With aging projects a fast-growing problem for top copper miners, enhancing productivity and increasing efficiency are real challenges. International Copper Association (ICA) members are pioneering strategies to extract this prized ore the world over.
Boliden Group’s Aitik copper mine in Sweden, founded in 1968 and located approximately 100 km north of the Arctic Circle near the town of Gällivare, has long maintained a distinctive record in the industry. This low-grade asset, at 450 meters deep, is one of the planet’s lowest cost and most productive mines. Aitik is also one of the largest, open-pit copper mines in Europe. In 2016, it yielded 36 million tonnes of ore.
The company already operates some of the largest machines in the world’s mining sector. The site hosts rock dumpers, which have wheels four meters wide, excavators with a bucket capacity of 45 cubic meters of rock and a weight of 570 tonnes when fully loaded.
Still, strict balance sheets of mandated change, production and sustainability are set to grow.
A Transformation Begins
Technicians with Boliden undertook a multifaceted review of the asset’s operations to devise a strategy to increase output by 25 percent, from 36 million tonnes of ore to 45 million by 2020. From 2016 to 2019, the company worked with Metso to build a new crushing plant which—in conjunction with its two in-pit crushers—has the capacity to reach the production target.
Yet achieving peak performance required intense study of every aspect of the complex by engineers, managers and miners. They noted that their tailings system of pipes and pumps had capacity limits and proved a major roadblock to production. They recommended the configuration of a new, low-cost tailings system that would allow the asset to increase the speed at which it discharges waste. To meet production goals for next year, Boliden needed a new system—one that would prove quick to install and easy to maintain.
Pumps and Pipes for an Extreme Environment
Boliden contracted supplier Metso to configure and install a new system. Metso proposed a system of heavy-duty slurry pumps, with rubber-lined steel pipes, to discharge tailings. They designed the equipment to significantly extend the mine’s existing system of pumps and pipes.
The naturally rubber-coated pipes were a game-changer. This material lasts five times longer than polyethelene (PE) traditionally used in pipes. The switch increases the lifespan of the tailings system to 20 years. In addition, these pipes offer more operational stability in extreme environments. They are also sturdy enough to absorb temperatures ranging from -40°F to 86°F (-40°C to +30°C).
The system includes bends and hoses with long, thick-wear rubber. The equipment is flexible, with extremely smooth surfaces, to accommodate a larger volume of tailings.
Tested and Time-Sensitive
In all, Metso installed a full 16 km of the steel-covered pipes to add to the existing tailings system. The company configured the new solution to handle a major increase in the asset’s volume of tailings. The delivery of the new system quickly put Boliden on track for its 2020 production goals.
We listened carefully to what Boliden Aitik needed to solve their capacity limitations. We knew that by focusing on the details that matter we could help the mine reach their goals.”
– Patrik Nilsson, Project Manager, Metso
With its vast equipment and ore, Aitik is one of the world’s most prolific mines. This latest chapter is a major achievement in scaling sustainability for one of the most important mines in the Arctic.
About Boliden AB
Boliden has mined and processed base metals and precious metals, principally copper, zinc, lead, nickel, gold and silver, for over 90 years. Headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Boliden is also a leading global operator in the recycling of electronics and lead from batteries. With more than 5,500 employees, Boliden has mines, smelters and other facilities in Sweden, Norway and Ireland. From ore deposits to recycling, Boliden is an industry leader in sustainable metal production.
With 13,000 employees across 50 countries Metso Oyj is a Finnish machinery firm which specializes in technology and services for mining, oil and gas, aggregates, recycling, pulp and paper and other industries. Metso products include crushers, screens, grinding mills, recycling equipment and other mining solutions. Metso is headquartered in Helsinki.
Just south of Gällivare, 100 km north of Sweden’s outer Arctic Circle, Aitik became Europe’s greatest open pit copper mine after its discovery in the early 1930s. With continuously mined ore from chalcopyrite that includes copper, with lesser amounts of gold and silver, Aitik boasts some of the world’s largest rock dumpers and excavators. With almost as many women as men, Aitik is also one of the most gender-neutral mines anywhere.
About The Copper Alliance®
The Copper Alliance is a network of regional copper centers and their industry-leading members. It is responsible for guiding policy and strategy and for funding international initiatives and reputation-building activities. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization has offices in three primary regions: Europe, Asia, and North America. Copper Alliance programs and partnerships are executed in more than 100 countries through its regional offices and country-level copper promotion centers.