International interest in circular economy opportunities in the mining industry – automation spurs on development work
- GTK Mintec, the Outokumpu mineral processing pilot plant and laboratories of Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), is modernising the automation control system at its pilot plant.
- A new process automation system, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Process Expert, has been installed for GTK Mintec. It provides real-time data on mineral processing.
- In the mining industry, new processing methods can be used to extract valuable minerals from tailings and recover dissolved metals from process waters in an environmentally friendly way.
- Digitalisation also enables GTK Mintec to use a digital twin to model various process operations. The new research capabilities will make the Outokumpu pilot plant and laboratories one of the world’s leading experts.
Press release, Espoo, 12.3.2021 – GTK Mintec conducts advanced research into minerals and the circular economy in Outokumpu. As an expert in geological resources, Geological Survey of Finland provides objective information and services for the needs of business and society.
One of the assets of GTK Mintec’s mineral processing plant that is generating interest also among international customers is a tailings pond that enables circular economy research in the areas of water circulation and tailings utilisation. The most important customers of the unit come from the mining, circular economy, chemical and metal industries.
Research and testing at GTK Mintec’s pilot plant provide customers with an overview of the real efficiency of a beneficiation process, and the results can be used to estimate the commercial value of the mineral deposit.
“The aim is to optimise the environmentally friendly utilisation of the ore, while ensuring the best possible result for the customer,” says Jouko Nieminen, Head of Unit, Circular Economy Solutions, at Geological Survey of Finland.
“For instance, material in the tailings ponds of old, closed mines can be reprocessed to extract and recover fractions from side streams that have value or that require further processing to ensure eco-friendliness.”
In order to boost process efficiency, GTK Mintec chose an automation technology solution provided by Schneider Electric, a specialist in energy management and automation. The EcoStruxure Process Expert process automation system was delivered to the pilot plant by Pasram.
“The system is connected to variable speed drives, motor starters and electric power management equipment, such as switches and power meters, among others. The real-time process data can be used to measure, analyse and, if necessary, adjust energy consumption at the plant, for example. The system also allows changes to the process on a hardware level during the run, which makes process adaptation dynamic,” says Mikko Hytönen, Sales Manager at Schneider Electric.
A digital twin enables experiments
The digitalisation of the plant involved the need to enable the utilisation of the collected data in an efficient and versatile way. For example, when digital data linked to a mineral accompanies the sample, the behaviour of the mineral in the tailings pond can be monitored.
GTK Mintec considers the role of the digital twin to be one of the major advantages of Schneider’s automation solution. Automation makes it possible to copy the physical plant into the digital world.
“We can model and test production processes using a digital twin, as we can obtain the data required directly from the automation system. This provides data on the process, and depending on the characteristics of the ore, we can develop more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient processes.”
New froth flotation cells and a new laboratory in the pipeline
According to Jouko Nieminen, GTK Mintec aims to be the best mineral processing pilot plant in the world, offering services to both Finnish and international research and business.
In addition to digitalisation, the pilot plant’s development towards a modern research and development platform is supported by the new froth flotation cells to be commissioned in summer 2021. GTK Mintec received funding for the acquisition from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Regional Council of North Karelia.
Froth flotation cells are used in the beneficiation of circular economy materials, as well as battery, base and industrial minerals.
“Flotation is the most common beneficiation method that we use in the processing laboratory to conduct studies. Thanks to the froth flotation cell investment, our domestic and international customers will be able to use highly modern technology in the study of battery minerals and recycled materials, among others,” Nieminen says.
Nieminen points out that Finland already has cutting-edge know-how in mineral processing. GTK Mintec has more than thirty years of experience in beneficiation studies of minerals, metals, recycled materials and industrial side streams in Finnish and international research and development projects.
“The digitalisation of our process automation, the new froth flotation cells and the new laboratory to be completed in Outokumpu in 2023 will make our plant entirely unique in the world.”
Mikko Hytönen, Sales Manager, Schneider Electric
Tel. +358 50 440 3963, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jouko Nieminen, Head of Unit, Circular Economy Solutions, Geological Survey of Finland
Tel. +358 29 503 2180, email@example.com