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Talvivaara is a Greenfield mine development, located in eastern Finland. It is the first application of the bio-heap leaching process for the economic exploitation of low-grade, nickel-zinc sulphide ore bodies. Although not yet in full production, Talvivaara already stands out for using new, innovative technology and for the speed at which the project has been implemented.

Pekka Pera, the CEO of Talvivaara Mining Company Plc, initiated the project after acquiring the mining rights and historical research from Outokumpu in 2004. A handpicked team of specialists completed a Pre-Feasibility Study in 2005 and a Bankable Feasibility Study in December 2006. A 17,000 tonne bio-heap leach was built in mid-2005 to demonstrate that the leaching process could operate effectively during the cold Finnish winters at temperatures below -20°C. Metals were recovered as precipitated sulphides in a hydrometallurgical pilot plant. The project follows Equator Principles and received its Environmental Permit in 2008. At present throughput is being ramped up and full scale production should be achieved during 2010.

There are a number of interesting aspects of the Talvivaara project due to the application of bio-heap leaching. Non selective bulk open pit mining will be used to develop the two ore bodies and ore blending will not be required. In pilot testing, relatively high metal extractions were achieved by crushing the ore to only minus 8mm. The crushed ore is stacked 8 to 10 metres high on large HDPE-lined leach pads, and bacterial leaching takes place in two stages over four years. The bacteria used were found naturally within the surrounding environment and the temperature within the heap can reach 80°C. Metals precipitated from the pregnant solution include NiCoS, ZnS and CuS. The development includes all on-site reagent systems and infrastructure, including a fresh water supply system, a new power line, a rail spur and large lined waste storage ponds. It is recognised that the Talvivaara operation may well have set the standard for a new generation of low grade open pit mining operations.

The mine should produce 15 million tonnes of ore a year, over a 22-year mine life. Annual metal production is estimated at 33,000 tonnes Ni, 61,000 tonnes Zn, 10,000 tonnes Cu and 1,300 tonnes Co. To date, approximately €700 million has been invested in the project.

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