's newsletter, we will publish two articles; One to highlight exploration to meet the demand for metals and secure Boliden's long-term growth, in this case Boliden's exploration at Laver area in the Municipality of Älvsbyn in Norrbotten. The other to give an overview of the company Boliden; its core business in mining and melting operations, and the measures carried out to decrease the environmental impacts and in RTD.
I. BOLIDEN'S EXPLORATION - The Laver area
Boliden's long-term growth depends on its mineral resources and ore reserves - the Group's primary assets - growing faster than ore production.
The plans currently underway at Boliden of mining establishment at the Laver area is a preliminary stage in the process before any decisions can be made.
Boliden operated a copper mine in Laver in the Municipality of Älvsbyn in Norrbotten in 1930s and 1940s and in recent years, Boliden has again invested considerable resources on exploration at the Laver area. This has led to a new discovery found and mapped. In order to secure the rights to the deposit, Boliden has applied for a mining concession to the Bergstaten, the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden. A mining concession would give Boliden the exclusive right to extract the deposit for a certain time. Environmental issues are being investigated in the mining concession process, balancing between conflicting interests in society in the current land area. In this case, it is the interest of the mineral extraction versus reindeer herding interests and of the interests of preservation of natural values.
- It is a long journey to a potential mine at Laver. Boliden has not made any investment decision on the mining establishment and further investigations need to be taken and many factors, including market development, will be considered. What is clear is that there is a copper deposit in the laver that is possible to extract, says Anders Forsgren, Boliden.
In order to start a mine an environmental permit is also required. The environmental permit process is a separate process that comes after the mining concession process. The potential environmental permit process for a mine in the laver can be expected to be extensive and complicated.
- Boliden has developed a plan for a potential mine that could be designed to the highest environmental performance and minimal environmental impact. But it cannot be avoided that a mine of this size may impact on the environment, for instance, the specific grazing land will be lost. If the mine will be established, Boliden will do what is possible to in the first place avoid such impact, and secondly to compensate for the effects that cannot be avoided, says Anders Forsgren.
The societal necessary extraction of minerals can only be done in the few places where a deposit is found. The different actors have different attitudes to a mining establishment in Laver and Boliden believes that it is possible to combine both interests of preservation of natural values and the interests of reindeer breeding.
The Municipality of Älvsbyn on mining establishment in Laver
The County Administrative Board of Norrbotten made its assessment earlier in 2015 on the mining concession Boliden submitted to the Mining Inspectorate in 2014. The County Administrative Board recommend the Mining Inspectorate not to grant a concession in the area because of a risk of substantial harm to the national interest, Natura 2000.
Pär Jonsson, Business Manager, Älvsbyn Municipality, says that the mineral deposit in Laver has been declared as a national interest by the Geological Survey of Sweden, SGU. Different national interests are standing against each other and that might cause Bergsstaten to leave the decision making to the Swedish Government.
- Although the existing mines in Norrbotten only take up 0.1% of the surface, we have respect for its impact on the environment and Sami people, Pär Jonsson says. The City Council in Älvsbyn has signed a letter of intent with political unity and endorses a mine at Laver. The aim is to ensure the establishment and simultaneously convey our demands on operations. With the letter of intent decision support, we work with the effect of a planned mine, where we have developed corporate and municipal needs for manpower by 2020. We cannot isolate ourselves in the staffing of a mine, but it also affects businesses and activities in the municipality, says Pär Jonsson.
- We have also completed a study on the need for housing on the basis of the estimations on increased labour force at the mine. Furthermore, we work with infrastructure solutions for a mine, for example, roads and freight terminal. Work on a mining establishment in Laver goes ahead as planned; there are many opinions and decisions before a mine is in place. Our scenario of a mine stands firm, says Jonsson.
The EU imports around 80% of its demand of copper, and Sweden imports about 90% of its demand of copper. The EU Raw Materials Initiative, RMI, aims to set targets to increase self-sufficiency of raw materials in the EU, with the EU taking more responsibility for its own consumption of raw materials, for example copper. Jonsson adds that Sweden will double its production of copper during the extraction at Laver Mine.
Bergsstaten has not made its decision yet.
II. BOLIDEN - one of the world's largest mining and smelting companies
Boliden, a metal company with operations throughout the metal cycle; from exploration and mining to smelting and recycling. The company's focus is on sustainable development and Boliden is one of the world's leading recycler of electronics. The company is originally Nordic, with major operations in Västerbotten and Norrbotten, but has mines and smelters in Finland, Norway and Ireland. In total, Boliden has 4900 employees and a turnover of approximately SEK 37 billion. Boliden is Skellefteå municipality's largest private employer.
Boliden operations in Northern Sweden
Zinc and copper are the two main metals for Boliden and the need for them has almost doubled in the last 25 years. The company is the fifth largest manufacturer of zinc metal from the smelter in the world. Most sales of Boliden's zinc goes to industries in Europe, where the end users mainly are active in the construction and automotive industries. Boliden is the third largest producer of copper cathodes and copper concentrates in Europe and their customers are mainly producers of copper products in Europe. Other important metals for Boliden are lead, gold and silver, which are also mined in northern Sweden.
The Boliden area
The Boliden Area is located in Skelleftefältet, which has very favorable conditions for mining as it is one of the world's most mineral-rich areas. Mining in the area began in the 1920s and today, five mines and a concentrator are in use in the area.
In 2014 more than 1,862 tons of ore in the area, 45 000 tons of zinc, 8000 tons of copper, 2000 tons of lead, 2062 kg of gold, 478 421 kg of silver and 30 917 kg tellurium were mined and enriched in the area. The ore is delivered to the concentrator at Boliden, where there also is a so called leaching plant for tellurium and gold production. About 500 people are employed in the Boliden Area.
Boliden Aitik - Sweden's largest copper pit
Sweden's largest copper pit, Boliden Aitik, is located just south of Gällivare in north Sweden. In the open pit mine, operations are ongoing 24/7 to break and carry large amounts of copper and pyrite yielding copper, silver and gold. The mine was founded in 1968 and in 2014, the mine yielded 39 090 tons of ore, 68 000 tons of copper, 54 854 kg of silver and 1767 kg of gold. Boliden is the third largest copper producer in Europe. Although the area around Aitik is relatively low in metal Aitik is the world’s most profitable copper mine. The reason for that is because of the high productivity that comes from the high level of expertise and the use of new efficient technologies. The mine has in the last ten years been undergoing major transformation towards automation, increasing productivity. In 2014 Boliden presented the expansion plans for Aitik that will see the mine's production level increased to 45 Mtonnes per year by 2017.
The mine is an important workplace for the region with close to 700 employees, making it the Gällivare municipality's largest private employer.
Boliden Rönnskär is one of the world's most efficient copper smelters and the third largest in Europe. The smelter is also world leading in recycling of copper and metals from electronic scrap and recycling lead from batteries. It is Bolidens main production unit and it’s also the region's largest private workplace. At Rönnskär copper and lead concentrates, from own and external mines, are being smelted and refined. The smelter is a metallurgical facility that extracts metals of high purity at low cost and with good environmental performance. Main products are copper, zinc clinker, lead and precious metals include sulfuric acid as a byproduct.
Rönnskär copper production started in 1930. The smelter was built from scratch to handle the ore discovered in 1924 in Boliden. The ore is first exported to smelters abroad, but because of the ore composition they could only receive small volumes. Boliden therefore built its own smelter in the islands Hamnskär and Rönnskär outside Skellefteå. The islands were filled out and united with the mainland.
At Rönnskär pure gold is also being produced, as 12.5 kg bars or granules. Granules are prepared by melted gold being poured through a filter into cold water. The advantage of granules is that they are easy to weigh and handle. Approximately 40 % of of Rönnskär's gold production comes from recycling of electronic scrap.
Boliden's environmental responsibility
Boliden's environmental responsibility is combined with a constant effort to reduce its environmental impact. The goal is to do more than what is required by laws and regulations. It is also important for Boliden to manage raw material accurately as efficient use of resources, such as recovery and recycling of metals, is an important part of their business model (see the chapter about Rönnskärsverken).
Boliden strives for zero environmental accidents. To achieve that goal effective methods and safe processes are required in all parts of the value chain, but also a focused work that takes care of the risk assessments, action plans, procedures and advanced technology.
Boliden's environmental work is organized and they are consistently working to sort out the different challenges in the process. From 2014, the following areas are prioritized for further environmental work:
- Minimize the impact on soil, air and water
- Using resources efficiently
- Finisher and protect the natural values
Post-processing is an important process to restore the environment and nature after a mine is taken out of service. Boliden is responsible for around 30 now active and abandoned mine sites which all have a long-term plan for future action.
Trade of materials and waste
Boliden complies with national legislation and international guidelines such as the OECD guidelines for trade in materials and hazardous waste and has had a strict internal policy for this type of business for several years. This means that the operator taking care of the material from Boliden for reprocessing or disposal it not paid until it can show documentation that the material is reprocessed. This is a part of every agreement.
Throughout the Aitik copper mine there is a comprehensive wireless network that is an important part of the optimization of the production process. There is a system working with the network which automatically keeps track of vehicles in the mine, and weighs and checks the cargo from the trucks. All this contributes to a world leading optimized process.
Boliden is also involved in collaboration between several actors who promote the next generation mobile networks, 5G. The goal of the partnership is to further enhance safety and productivity in mining environment, through faster response times and more precise measurements. It is not yet clear in which of the mines the new network will be tested.
At Luleå University research is conducted on the possibilities of using remote operating vehicles during fires in mines. Boliden, along with companies such as Volvo Construction Equipment AB, Örebro University, Robotdalen and emergency services in Luleå have all participated in a pilot study.
During a fire in a mine, you have to quickly evacuate the mine staff and begin with extinguishing efforts. To accelerate the work remote-controlled work vehicles, which are becoming increasingly common in Swedish mines, could quickly be made into fire fighting units.
/Alexandra Strömbäck & Oskar Ivarsson