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Outokumpu celebrates its technical wealth.

This year Outokumpu celebrates the 50th anniversary of its flash smelting technology and this is the basis for 1999 being celebrated throughout the group as an Outokumpu Technology Jubilee year. In terms of technology development, the company is certainly the world leader. In its metallurgical plants, two-thirds of the production goes through Outokumpu-designed processes. This involves all of the Harjavalta copper and nickel works, most of the Kokkola zinc plant, the Tomio chromium plant and the copper products plants excluding standard products.

Three men at the top of Outokumpu's technology leadership are Jussi Asteljoki, senior vice president, corporate research and development, and Risto Virrankoski and Juho Makinen, members of the group executive board in charge of business development and technology respectively. They believe that developing new technologies and improving existing technologies is how Outokumpu produces cost-efficiency, good product quality and good customer service.

"Despite Outokumpu's strong position in many areas, the marketing of technology has, in the past been rather fragmented. However, as of 1999, each Technology business unit will be pledged to represent all products." The company has a technology-driven customer focus. "This concept applies to all areas of our metal production. A smelter's customer is a mining company, and the product is the metal produced from the mining company's concentrate. A smelter should be able to treat various types of concentrate profitably, even problematic ones. For example, the Kokkola zinc plant's new direct leaching process can treat a wider variety of raw materials than a standard process. This improves the plant's ability to offer versatile and cost-effective customer services."

Direct leaching has raised the Kokkola zinc plant's annual capacity from 170,000 to 225,000 t, with the latest expansion inaugurated last November. It has made Outokumpu the second largest zinc producer in Europe, satisfying 8% of European and 4% of world zinc consumption. Like so much of Outokumpu's technology the main processes of this direct leaching method were developed in-house, through many years of close co-operation between Outokumpu Zinc, Outokumpu Research and the Outokumpu Technology business area.

The method utilises acidic jarosite sludge, which is a subproduct of the conventional roasting-leaching-electrowinning technology on which Kokkola relied until recently. Zinc concentrate is leached into anolyte and sludge, which is strengthened by sulphuric acid. Leaching takes place under atmospheric conditions in tall reactor towers. Iron is finally precipitated in the form of basic iron sulphate - jarosite.

The sulphur from the zinc concentrate is oxidised into elemental sulphur, which is separated from the jarosite. The sulphur is filtered, washed and stored in a special containment area. The jarosite is washed with water and neutralised with lime, and soluble metals are precipitated before the jarosite is conducted into its own containment area.

"Technology sales is an essential part of our technology-driven business concept. It helps us maintain our technological leadership and the competitiveness of our metals production. In fact, our technology sales and metal production complement each other. There could hardly be any technology development and sales without in-house metal production; without the technology sales business, our level of investment in R&D would undoubtedly be far lower so, ultimately, technology sales benefit our production plants as these are able to maintain top-level technological competence."

Some of the patents held by Outokumpu include direct blister smelting, concentrate burner and direct nickel smelting, all related to flash smelting; mercury and selenium recovery and removal from gases, solution purifying - cadmium cementation, solution purifying cobalt removal as arsenides, mercury recovery and direct leaching, all related to zinc; cobalt solvent extraction; and various patents related to copper solvent extraction, including the dispersion overflow pump (DOP) and solvent extraction in large tanks.
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Title Annotation:Outokumpu Kokkola Zinc
Publication:Mining Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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