06.10.2010, 16:28  von Thomas Pressberger

Copper mining in the Arctic Circle is a battle for resources

Bild: WB/Pressberger

Copper mining in the Arctic Circle is not for the faint-hearted. A twin-engine propeller aircraft belonging to the Swedish low-cost airline Next Jet makes the arduous flight daily to Sweden's northerly most province Norrbotten. Landing at the Lapland airport - comparable in size to a small regional airport in Austria - close to the town of Gällivare has resulted in many a flight being diverted to the airport in Luleå, a coastal town 250 km away, due to stormy weather. After a three-hour bus journey you reach the biggest open-cast copper mine of Aitik, operated by the Swedish mining company Boliden.

The dimensions are formidable. Since 1968, diggers and trucks the size of a multi-storey apartment block - with wheels higher than a bus - eat their way into an expanse of ground 2.5 km long, 1 km wide and 400 meters deep. By way of illustration: one truck can carry up to 218 tonnes, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of 270 VW Golf automobiles. The gigantic diggers shovel this amount onto a truck in three loads in just under a minute.

Efficiency is the magic word

The excavated material is transported along a 7 km long conveyor belt to a crusher which can crush up to 8,000 tonnes of rock an hour. The metal is then separated and removed, and the waste pumped into a huge basin. The whole operation is conducted using as little energy as possible. Expansion of the mine over the years has increased annual production capacity from 18 million to 36 million tonnes.

The magic word at Boliden is efficiency, since the copper content in the ore averages only 0.27 percent. On top of this comes 0.1 grams of gold per tonne and 2 grams of silver per tonne. Without the right technology, this certainly wouldn't make you rich. In 2006 Boliden gave the Aitik mine a major facelift, equipping it with cutting-edge technology.

The automation and power technology group ABB, with headquarters in Switzerland and a subsidiary in Austria, made a substantial contribution to boosting energy efficiency at the plant and clocked up an order volume of €63 million. "The Aitik mine in Gällivare is a prime example of the deployment of a large part of the ABB portfolio. While no comparable project in this category exists in Austria, many of the ABB products and solutions used are widely deployed in the Austria's energy and industrial sectors," says Franz Chalupecky, CEO of ABB Austria.

Deployment in Austria

"A prime example where Austria is concerned is the waste incineration plant in Pfaffenau, which is largely equipped with ABB technology," says Chalupecky. An ABB control system controls and monitors the complete incineration process, with an average annual waste throughput of 250,000 tonnes. While no conveyor systems need to be kept running here - because they wouldn't have a very long working life operating at temperatures of minus 42 degrees - energy efficiency is nevertheless key.

How can the Austrians emulate the Swedes? "We operate one of the most efficient mines in the world," says Jan Moström, President of the Mines Business Area at Boliden. Without the very latest technology, we would have ceased to be competitive. A number of domestic industrial companies could take his advice to heart: "Improve efficiency by getting rid of all the old machinery and equipment."


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