Nordic Mining: Balancing Economic Potential Against Cost
E&MJ looks at mining and processing developments in a region that offers vast mineral resources—and a stable environment in which to find them
By Simon Walker, European Editor
One year on, and most companies have reported progress with their projects. Some new mines have come on stream, and there have been several significant deposit dis-coveries. As with anywhere else in the world, exploration is heavily weighted toward the junior sector, with resource evaluation to the point of project sale a commonly held target. Conversely, the region has had its fair share of interest from the majors as well with, in Anglo American’s case at least, long-term persist-ence having paid off in what appears to have been a big way.
This year’s review looks individually at each of the countries across the Nordic region. Greenland with its rapidly emerg-ing exploration potential, Norway’s energy-driven metallurgy, Sweden as a growing iron ore source, and Finland’s newly found base metal resources. Not to forget, of course, Iceland, where aluminum smelting makes a major contribution to the country’s economy.
As last year’s article noted, not all of the current activity is centered on greenfield opportunities. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Greenland all have former mines that are now being revisited under different econom-ic and market conditions, with new resources being discovered, and reopened mines once again supplying the world.
Greenland: Exploration Expands
Since the early 1990s, successive admin-istrations—both Danish and, more recent-ly, the Home Rule government—have been actively promoting Greenland’s mineral-sector potential. That interesting mineral-ization exists is well-recorded, with the Greenland Geological Survey having accu-mulated substantial amounts of data on mineral resources in the ice-free rim of the island. A few have formed the basis for commercial mining operations, with others having been the subject of repeated evalu-ation by different companies.
In summary, Greenland is known to host occurrences of gold, base metals, iron ore, uranium, molybdenum, niobium, rare earths, chromite, coal, graphite, platinum-group metals, gemstones and industrial minerals such as cryolite and olivine. Production to date has focused on lead, zinc, gold, coal and industrial minerals, with mines and quarries typically in near-coast locations that provide access for materials to come in and minerals to be shipped out.
Current exploration work, mainly being undertaken by Canadian- and Australian-based juniors, is targeting iron ore, base metals, molybdenum, gold, PGMs, rare earths, niobium, molybdenum, gemstones and, controversially for Greenland, uranium.
Angel Mining, operator of the Nalunaq gold mine in southern Greenland, is con-tinuing with its redevelopment of the old Black Angel (Maarmorilik) zinc-lead mine on the west coast. Previously worked by Cominco and Boliden, the mine operated from 1973 to 1990, producing 1.4 million mt of zinc, 400,000 mt of lead and 8 mil-lion oz of silver. Retreating ice cover has revealed new areas of mineralization, adding to the resource remaining in the mine itself. Angel Mining has been rework-ing its plans, cutting its capex require-ments from around $145 million to $80 million, and investigating ways of using hydro-power to generate energy, rather than relying on diesel fuel.
At Nalunaq, meanwhile, the company is predicting an output of some 28,000 oz over the next 12 months, involving some pil-lar recovery. It is also considering a sugges-tion from Greenland-based NunaMinerals, which discovered Nalunaq, for a joint gold exploration program in the area.
Aside from gold, NunaMinerals itself has been targeting a tungsten deposit at South Margeries Dal on Ymer Island, rare-earth mineralization at Qeqertaasaq, dia-monds at Qaamasoq, and polymetallic mineralization in Inglefield Land, opposite Canada’s Ellesmere Island. Following suc-cessful recovery testwork on the South Margeries Dal scheelite mineralization, NunaMinerals CEO Ole Christiansen said, “These promising metallurgical results suggest a coarse-grained pre-concentrate could be produced on site and shipped to Europe for final concentration. South Margeries Dal could become a small but attractive start-up mining project.”
Denmark-domiciled Avannaa Resources’ exploration program this year is targeting lead and zinc in Washington Land in the far northwest of Greenland, and at Kanger-luarsuk in the west of the island. It is also looking for copper in central east Green-land, as well as flying an airborne ZTEM sur-vey of parts of Disko Island in the search for Norilsk-type nickel mineralization.
Another Look at the Zinc Potential
Zinc is also the target for Ironbark Zinc, with its main focus on the Citronenfjord Sedex-type zinc-lead deposit in the far north. Discovered by Platinova Resources in 1993, the deposit was then estimated to hold 20 million mt grading 7% zinc and 1% lead. Low world zinc prices halted Platinova’s interest there, but since taking on the license, Ironbark has drilled over 67,000 m, and has re-estimated resources at 70 million mt grading 5.7% combined lead and zinc. An updated feasibility study on Citronenfjord has projected capex of $500 million for an initial 13-year under-ground and open-pit operation.
Ironbark is also evaluating the Cass Fjord zinc prospect in Washington Land, discov-ered by Platinova and Rio Tinto, as well as its Mesters Vig property in eastern Green-land, which hosts the former Blyklippen lead-zinc mine. This was worked from 1956 to 1962, with an output of 545,000 mt of ore containing 9.3% lead and 9.9% zinc. The zinc-refiner, Nyrstar, is a major share-holder in Ironbark, which secured $50 mil-lion in funding from Glencore in December.
Hudson Resources and Tanbreez (owned by Australian junior Rimbal) are separately evaluating niobium and rare-earth prospects. Hudson’s target is part of the Sarfartoq car-bonatite complex in western Greenland, where New Millennium Resources previous-ly spent $5 million on exploration and test-work, while Tanbreeze (Ta-Nb-REE-Zir-conium) is planning to extract eudialyte and feldspar concentrates from a deposit in the Ilimaussaq complex in the south of the island. Hudson recently reported that a 5 mt bulk sample taken from the ST1 area at Sarfartoq graded 2.5% REOs.
Ram Resources and Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. (GMEL) are also evaluating different parts of the Ilimaussaq complex. GMEL is working on the multi-commodity Kvanefjeld project, which hosts rare earths, uranium and zinc, with a prefeasibility study having estimated capex of $1.53 billion for a 7.2 million mt/y-throughput operation. Ram’s Motzfeldt project, 60 km away, con-tains a niobium-tantalum resource that was discovered by the Geological Survey in the 1980s, and was subsequently evaluated by Cabot Corp. and Angus & Ross.
Exploration at Kvanefjeld, among other projects, has reopened the debate within Greenland over uranium production, which is currently subject to a ‘zero-tolerance’ pol-icy. Questions are now being asked, however, if this could be relaxed if uranium were to be produced as a by-product, rather than the principal target commodity. In July, Greenland Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist was reported to have played down the pos-sibility, saying: “I cannot put a date on when or if that will happen....we have not received any applications from companies that want to mine radioactive materials.”
Earlier press reports had suggested that South Korean companies are prepared to invest $2.5 billion in the Kvanefjeld pro-ject, while there was also speculation over potential Chinese investment in London Mining’s Isua iron ore project in west-cen-tral Greenland. Here, a feasibility study has shown the potential for supplying 15 mil-lion mt/y of pellet-feed concentrate, based on a 380 million mt indicated resource, with capex requirements of $2.4 billion. If this were to go ahead, it would represent the largest single investment ever made in Greenland, with significant implications for the island’s heavily subsidized economy. Elsewhere in Greenland, other interest-ing prospects include True North Gems’ ruby-sapphire project at Fiskenæsset, where a prefeasibility study has been com-pleted, and Skærgaard, where Platina Resources is evaluating the gold-palladium potential. The company aims to update an earlier scoping study on the project, with further drilling planned for 2013.
Feasibility studies on Alcoa’s proposed 360,000-mt/y aluminum smelter at Maniitsoq were completed last year, with the project now being considered by the Greenland parliament.
Norway: Iron in the Spotlight
With its Sydvaranger iron ore operation in far northern Norway now producing at a rate of some 2 million mt/y of magnetite con-centrate, Northern Iron was the target for competing take-over bids earlier this year. In July, Swiss-based Prominvest offered A$525 million for the company, topping the Indian Aditya Birla Group’s earlier A$518 million bid. In the mean time, Northern Iron is continuing with studies on doubling capacity at Sydvaranger, which has a 450 million mt resource held in four main mag-netite-bearing zones: Kjellmannsåsen, Fisketind Øst, Bjørnevatn and Tverrdalen. The company won an increased offtake deal with Tata Steel this year, to 1.775 million mt, with Tata carrying out sintering trials at its European operations. Other shipments go to the Chinese market.
Further south, on Norway’s west coast, Rana Gruber produces some 3.3 million mt/y of magnetite and haematite ore from its mine near Mo i Rana. Now owned by the tunneling and civil-engineering contractor, Leonhard Nilsen & Sønner AS, Rana Gruber has been in production since 1937, initially from open-pits, with a change to underground mining in 2000.
Sublevel open stoping is now being replaced by sublevel caving at Kvanne-vann, with crushed run-of-mine ore being transported by rail to the company’s con-centrator at Mo i Rana. Between 2007 and 2009, parent company Nilsen undertook the development of a new main level in the mine, where reserves now stand at around 40 million mt. The operation produces 1.3 million mt/y of hematite and magnetite concentrates, and specialty products for the paint, construction and auto industries.
Further south again, Kronos Titan (part of the U.S. NL group) produces around 3 mil-lion mt/y of ilmenite from its Tellnes open-pit operation in southwestern Norway. In pro-duction since 1960, the company opened a new pit in 2009, with resources reportedly sufficient for 50 years’ production.
The Belgian company, Sibelco, is also a major player in Norway’s industrial-minerals sector, with operations at Lillesand (feldspar and quartz), Åheim, Bryggja and Raubergvik (olivine), and Stjernøy (nepheline syenite). Both Bryggja and Raubergvik are unusual in that they are underground operations.
Norway is also a coal producer, from Store Norske’s mines on Svalbard. The com-pany has a marketing agreement with Glencore over its output. Mining in the Svea Nord mine is coming to an end, with Store Norske targeting the nearby Lunckefjell resource for its next phase of production. Permitting was granted at the end of last year, and commissioning of a 1.5 million-2 million mt/y longwall mine is planned for 2015, with much of the output being sold into PCI markets. The company also oper-ates the 50-year-old Gruve 7 pit, where a new mining plan has been implemented and $17 million invested in new equipment.
Svalbard is, of course, also home to the Russian coal company, the aptly named Arktikugol, although details of the current state of its operations are scarce. With a production rate of around 120,000 mt/y to conserve resources, coal from the Barentsburg mine is reportedly exported to customers in Europe.
Europe’s Aluminum No.1
Norway’s main contribution to world metal markets comes from its extensive smelting operations, powered by hydroelectricity. Operations include Boliden’s Odda zinc refinery, ferrosilicon and metallic silicon production by Elkem at Bjølvefossen and Bremanger, nickel refining at Xstrata’s Nikkelwerk, manganese ferroalloys by Glencore—which bought the 120,000-mt/y operation at Mo i Rana from Vale ear-lier this year—and aluminum.
Having bought Elkem’s aluminum opera-tions in 2008, Alcoa has the Lista and Mosjøen smelters, with a combined capaci-ty of 282,000 mt/y. However, Norway’s big-hitter in the aluminum world is Hydro, which wholly owns the Årdal, Høyanger, Karmøy and Sunndal smelters, with a combined 937,000 mt/y capacity, and has a 50% holding in the 165,000 mt/y Husnes plant with Rio Tinto Alcan. Hydro—now 22%-owned by Brazil’s Vale—also has a 50% stake in the 585,000 mt/y Qatalum smelter in Qatar, as well as other bauxite, alumina and aluminum interests in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Slovakia.
Founded in 1905, Hydro was initially a fertilizer producer, then moved into oil and gas in the 1960s. It divested both these interests during the past decade, and is now focusing on aluminum smelting as its core business.
As noted in last year’s Nordic mining review, Norway’s geology is significantly different from that of Sweden or Finland, with a much lower potential for base- and precious-metals mineralization. None-theless, some occurrences are known, including the Bidjovagge deposit in Finnmark, where Outokumpu produced copper and gold from 1985 to 1991. Swedish junior Arctic Gold now has the property, where drilling during 2011 increased the indicated resource to 2 mil-lion mt grading 1.6 g/mt gold and 1.15% copper. The company recently suspended operations there, however, having appar-ently run foul of local political issues.
Also evaluating copper resources in the far north, Nussir ASA’s main assets are the Nussir and Ulveryggen properties. Folldal Verk mined some 3 million mt of ore from Ulveryggen in the 1970s, with Nussir having been drilling on both properties since 2007.
Sweden: Stability Underpins Development
By any standards, the quarterly newsletter produced by the Swedish Geological Survey (SGU) provides a good yardstick by which to measure current exploration and development activity in the country, main-ly from junior companies’ perspective. As an example, recent editions have con-tained headline information on up to 20 companies’ projects, providing clear evi-dence of the strength and breadth of min-eral-sector interest there today.
And, as exploration companies have realized right across the Nordic region, not only are greenfield targets increasing in numbers, but there are significant oppor-tunities to be found in re-evaluating deposits that were worked in the past under different economic, tenure and mar-ket conditions. Examples here include the Viscaria copper-magnetite mine, formerly operated by Outokumpu and now being redrilled by Avalon Minerals, the Sala sil-ver mine, where Tumi Resources has defined a new zinc-silver exploration tar-get parallel to the historic workings, and the Dannemora iron ore mine, where Dannemora Minerals shipped its first product to a steelworks in Germany at the end of June. Hence there are clearly good brownfield opportunities as well.
Looking at each of these in turn, Avalon Minerals believes that Viscaria is the largest copper-iron greenstone-hosted VMS deposit in northern Sweden, with a resource containing 600,000 mt of copper and 2.5 million mt of iron. The company has a major drill program scheduled for this year to provide data for a feasibility study that it began in 2010. Avalon’s exploration portfolio in the Kiruna region includes the Kurravarra, Vittangijarvi, Karkejaure and Kallojankka copper-iron prospects, focusing here rather than on its interests covering the old Adak, Lindskold, Brannmyran, Karlsson and Rudtjebacken mines in the Skellefteå mining district.
In June, Tumi Resources reported that diamond drilling from a nearby dolomite mine had shown that the Sala mineraliza-tion continues to plunge from the historic mine area and remains open down dip. The mine, which closed in 1909, was renowned for the grade of some of its silver ores, as well as producing copper, lead and zinc.
Tumi is also targeting tungsten and fluorspar resources at five locations in south-central Sweden, as well as base metal prospects around the old Tomtebo mine near Falun and the Lövåsens mines close to the Norwegian border.
The first shipment of iron ore from Dannemora followed the official reopening of the mine by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf in the middle of June. During 2011, Dannemora Mineral signed five-year offtake agreements with two German steel-makers and the UK-based steel trader, Stemcor, for up to 1.2 million mt/y of prod-uct. The company recently updated its reserve estimate for the mine to 35.1 mil-lion mt (probable) at 35.3% Fe, giving a 15-year mine life at an output rate of 1.5 million mt/y of lump and fines products, and is targeting an eventual corporate out-put of 5 million mt/y.
A Good Year for Business
Sweden’s existing mining companies bene-fited from a buoyant commodities market during 2011. Iron ore and pellet producer, LKAB, produced 42.7 million mt of crude ore during the year, which it processed into 26.1 million mt of iron ore products, including 23 million mt of pellets. It reported a rise in net profits to SEK11 bil-lion ($1.7 billion) in 2011 on revenues of SEK31.1 billion ($4.8 billion) for the year. However, its plans to increase output from its Svappavaara operations near Kiruna received a setback earlier this year, when its environmental permitting for the Gruvberget mine there was suspended.
Boliden’s main expansion project, to increase ore production at its Garpenberg underground mine from 1.4 million to 2.5 million mt/y, is scheduled to reach full capacity in 2015. The company is invest-ing $600 million in the project. Garpen-berg produced 80,000 mt of zinc, 28,000 mt of lead and 4.5 million oz of silver dur-ing 2011, plus copper and gold.
Other projects currently under way include reopening the former Kankberg mine in the Skellefteå district as a gold and tellurium producer. The company is also studying further expansions at its Aitik open-pit to 45 million mt/y of copper ore initially, then to 65 million mt/y, and is evaluating a newly discovered copper resource near its old Laver mine, which was in production from 1938 to 1946. Early indications are of some 500 million-700 million mt of mineralization contain-ing copper, gold, silver and molybdenum.
In smelting, Boliden has invested $200 million to increase scrap electronics smelting capacity at its Rönnskär smelter to 120,000 mt/y, and is building a silver-recovery circuit at its Kokkola zinc refinery in Finland, with the aim of winning up to 800,000 oz/y, starting in 2014.
Lundin Mining’s Zinkgruvan mine achieved record output in the second quar-ter of the year, the company reported, as the average grade increased to 10.7% Zn and recoveries improved as well. The mine is on course to produce 77,000– 83,000 mt of zinc this year, up to 39,000 mt of lead and up to 4,000 mt of copper, as the ramp-up of production from its new copper-rich ore zone continues.
And in gold, the Bjorkdal mine pro-duced 40,338 oz in 2011 from 1.2 mil-lion mt grading 1.16 g/mt. Production was won from both open-pit and under-ground mining, with over 5 km of devel-opment completed during the year. Since coming on stream in 1988, Bjorkdal has passed though a number of hands: Terra Mining, Williams Resources, Minmet, Gold-Ore and, most recently Elgin Mining, which bought Gold-Ore in May. Aggregate output since 1988 has been over 1 mil-lion oz, with Elgin predicting higher production in 2012 as underground mining rates increase.
Mining at Dragon Mining’s Svartliden operation, inland from Skellefteå, is sched-uled to switch from open-pit to under-ground later this year. Since being com-missioned in 2008, the mine has pro-duced nearly 300,000 oz of gold from 2.1 million mt grading 4.54 g/mt. Dragon is continuing with exploration in the Svartliden area, and in joint venture with Botnia Exploration on the neighboring Harpsund prospect. Other companies involved in gold exploration in Sweden include Orex Minerals, which is carrying out a drilling program at Barsele this year.
Brownfields Iron Ore Potential
In iron ore, Scandianavian Resources’ sub-sidiary Kiruna Iron is targeting 1,000 million mt of reserves in the Kiruna district having already achieved nearly half this in indicated and inferred resources at its Kiruna hub. It is also investigating potential at its Lannavaara hub under a joint venture with Boliden that gives it access to any iron ore resources found. In mid-2012, Hannans Reward Ltd. took over Scandinavian Resources, which also had the Särksjön, Daningen and Korpilombolo copper-gold prospects in Sweden and several others in Norway.
In April, Grängesberg Iron received a positive prefeasibility study on its plan to reopen the former Grängesberg mine to pro-duce some 2.5 million mt/y of iron ore prod-ucts for export to European and Middle Eastern markets from 2015. The company has applied for a mining permit, with capex costs estimated at $550 million for an oper-ation producing pellet feed, or $850 million for an integrated mine and pellet plant.
Nearby, Nordic Iron Ore has a similar output target for its plans to reopen the for-mer Blötberget and Håksberg mines. It has permits for both properties, and is continu-ing with its evaluation of the Väsman mag-netite prospect, which lies between them.
Further ahead in the process, North-land Resources reports that it is on sched-ule to start production at its Tapuli mine, part of its Kaunisvaara iron ore project in the far north of Sweden, later this year. The company has estimated capex needs of $735 million to achieve an output of 5 mil-lion mt/y of high-grade pellet-feed concen-trates, with offtake agreements for all of its output secured from Tata Steel, Stemcor and Standard Bank. Northland raised $325 million in a share issue and $350 million in bonds earlier this year to fund the project.
The company is also developing the neighboring Sahavaara deposit, and will complete feasibility studies on its Pellivuoma property, and for Hannukainen in Finland, this year. Hannukainen was worked by the Finnish steel company, Rautaruukki, in the 1980s, and contains copper and gold as well as iron.
Nickel Mountain Resources’ Rönn-bäcken project is founded on the Vinberget, Rönnbäcksnäset and Sunds-berget low-grade nickel sulphide de-posits. Recent drilling has allowed the company to upgrade its resource estimate for the property to some 670 million mt, on which a prefeasibility study will be com-pleted this year. Nickel Mountain is envis-aging a 30 million mt/y open-pit operation producing 26,000 mt/y of nickel and 760 mt/y of cobalt, albeit at a capex require-ment indicated at over $1 billion.
Prefeasibility studies are also under way on Aura Energy’s Häggån uranium prospect in central Sweden. Hosted in black shales, with ancillary molybdenum, vanadium, nickel and zinc, the resource has been upgraded to nearly 300,000 mt of uranium in just 15% of the project area, with the neighboring Marby prospect also having been shown to carry uranium mineraliza-tion. Aura Energy is looking at an open-pit operation capable of producing 3,500 mt/y of uranium, 6,700 mt of nickel and 1,950 mt of moly, using bio heap-leaching.
Finland: A New Base-metals Province?
News of Anglo American’s discovery of the Sakatti copper-nickel-PGM deposit in northern Finland came just too late for last year’s Nordic review article in E&MJ. Although located within a known mining district, Sakatti was a greenfield discovery for which Anglo’s team received an award at last year’s Fennoscandian Exploration and Mining Conference, held in Levi, Finland, in early November.
According to Anglo in its 2011 annual report, the ultramafic-hosted mineralization at Sakatti plunges to more than 1,000 m and is open at depth and to the west, north and south. The company spent some €30 million on exploration in the Sodankylä dis-trict between 2004 and 2011, with Sakatti being just one of a number of areas of min-eralization discovered there. Copper and nickel grades are reportedly much higher than those found at First Quantum Minerals’ nearby Kevitsa mine, although the deposit’s location in an environmentally sensitive area may prove a significant challenge for Anglo.
First Quantum began commissioning the Kevitsa plant in May, with the mine current-ly engineered to produce around 11,000 mt/y of nickel and 20,000 mt/y of copper from 5.5 million mt of ore. Permitting for an increase to 10 million mt/y is already being sought. The company acquired the project when it bought Scandinavian Minerals in 2008, and has spent $470 million in con-structing the initial open-pit mine. Reserves are 160 million mt grading 0.29% Ni and 0.4% Cu, plus gold and PGMs. Recent exploration has focused on the nearby Satovaara and Bonanza prospects, with some intersections having returned nickel grades of up to 2.4%.
While Kevitsa uses conventional con-centrator technology, Talvivaara Mining’s Sotkamo operation has broken new ground with its bioleaching system. The mine’s out-put of 16,100 mt of nickel and 31,800 mt of zinc last year marked a steady increase over 2010, but the operation was hit hard earlier this year by snow-melt flooding and excessive rain, which diluted the leach solutions. Since then, the company has worked on measures to avoid this happen-ing again, as well as investing in new reverse-osmosis water-treatment and H 2S emissions-burning plants.
The next stage in development for Talvivaara will be commissioning its urani-um-recovery unit, with construction permit-ting having been received in March and a new environmental permit awaited. The company expects to produce around 350 mt/y of uranium, with the Canadian produc-er, Cameco, underwriting the €45 million-€50 million cost of the recovery plant through advance payments.
Outokumpu’s project to double fer-rochrome capacity at its Tornio plant to 530,000 mt/y is still on-going. This will have a knock-on effect for the company’s Kemi chromite mine, where the current 1.3 million mt/y ore output will also double.
New Mines, Old Mines...
Since Agnico-Eagle commissioned Fin-land’s largest gold mine—Kittilä—in 2009, mining has moved from open-pit to underground, with the company predicting an output of 155,000 oz this year. Continuing exploration has led to an upgrade in reserves, with Agnico-Eagle having carried out a feasibility study into a 25% throughput increase to 3,750 mt/d. A study on a further capacity increase, based on new resources found in the Rimpi zone, is due for completion in 2014. At the end of last year, reserves stood at 34.5 million mt grading 4.66 g/mt, for 5.2 million oz. The greenstone-hosted deposit lies in an area with similar geology to that found in the Abitibi region of the Canadian Shield, the company said.
Inmet Mining’s Pyhäsalmi mine cele-brates its 50th anniversary this year, having been opened by Outokumpu in 1962. Last year it produced 14,000 mt of copper and 32,300 mt of zinc, plus pyrite concentrate for the chemicals industry. Now one of Europe’s deepest mines, it has reserves sufficient to last until 2018. In the mean-time, Inmet is continuing with exploration in Finland, targeting Lapland’s porphyry copper potential in what it describes as “a highly prospective but under-explored mineral district.”
Belvedere Resources milled 570,000 mt of ore at its Hitura mine last year, pro-ducing 2,150 mt of nickel. In April, it upgraded some resources within its open-pit to probable reserves of 1 million mt grading 0.38% Ni, with further resources beneath and adjacent to the pit. The com-pany is also working on metallurgical stud-ies at its Kopsa gold-copper property, where it is aiming to start mining in 2014. It has farmed out a number of non-core gold prospects to REBgold Corp., which is investigating if its proprietary BACOX bac-terial oxidation and bioleaching technology can be used on them.
...and Even More Commodities
After a number of diversions, Gold Fields is focusing on its Arctic Platinum project, where it aims to publish a resource esti-mate for the Suhanko North deposit before the end of this year. It now has three resource areas within the project, Kontti-jarvi, Ahmavaara and Suhanko North, with a prefeasibility study that includes the use of Platsol hydrometallurgical processing now in progress. It has also submitted revisions to its existing environmental permits to cover Platsol use and the inclusion of Suhanko North into the project.
Akkerman Exploration has farmed out a number of its projects to other compa-nies, including the Mustavaara iron-titani-um-vanadium deposit to Mustavaaran Kaivos. Rautaruukki worked Mustavaara between 1976 and 1985, producing around 2,700 mt/y of V 2O5. Mustavaaran Kaivos is now running a feasibility study on a 3.25 million mt/y open-pit operation, based on reserves that it has increased to 97 million mt grading 0.91% V in a magnetite concentrate.
Nortec Minerals is earning interests from Akkerman in its Karhujupukka vanadium-iron-nickel-copper-pgm project, Seinajoki gold project and Kaatiala lithium-REE project, with an airborne VTEM survey planned for Karhujupukka this year.
Nordic Mines poured the first gold from its Laiva mine at the end of last year, and produced 12,500 oz during the first half of this year. The Canadian gold pro-ducer, Eldorado Gold, took a small stake in Nordic in July, which is working to expand the mine’s current reserve of 17 million mt at 1.6 g/mt.
In June, the Finnish government award-ed Sotkamo Silver a €1.5-million grant towards infrastructure costs during devel-opment of its Taivaljärvi silver mine. Last year, the company re-estimated resources at the project to 2.2 million mt grading 125 g/mt silver equivalent. Recent geo-physics has indicated that the resource extends to a depth of at least 1,000 m, which Sotkamo Silver intends to test by drilling next year.
Tasman Metals recently acquired the Korsnäs South, Siilinjärvi and Laivajoki rare-earths projects in central Finland from pri-vately owned Magnus Minerals, which is also involved in exploration projects with Western Areas (nickel) and Antofagasta Minerals (copper). Outokumpu worked Korsnäs South for lead and rare earths during the 1960s, with all three rare-earths prospects being carbonatite-hosted. Tasman also has the Norra Karr rare-earths project in Sweden.
Western Areas’ FinnAust joint venture with Magnus Minerals has a number of tar-gets, including extensions to the former Hammaslahti (copper-zinc) and Outo-kumpu (copper) mines. Recent work has included an airborne ZTEM survey over seven project areas known to host base-metal mineralization.
Stable Foundations for Mine Projects
With mineral resource development in the Nordic countries having been liberalized, allowing private-sector companies access once again, exploration and mine construc-tion has been big business across the region. Buoyant commodity prices have also been a major driver, albeit with the realization that the costs of doing business can be significantly higher in the north than in other parts of the world.
Set against this, of course, is compa-nies’ appreciation of the fiscal and legal stability that these countries provide. In the most recent edition of the Fraser Institute’s annual mining survey, Norway, Sweden and Finland ranked highly in terms of being among the least corrupt mining destina-tions, Greenland was close to the top in terms of its mineral potential under current legislation and land-use restrictions, and all four are perceived as being able to deliver fair and transparent legal processes.
Of more concern is the relationship between mining and uncertainties over the designation of wilderness reserves and, as some companies working in the far north have found out, traditional economies there can be at odds with exploration and mine development. On the whole, however, the Nordic countries are perceived as having world-class mineral potential, stable and fair minerals-sector administration, excel-lent and easily accessible geo-information, and the culture of mining that paves the way for successful projects. Not many other regions of the world can say the same.
Iceland’s Energy Powers Smelter Expansions
Despite, or perhaps because of, its recent creation and active vol-canic genesis, Iceland has few economic mineral resources. It does, however, have significant hydro-electric and geothermal power potential, which forms the basis for its current mineral sector industry.
Aside from peat for fuel, past production has been focused on small occurrences of relatively unusual minerals. High-purity calcite (Iceland spar) was mined for use in optical instruments, while up to the beginning of the 17th century, Iceland was Europe’s prin-cipal source of native sulphur—as an ingredient for gunpowder. Diatomite production began in the 1960s at Lake Mývatn, with dredged material being cleaned and dried using geothermal heat, while salt has also been produced by geothermal evaporation.
Aside from this, however, exploration for metals has revealed little other than minor traces of copper and titanium minerals.
Exploiting Hydro and Geo Resources
The longest-established aluminum smelter, Straumsvik, came on stream in 1969. Now operated by Rio Tinto Alcan, it has a capacity of around 185,000 mt/y. Century Aluminum commis-sioned its 260,000-mt/y Grundartangi plant in 1998, while the most recent addition to Iceland’s smelting capacity, Alcoa’s Fjarðaál unit, has a capacity of 346,000 mt/y and opened in 2007. The first two of these are in the west of the island, while
In 2006, Alcoa began a feasibility study into a geothermal-powered, 250,000 mt/y smelter at Húsavík, but dropped the pro-ject in October last year on power-availability and cost grounds. Meanwhile Century Aluminum’s Icelandic operating subsidiary, Norðurál, began construction on a new 250,000-mt/y smelter at Helguvík, 50 km from Reykjavik, in 2008, but this project has also stalled over as-yet unresolved power-supply issues. At Straumsvik, Rio Tinto Alcan is currently working on its ISAL Production Upgrade (IPU) project, which involves increasing capacity by 41,000 mt/y and converting the casthouse from sheet to billet production.
The ferrosilicon plant at Grundartangi was opened by Icelandic Alloys in 1975 as a joint venture between Union Carbide and the Iceland government. The Norwegian specialist silicon producer, Elkem, later acquired the operation, and was itself taken over by Chinese state-controlled company Blue Star in 2011.
The Grundartangi operation has been producing somewhat over 100,000 mt/y of standard-grade ferrosilicon since the mid-2000s, and for the past five years has been using around one-third of its output to produce higher-value magnesium-ferrosilicon.
During a state visit to Iceland in April by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, agreements were signed for Blue Star to invest around $1 billion in a new silicon metal plant at Grundartangi, with produc-tion aimed at the solar energy market.