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A world leader in metallurgical technology

Innovative research at its in-house R&D facilities and continuous development work with its customers has made Outotec a leading developer of technology for the minerals processing and metallurgical industries. Proprietary technology has been a key element in this success, and the company has an excellent track record of moving rapidly from technological breakthroughs to cost-effective and environmentally sustainable commercial processes.

Outotec is a leading global provider of process solutions, technologies, and services for the mining and metals industries. Building on decades of experience and advanced process expertise, Outotec’s deliveries are largely based on its proprietary know-how.

Outotec’s offering covers the entire production chain of processing minerals to finished metals – and includes ferrous metals and ferroalloys, alumina and aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, precious metals, niobium, synthetic rutile, and various industrial minerals.

With extensive research facilities and resources in Finland and Germany, customers can rely on always having accesses to the latest advances. By focusing on the best available technology, optimised project timetables, and smooth start-ups, Outotec’s solutions offer excellent plant availability and reliable, high output levels, together with industry-leading cost performance.

Outotec works closely with its customers to ensure that they get the best industry-leading technology for their projects, as in the case of Brazilian-based Alunorte, which specified Outotec calcination plants for its recent third expansion project. Outotec’s state-of-the-art technology guarantees low production costs and has helped Alunorte become one of the world’s most profitable producers of alumina.

It all began with copper

Outotec’s roots go back to the revolutionary flash smelting technology originally developed in the 1940s by Outokumpu, Outotec’s parent company until 2006. Nearly half of the world’s copper today is produced using Outotec’s Flash Smelting process and its follow-on, the Kennecott-Outokumpu Flash Converting process.

But copper has only been part of the Outotec story for many years. The company is very strong in iron ore pelletising, for example, and the bulk of the world’s iron ore pellets today are produced using Outotec processes. The company is also the market leader in flotation technology, thickeners, on-line analyzers, alumina calcination and roasting, and a forerunner in sulphuric acid production processes.

Many of these technologies are patented, and Outotec’s IPR portfolio covers approximately 450 patent families and some 2,000 individual patents. Close to 300 new national patents were granted in 2006 alone.

Being and staying at the cutting edge of technological developments is a priority in securing Outotec’s lead in many fields, which is why the company is committed to working on a very broad front, internally and externally, to develop and acquire technological expertise that it can rapidly commercialise for its customers.

Promoting sustainable solutions

Sustainability is a key factor underpinning Outotec’s approach to technology. The demand for metals is rising all the time, especially in the world’s growth economies, and energy and resource usage needs to be as efficient as possible to meet this demand and safeguard the environment for future generations.

Outotec has two in-house R&D centres, with expertise in areas ranging from materials science to pilot testing of new products and extraction processes, and equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories.

Energy efficiency and good sulphur capture were features of Outotec’s original flash smelting technology, and these benefits have been further developed over the years. Combining the flash smelting and flash conversion of sulphidic copper concentrates gives a sulphur capture rate of 99.9% today, for example, and a highly energy-efficient environmental footprint.

Outotec’s new HydroCopper® process enables copper metal to be produced directly from a variety of concentrates including ones with a low copper content – reducing capital and operating costs, and eliminating the need for intermediate transportation and storage, and making even small-scale production plants economically and environmentally viable.

The recently launched Circoheat™ process for preheating iron ore, integrated with a Hlsmelt direct smelting plant, eliminates the need for blast furnaces – and their emissions – in steelmaking. Reduced energy consumption and closed processes are also features of Outotec’s ferroalloy smelting, pelletising, and sintering processes.

Two centres of excellence

Outotec’s two research centres – at Pori in Finland and Frankfurt in Germany – play a key role in maintaining the company’s technological lead.

These have built up extensive core competencies in minerals technology, pyro- and hydrometallurgy, and ferrous technologies, and include a number of specialised laboratories, and pilot plants, as well as a demonstration plant showcasing the HydroCopper® process, and agglomeration facilities.

The centres work together with a network of universities and research institutes in Finland, Germany, and Australia, as well as with partner companies and customers on joint development projects.

The larger of the two, at Pori, focuses on minerals, extractive metallurgy related to both base and precious metals, ferroalloys, and materials and environmental technology.

The Frankfurt Research Centre, for its part, focuses on the pelletising and sintering of iron concentrates, sulphuric acid processes, fluidised bed technologies, and off-gas cleaning techniques.

> Kari Knuutila
(Published in HighTech Finland 2008)