Outotec registered a year-on-year improvement in financial performance in 2018, excluding a €110 million ($125 million) ilmenite smelter project provision, the company reported today.
The company’s sales increased 12% in 2018 to €1.28 billion, while its order intake jumped 4% to €1.25 billion. The €110 million provision for the Saudi Arabia project saw adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) come in at -€46.2 million, compared with €33.5 million in 2017, yet President and CEO, Markku Teräsvasara, said adjusted EBIT would have almost doubled to €64 million had it not been for this deduction.
“In 2018, we made significant progress in several areas,” Teräsvasara said. “In the beginning of the year, the market for minerals and metals technologies improved, but global macroeconomic uncertainties and reduced metal prices started to affect the market sentiment, and we saw several larger investment decisions being delayed into 2019.
“This was demonstrated in our order intake, which increased 4% year-on-year (in comparable currencies 8%) but declined in the fourth (December) quarter from the comparison period,” he said.
The company’s largest order in the December quarter – around €34 million – was for the delivery of battery chemicals technology in Finland for the Terrafame plant to be built in Sotkamo. The company has since followed this up with a contract in Australia to convert spodumene to lithium hydroxide.
Teräsvasara said profitability continued to improve in the Minerals Processing segment, with EBIT coming in at €78.5 million, compared with €60 million a year earlier.
Outotec said copper, gold, and battery metals projects were the most active during 2018, with demand for minerals processing equipment and spare parts stable throughout the year. In the company’s Metals, Energy & Water divisions, meanwhile, “solid demand” was registered in hydrometallurgical and pelletising solutions, as well as sulphuric acid plants, Outotec said.
Outotec said the €110 million provision related to possible costs for an ilmenite smelter project in Saudi Arabia. Back in October, the company said it was working with the client to investigate the reasons why one of the repaired furnaces in a first-of-its-kind ilmenite smelter had issues starting up.
“The currently estimated provision is based on progress made with the analysis of the furnace,” the company said today, adding that the provision was booked in its December quarter results.
Teräsvasara highlighted the “leading technologies” that were part of the company’s core strength in the 2018 results.
During the year, the company continued to develop its technological capabilities and grow its patent portfolio, with Outotec’s R&D investments representing 5% of its sales and totalling €57 million last year, he said.
Outotec went into a little more detail about this in its 2018 and Q4 review.
The first two industrial references of Outotec TankCell® e630s are running at the Buenavista del Cobre concentrator in northern Mexico, the company said.
“The site has reported an increase of more than 3% in overall recovery with a higher-grade copper concentrate. The TankCell® e630 flotation cell has a nominal volume of 630 m³ and is equipped with a FloatForce mechanism with a diameter of 2,200 mm,” Outotec said.
The company has also developed and filed a patent application for a thermal leaching process to convert spodumene concentrate into battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The lithium hydroxide process has been piloted at the Outotec Research Center in Pori for Critical Elements Corporation in Canada and Keliber Oy in Finland. Lithium hydroxide corresponds to the change in demand in the metal salt markets, it said.
Meanwhile, the new Hybrid filter plates that are 40% lighter, and, therefore, more competitive than conventional plates, were introduced to the spare and wear parts markets during 2018, Outotec said. “The new plates also improve the filtration capacity, provide low residual moisture in the cake, and reduce operational costs,” it added.
Outotec has also designed a skid-mounted, modular prefabricated sulphuric acid plant which significantly lowers the installation cost and time. In addition, the modular plant offers lower operation costs, increased availability and maintainability, as well as environmentally sound and safe operation, it said. “The innovative plant concept is based on Outotec’s technology and expertise gained from 650 plants delivered globally,” Outotec said.
Meanwhile, Outotec is in the middle of a pilot study with Sweden-based miner LKAB to treat industrial waters at its Svappavaara mine in the country. The pilot started in August and consists of nanofiltration and chemical precipitation of sulphate with Outotec’s Ettringite process. The pilot has shown sulphate concentration can be significantly reduced from the inlet value of 1,800 mg/l to the level of 150 mg/l, Outotec said.
A new digital product, Outotec Health Indicator, was also introduced last year. This produces data for flotation process control when used together with Courier on-stream elemental analysers. It enables higher performance in terms of concentrate quality and recovery of valuable minerals, according to the company.
Lastly, Outotec has been developing MesoTherm™ bio-oxidation technology for leaching base metals. The development work has shown it to be effective on certain copper sulphides, yielding 98% copper dissolution.