Yara’s Siilinjärvi mine has been in continuous operation since 1979. The carbonatite deposit is mined in two large open pits and is subsequently processed on-site to extract apatite from the host rock with tailings stored in a tailings pond. Yara is continuously investing in guaranteeing that their operations are safe, reliable and profitable at the same time. When they noticed that production recovery and quality of the apatite concentrate were sometimes below their target values, they consulted Malvern Panalytical for a possible solution of these problems.
Yara’s mine in Siilinjärvi (Finland) is the only apatite mine in Western Europe and ca. 3 km long, 1 km wide and with a deepest point of 240 m.
The desired solution should cover a few aspects at the same time. The mine is not very homogeneous and has very low phosphate levels and therefore it is important to receive accurate feedback on the mined material. In this way inefficient mining of less useful rock can be avoided. Additionally, Yara wants to precisely control their beneficiation process of apatite to achieve an increased recovery rate and enhance their product quality. This can be realized by frequent analyses of the concentrates and tailings, delivering fast results. The methods of choice are X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which can be automated and deliver quantitative elemental and qualitative mineralogical information in a relatively short time.
Together with Yara, Malvern Panalytical developed a unique automated installation, which is now taking care of Yara’s demands. Incoming samples from 5 control points in the production process are split into several portions for XRD, XRF, LOI (loss on ignition) and combustion analyses. Robots take care of the sample transport between various sample preparation stations (such as a mill, press and bead maker) and the analytical instruments. In this way laboratory technicians can concentrate on other tasks as well.
“With this customized automation, feedback time is now approximately half of that in the past. This allows us to make informed decisions about our mining and production processes much faster, resulting in a more efficient process control.”
- Pauli Moilanen, Lab Manager, Project Manager XR-automation at Yara’s Siilinjärvi site
An automated environment like ours is complex and we did encounter some hiccups. But, with the help of Malvern Panalytical those were solved. With help of automated laboratory technicians we are now able to process 3.5 times more samples than before. Also, thanks to the state-of-the-art analysis instruments and software, a number of analyses is now 8 times higher than before commissioning of the automated laboratory. Samples are mostly delivered in continuous batches and processed automatically 24 hours per day excluding 1 hour maintenance break. If necessary, however, high-priority samples can always be inserted manually and are analyzed as soon as a station has been freed. The fastest analysis time is 40 minutes excluding LOI; with LOI the average analysis time is one hour and 50 minutes, including the sample taking, according to Mr. Moilanen.
In this completely automated solution the analyses are performed by Malvern Panalytical’s HighScore (XRD) and SuperQ (XRF) software packages; SamTracs takes care of the automated process and seamlessly communicates all results to Yara’s LIMS (laboratory information management system).
Fertilizers are natural or synthetic materials applied to plants in order to enhance their growth. They contain precisely formulated targeted nutrition to suit each specific situation. Besides a number of micronutrients such as copper, iron or manganese they typically contain the three macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in varying proportions (NPK-fertilizers).
85% of the world phosphate utilization goes into the production of fertilizers. With the continuous growth of the world population the demand for nutrients and subsequently for phosphates is still increasing. The main source for phosphates is apatite, a group of phosphate minerals.
Yara is a producer of ammonia, nitrates and fertilizers with 17,000 employees working in 60 countries worldwide. Their fertilizers, crop nutrition programs and technologies increase yields, improve product quality and reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices.
The Siilinjärvi site in Finland employs 400 people and produces mainly fertilizers and phosphoric acid, but also other industrial chemicals. It consists of a mine, two sulfuric acid plants, one phosphoric acid plant, one nitric acid plant and one NPK-fertilizer plant. The mine is the only apatite mine in Western Europe, and it’s main product is apatite concentrate.