Resource efficiency to the forefront

Three billion new middle-class consumers will need vital resources such as metals and clean water in the coming decades. To cope with these global challenges related to resources, we offer technologies and services that reduce the consumption of energy and water by increasing material efficiency, recycling metals and reprocessing tailings and wastes.

Outotec’s technologies have always been known for their resource efficiency, and this is what gives the company its competitive edge. In today’s market environment, characterized by declining ore grades and increased operating costs, our customers are increasingly emphasizing resource efficiency among their requirements.

For this reason, Outotec is focusing more than ever before on improving the systemic resource efficiency of its technologies, to also enable economically viable metal production in smaller capacity plants. Our offering encompasses favorable solutions for resource extraction, primary production, the processing of secondary raw materials, waste-to-energy schemes, and renewable energy production.

Mined metals

Ore grades are becoming more complex and more difficult to process. Although raw minerals are non-renewable resources, metals – once mined and processed – are 100 percent recyclable. Moving towards the circular economy has two essential implications for our industry. Primary production chains must become much more efficient; while more metals must be recovered from residues, scrap and products at the end of their life-cycle.

At Outotec we have the right expertise for both these developments. Using our technology mix and our deep knowledge, we can tailor systemic solutions to treat a wide range of feed materials, including both primary minerals from geological mines, and secondary materials containing minerals sourced from urban mines. We can help our customers to maximize metal yields by using advanced technologies that involve digitalization, automation, closed material loops, efficient water management and paste backfill solutions.

One of Outotec’s recent developments is the introduction of a rigorous analysis framework of Outotec’s solutions. This framework can be adapted to each customer’s process requirements, enabling us to assess resource efficiency and specific flows of raw materials, water, energy and wastes in the context of the circular economy and focusing on the direct and indirect environmental impacts of Outotec’s solutions. Customers can use this information in their decision-making, enabling them to choose the most environmentally sound option and understand the tradeoffs between different process options.

Although mining companies typically invest in large equipment and processing units, using the economics of scale to seek profitability and low unit costs, they are still increasingly putting resource efficiency and environmental sustainability high on their agenda. The current business environment does not encourage companies to make large investments to increase their metal processing capacities.

In response to this trend,Outotec has launched alternative, modular plant concepts. Such plants are mainly small in scale, but at the same time flexible and resource efficient. Our recently launched modular solvent extraction and flotation plants are very agile. They can easily be adjusted to various production volumes by adding further modules, and they can also be reused in other sites with relatively light additional structures, after production ceases at their original site. Simplified design and modularization gives products a longer life-cycle and a higher end-of-life value.

By-products

By-products from metallurgical processes, such as minority metals, acids, salts, chemicals and slag, can be recovered to create saleable products usable as raw materials in other industries. Another type of by-product is energy recovered from the processes, typically in the form of steam, which can be used in the process itself, in other processes, or even in electricity generation. It is essential to find ways to use such surplus energy in order to reach high energy efficiency. The heat generated in processes should be recovered and used in other processing phases.

Secondary raw materials

Metals are different from other materials in that they are inherently recyclable. Metals have already been recycled for thousands of years. In addition to providing environmental benefits, recycling is often also less costly.

However, the challenge of using secondary raw materials is the complexity of the raw material, which may include a mixture of alloys in different physical forms, as well as electronics, plastics, oil, fluids, textiles, metals, glass, sand etc. Outotec has plenty of experience integrating several different technologies smartly to maximize the economically viable recovery of multiple materials, and to utilize the energy contained in the feed in the processing. In secondary smelting it is also essential to capture emissions generated during the process, and Outotec has several alternatives for cleaning gases before releasing them into the atmosphere.

Water

Clean fresh water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Demand and supply can be brought into a sustainable balance only by changing the pattern of demand, or by introducing new sources of supply. Above all, water losses should be minimized, and water must be used much more efficiently.  

Outotec’s solutions can optimize water management in entire mines, including concentrator sites. The target is to minimize fresh water consumption by implementing water reuse, recycling and cleaning practices.

Our paste plant technology for mineral concentrators and effluent treatment of metallurgical processes are proven solutions. Another viable solution for waste material storage is the dry stacking of concentrator sand, which is a far safer method than the tailings dams that are still widely used. For waste water treatment we have developed a process for managing sulfate, which is a common and growing challenge in the industry.

Municipal and industrial wastes

Resources that can be recovered from municipal waste water treatment sludge include energy, a range of metals, nutrients, and other salts and chemicals. A state-of-the-art Sewage Sludge Incineration Plant typically operates through a self-sustaining process, with no need for adding external fuel. Such plants can produce a surplus of heat or even electrical power, and comply with all emission standards. In addition, Outotec can help companies to move on from merely cleaning water to the minimizing of wastewater streams and the establishing of practical resource recovery concepts.

A wide range of fuels, such as agricultural waste, municipal solid waste, wood waste, industrial and municipal sludge, plastic, and tires may be used for energy production with Outotec technologies. Such processes can close critical metal and nutrient cycles by turning waste ash into a raw material, or even a ready product such as phosphate or fertilizer.

New business from resource efficiency

One of the key drivers behind resource efficiency is the notion that it plays an important role not only from an environmental perspective, but also by securing a competitive advantage.

During the prevailing market situation, when companies are looking for all possible ways to boost profits without making large capital investments in new plants, we have found new business opportunities in the quest to improve resource efficiency. After analyzing each link of our customers’ operations, we can suggest services and alterations that will improve their performance, recommending models that include novel ways of capturing value. Such changes can enable customers to reduce the amounts of energy, chemicals and other inputs they use, for instance.

This report introduces several business cases demonstrating how we can help our customers to improve their resource efficiency: