Our modern society is growing increasingly reliant on minerals, many of which can be found inside Norwegian mountains. At the same time, people are growing increasingly conscious of the potential damage mining and mineral recovery may inflict on nature – demanding these activities to be carried out in a way that avoids pollution, irreversible scars in the landscape, and deposits of waste rock or tailings onshore or on the seabed.
Mining hard rock mineral deposits typically involve a series of choices on how to go from minerals in-situ to recovered, readily usable minerals or metals. The choices include how to extract rocks (by open pit or underground mining), how to recover minerals from the extracted rocks (e.g., whether and which process chemicals are to be used), and how to handle residual masses such as waste rock or tailings (either deposit as waste or identify / develop and implement alternative uses).
These choices need to be carefully considered with some or all typically depending on external factors that are beyond the mine operators’ control such as ore location, rock mechanics (how solid rock the deposit is situated in), and prevailing market conditions for the metals or minerals in question.
In many cases may prove unrealistic to develop a mining operation that satisfies all environmental considerations. In such cases, one needs to assess the importance of extracting such minerals from the deposit in question against the environmental challenges it will pose.
As for our eclogite garnet deposit in Vevring nature has been kind enough to locate the ore in a way that enables efficient underground mining without any irreparable scars in the landscape, and minerals have been deposited in mix that enable efficient recovery without the use any toxic chemicals or pollutants, in turn allowing for all tailings to be used as building material rather than deposited as waste.
The deposit is located in a deep-water fjord close to the North Sea allowing for minerals and aggregates to be dispatched directly onto bulk vessels for a more efficient transport to central Europe than any other source of garnet. In our deposit, rock mechanics, ore location, and prevailing market conditions has allowed us to develop a mining operation in harmony with nature:
Sufficient resources for more than 50 years of mining
High grade ore that allow for a modest, but profitable extraction rate
Mineral composition in ore that allows for product recovery without toxic chemicals
Modest extraction rate and no chemicals allow for tailings to be used as product
Using all extracted masses as product eliminates use of sea and / or land disposals
Underground mining and direct entry from the fjord avoid irreversible damages to the landscape
Wide support from stakeholders and interest groups incl. local community and industries (fish farming, wild salmon fishing and tourism)
Arctic Mineral Resources has defined self-imposed operating principles in line with criteria for sustainable mining outlined by one of our most prevalent environmental organisations, Friends of the Earth Norway. Our operation will adhere to the highest environmental standards, ensuring a minimal operational footprint and supporting four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in particular, i.e. (3) Good health and well-being, (12) Responsible consumption and production, (13) Climate action, and (14) Life below water.
Due to high mineral grades our deposit in Vevring will yield significant amounts of sellable garnet, as well as by-products (such as rutile), per tonne of ore. To ensure an optimal utilisation of all extracted masses we will focus on maximising recovery and commercial utilisation of all sellable minerals. We have entered into an offtake agreement with an industrial site under development for all tailings during our initial operating phase. For later years we will combine backfill in mined stopes, to increase our resource utilisation, with external offtake. We will continuously carry out research and development activities aimed at enabling an optimal use of all residual mass fractions, be that waste rock (initially sold as aggregates) or tailings after garnet and rutile concentrate recovery.
The Vevring/Engebo deposit mainly contains fine-to-medium coarse garnet grains. Europe utilises finer grain sizes than most other market locations due to lack of alternatives and shipping costs prohibiting cheaper but coarser substitutes from other continents being commercially competitive on a “per square meter blasted” basis. Europe is also a significant user of garnet for waterjet cutting, which tend to utilise fine-to-medium grain sizes. Focusing primarily on Europe and an extraction rate in line with what the market can absorb will allow us to maximise our commercial garnet yield per tonne.
The European end market is dominated by a handful of larger industrial mineral companies. The residual is covered by domestic and regional distributors. To secure optimal commercial utilisation of our garnet, we have entered into an MoU for 100%, long-term offtake from a single industrial minerals major. The garnet market has historically enjoyed very stable pricing, however, due to reduced garnet exports from India from 2017 onwards and continuous reduction in coal slags available for producing blasting media, garnet import prices to the EU have started increasing – with annualised growth rates of around 9% the last four years. Volume weighted average import prices from China and India to the EU stand at more than € 270 per tonne as of August 2020 (based om import data from Eurostat). We have planned our operation in a way that enable increases in extraction and production rates as per our offtake partner’s sales development.
Our deposit has high grade garnet ore from fjord level inwards. This enables us to develop our mine shaft directly from barges situated in the fjord. An agreement with a developer of a large industrial site nearby for area to stockpile ore, place our recovery plant and offtake tailings as building material during our initial operating phase yields time to develop necessary space and infrastructure underground whilst recovering and selling garnet from the industrial site. At the end of this phase, we will move the entire operation underground with only a minor quayside visible outside the mine entrance.
Upon reaching the end of our mining operation, all infrastructure will be removed, and tunnel openings blocked with local rock, supplemented by planting natural vegetation to ensure that the landscape will appear close to identical to what it did prior to commencing mining. Our self-imposed operating principles include a “no fjord disposal” condition which has acted as a natural incentive for us to focus relentlessly on full and optimal utilisation of all masses to be extracted. This has in turn yielded the project a highly sustainable profile, with sustainability for our non-renewable minerals being defined through a “no waste” principle. All masses are to be utilised as resources concurrent with mining and mineral recovery, and continuous R&D activities will ensure we identify and implement the most valuable use at any given time.