When Mikael Staffas joins a panel on stage at the EIT Raw Materials Summit in Berlin, Germany, to discuss building a world-leading raw materials industry for Europe next month, he will be able to reference more than a few examples of sector excellence from his own company.
The Sweden-based mining and metals company has been leading from the front for decades, leveraging new and innovative technology, employing a more diverse workforce and engaging local stakeholders and regulators in a manner viewed as progressive from peers across the globe.
Gaining recognition from your mining company peers is one thing but gaining it from the public and EU-based decision makers is something altogether different.
According to Staffas, CEO of the company, the latest summit, which takes place on May 23-25, is part of a series of actions and events slowly getting these two groups to understand the importance of raw materials and the companies that produce them.
“We are moving this industry away from a perception that we are part of the problem, to an environment where we are seen to be part of the solution,” he told IM.
Staffas says the raw materials industry has been viewed as fundamentally important to Europe for several years in terms of tackling the climate change challenge – which will be reinforced at the summit – but the “regionalisation of economies” that has been brought about by COVID and the more recent geopolitical situation means this importance has, once again, been reinforced.
Within this context, Staffas is due to discuss at the event the fundamental need for copper and nickel in the energy transition. He will also shine a light on the importance of lead and zinc in this evolving landscape.
Boliden, through its mines and smelters in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Ireland, is a producer of all four of these metals. It can also add gold, silver, sulphuric acid, cobalt and palladium to the list.
As the general population is beginning to understand the importance of these raw materials and metals to their future, Boliden is trying to differentiate its own offering from the rest of its peers.
Not satisfied with simply matching the industry’s carbon emission and net zero goals to 2030 and beyond, Boliden has laid the gauntlet down to the rest of its competitors by registering two new products: Low-Carbon Copper and Low-Carbon Zinc.
The formula for these two low-carbon products is based on the production of finished metal, from cradle to gate, that has emissions of less than 1.5 t of CO2 per tonne of copper, compared with the global average of around 4 t of CO2 per tonne. For zinc, the threshold is even lower – less than 1 t of CO2 emissions per tonne of zinc, compared with the industry average of 2.5 t.
To this point, the introduction of both products has resulted in a slim premium over other products on the market, but Staffas still deems the launches as successful.
“The point was to differentiate our products, with many people expected to receive this differentiation,” he said.
The customers represented just one set of recipients, but Staffas said these new products also play into the ‘licence to operate’ equation, as well as discussions with authorities and non-governmental organisations.
The intention was to also lay down a benchmark the rest of the industry could start to use or discuss, he added.
Boliden’s carbon dioxide calculations include emissions along the entire value chain up to the customer according to the Scope 1, 2 and 3 Greenhouse Gas Protocol Product Life Cycle, following the ISO 14064-3 standard.
“While this might not be the only way to measure CO2, we think it is the best one,” Staffas said. “We are trying to force the industry to adopt a common way of measuring the CO2 footprint.”
This has led some of Boliden’s customers to enquire about how much embedded CO2 is in competitor zinc and copper products, ensuring the discussion spreads throughout the industry.
The obvious intention of devising such products is price, but Staffas said they also provide protection.
“When things get bad from an economical perspective, these products could really make a difference,” he said. “The customers might not pay extra for them, but if they scale down their purchases, our contracts should be the last to be cancelled.”
Staffas says Boliden is also aiming to add nickel and lead to its suite of low-carbon products in the future.
“Nickel is a special case for us as we don’t produce finished nickel; we produce a nickel matte,” he said. “We may team up with a refinery to make a joint product or do something else to ensure we can quantify the emissions according to our chosen protocols.
“Whichever way this development goes, we have to ensure we cover cradle-to-gate with these calculations otherwise it is not a true representation of the embedded carbon in that product.”
While quantifying the carbon emissions of products is still relatively new in mining and smelting, Boliden has been using a carbon price in its internal technical studies and projections for close to a decade now.
It has been leveraging electrified sources of power for even longer. For instance, its Rönnskär copper smelter in Sweden has been using an electric oven since the 1990s.
More recently, the company has added trolley assist at Aitik and Kevitsa to this electrified base and employed ventilation on demand and heat exchangers at underground mines (the former) and smelters (the latter) to optimise its energy use.
It also has plans for underground trolley-battery haulage operation at its Rävliden (part of Kristineberg) project in Sweden through a project with Epiroc and ABB, while it is conducting a battery-electric vehicle loading trial at the Garpenberg mine, also in Sweden, with Sandvik. On the transport side, the company has recently teamed up with Scania to electrify part of its heavy-duty road transport in northern Sweden.
“It is one thing to review where we started; it is another to look at where we are going,” Staffas said on this topic. “We are planning to get better and better and go on to reduce our CO2 footprint further.”
On its way to achieving a goal of reducing its carbon dioxide intensity by 40% by 2030, the company is also looking at, among other levers, its use of explosives and cement: two key scope 3 inputs.
Staffas is confident Boliden can hit these ambitious goals by leveraging the innovation ecosystem within the Nordic region.
“For the CO2 journey we are now on, the Nordic mining cluster has and will continue to be very important,” he said. “We have big suppliers like Epiroc, Sandvik, Metso Outotec, ABB, Volvo and Scania on our doorstep. They have always worked closely with us, and we work closely with them on joint development projects.
“I think that is the main reason we are so far ahead of our competitors when it comes to our use of technology and innovation, and why we are confident in achieving our ambitious climate goals.”