The need for metals grows as a society develops
Metals can be recycled effectively, but recycling alone is not enough to meet the growing needs of modern society. The use of metals is enhanced by the electrification of traffic, as well as the production and storage solutions offered by renewable energy sources, for example.
Currently, Terrafame produces nickel, cobalt, zinc and copper, which are used in the manufacture of stainless steel, in corrosion protection, in batteries and in electronics, for example. In metals production, the company utilises energy-efficient bioleaching technology, which also allows for lower production greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional foam-smelter method.
Terrafame’s goal is to utilise metals from ore mining with increasing efficiency. The decision made by the Board of Directors to invest in the battery chemicals plant supports this goal. Commercial production at the new plant is scheduled to start at the beginning of 2021.
The plant will use the current main product of Terrafame – nickel-cobalt sulphide – for producing chemicals needed to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. A significant portion of the nickel-cobalt sulphide produced by Terrafame already goes to manufacturing battery chemicals, but further processing is currently not carried out in Sotkamo, Finland.
Nickel is one of the most used metals in the world, and has excellent recyclability. Nearly two thirds of nickel is used in the production of steel and manufacture of metal alloys. Nickel is combined with other metals, as it enhances durability and rust prevention. Besides cobalt, nickel is a significant material in batteries for electric vehicles. According to estimates, by 2030 about one-quarter of new cars globally will be electric or hybrid vehicles.
Zinc is one of the most used metals, and it has high recyclability. Together with nickel, zinc is very popular in the rust protection of steel. Furthermore, it is utilised in batteries, radiators, paints and in the manufacture of rubber. Zinc is also beneficial to agriculture. Zinc in fertiliser enhances crop yield, and the nutritional values of the crop are improved.
The European Union has defined cobalt as a critical raw material. According to the definition, critical raw materials cannot usually be replaced by other materials, they play an important economic role, and there are risks related to their availability. Cobalt has also been defined as a hi-tech metal suitable for low-carbon energy solutions. Slightly over half of global cobalt production is currently utilised in the production of battery chemicals, and the growing popularity of electric vehicles would also indicate growth in the demand for cobalt.
Copper is also one the most used metals in the world. It has excellent electrical conductivity, which is why it is particularly used in electrical cables, electricity production and electronics. Copper is suitable for various metal alloys, for example, in the manufacture of brass and bronze. Additionally, is it utilised in construction and in coins.
Uranium is used for energy production in nuclear power stations. Together with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, the use of uranium in energy production supports efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
In 2018, Terrafame studied the recovery of uranium in a laboratory environment.
Rare earth elements
Rare earth elements (REE) – or rare earth metals – are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table. In particular, the uses of rare earth elements include hybrid and electric vehicles, zero-emission energy production technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, information technology, and consumer electronics. The European Union has defined the rare earth elements nickel and cobalt as critical raw materials.
Terrafame has studied the recovery of rare earth elements alongside uranium recovery.