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Terrafame mine wins building permit for battery chemicals plant

The zinc and nickel miner says the proposed new plant would provide 150 permanent jobs and give Finland a leg-up in the electric and hybrid motor supplies market.

The Terrafame mine in Sotkamo, Finland Image: Niko Mannonen / Yle

The north-eastern municipality of Sotkamo has decided to green-light a building permit for the state-owned mining company Terrafame to build a battery chemical plant there. The company says the new plant would employ 150 people permanently and give Finland a leg-up in the growing market for materials used in the manufacture of electric and hybrid motor batteries.

"We've secured a building permit and now we are carrying out an environmental impact assessment. We hope to receive a decision by the end of the year," says Terrafame's CEO Joni Lukkaroinen.

Talvivaara crimes aren't forgotten

The nickel and zinc miner is still awaiting an environmental permit, however. This might be more difficult to procure, due to the mine's extensive track record of serious environmental offenses back when it was still known as Talvivaara.

The government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä made a controversial decision in 2016 to bail the bankrupt mine out to tune of 100 million euros. The name of the operation was subsequently changed from Talvivaara to Terrafame.

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation has been highly critical of the mine's treatment solutions for the waste rock that is produced in the mining process. At present, this rejected host rock material is deposited in a waste repository at the facility.

The group's Kainuu region chair Antti Lankinen says the extractive waste at Terrafame contains large amounts of black schist that crumbles easily and can cause acidicification in the surrounding environment.

Lankinen predicts that the waste rock repository at the mine will expand to hundred of hectares in size within the next few years.

"The mine operations as planned would create over one billion tonnes of waste rock," he says.

Future looks bright, but competition is tough

Terrafame CEO Joni Lukkaroinen maintains that the mine's environmental solutions are sound. He also points out that the new battery chemicals plant would not increase the mine's output.

"The battery chemicals plant would be a refining stage added on to the current production, not an expansion of the mining operations," he says.

His company says that current forecasts predict that the battery industry's demand for nickel will increase five-fold by the year 2030. New large-scale nickel mines are also being established in Australia and Canada.

"We believe that every fourth vehicle on the road will have an electric or hybrid motor by the year 2030. This means that 80 million cars a year would be manufactured and 20 million of those would need a lithium battery," Lukkaroinen says.