Tenova and the expanding mining market
The company has developed a unique selling proposition to play a pivotal role in low-impact extractive metallurgy and in the energy transition of metals and mining.
Tenova develops solutions that help metals and mining companies reduce costs, save energy, improve working conditions for their employees but especially limit environmental impact.
All Tenova BUs are involved in different ways with sustainability themes. There are some obvious ones – energy efficiency, resources efficiency, safety – but many are less noticeable.
It is worth underlying that the company has remarkable attention about the sustainability on the use of their technologies (customer sustainability). Tenova's "Scope 1 and 2" emissions are several orders of magnitude lower than "Scope 3", so focusing on Scope 3 not only helps them to gain a competitive advantage but also directs the efforts on the area where they can have the most considerable positive impact.
To further understand Tenova's footprint on sustainability, we can look at it under three specific positioning on the market gained by the company:
- "Primary Technologies": this is the “historical” positioning of Tenova; since its foundation, the company has focused on technology families that, in recent times, have become prominent as sustainability "champions", while excluding the most impactful on the environment. As an example, Tenova is not supplying blast furnaces for steelmaking, but only DRI and EAF plants.
- "Green Steel Technologies": this positioning was consciously driven by the company’s commitments to sustainability. Examples here are all technologies developed to reduce the energy consumption for the EAF and the development of an H2 solution for DRI.
- "Sustainability-related Commodities": this positioning is not directly related to Tenova’s technologies, but to what is produced with them (the final product), which can have a role in reducing the environmental footprint. For example, Tenova equipment are used to produce Copper, Nickel, Cobalt, Lithium, REE, and many more commodities that are key for the development of energy transition technologies.
Mining and sustainability
Mining companies are capital intensive and already today they are required to comply with stricter and stricter environmental, social, and corporate governance rules. In the following years, market pressure will be intense on mining companies toward Energy Transition.
“Today, some mining sectors, more than any other business, are already reaping the fruits of the Energy Transition revolution thanks to the increase in volumes and prices of their commodities. Tenova is driven by the awareness that we will need to focus our efforts both on developing technologies with lower environmental impact and, at the same time, on specializing in the commodities that are supporting the global energy transition,” says Paolo Argenta, Tenova's Executive Vice President for the Upstream Business Unit.
The mining and recycling industry recognizes the company as one of the leaders in value extraction processes; quite often, Tenova is involved at the early stages in projects regarding sustainability commodities like Lithium, Nickel, Cobalt, Vanadium, Rare-Earth Elements, and others.
Deep dive on Rare-Earth Elements (REE)
Rare-Earth Elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements which are not commonly found pure in nature. These include the fifteen lanthanides on the periodic table, plus scandium and yttrium. They are necessary components of more than 200 products across various applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cellular telephones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, and flat-screen monitors and televisions. Also, they are needed for significant defense applications such as electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers, and radar and sonar systems.
Today, the demand for REE grows while the market moves out of China. This country accounted for 58% of global production in 2020 (down from 95% of 2010), but the market is shifting and about 50% of the resources are today being explored and developed in other countries like USA, Australia, Canada, and Russia.
“In this context, the demand for REE and those used for magnets is constantly growing by about 25% year over year. REE are used in many industrial applications, primarily in the manufacture of permanent magnets. These magnets are present in several modern applications such as smartphones and tablets, wind turbines, and electric cars, constituting the primary applications for REE by 2040,” explains Argenta.
This tendency will lead to the need for the creation of more extraction/production facilities in different parts of the world, and Tenova can have a significant source of business in that move, with sustainable technologies.
The pillars of extractive metallurgy
Extractive metallurgy is a branch of metallurgical engineering encompassing processes and methods of extraction of metals from their natural mineral deposits. Tenova covers all three extractive metallurgy pillars:
It is concerned with processes that use aqueous solutions to extract metals from ores. The most common hydrometallurgical process is leaching, which involves converting the valuable metals into an aqueous solution. After the solution is separated from the ore solids, it is often subjected to various processes of purification and concentration before the valuable metal is covered, either in its metallic state or as a chemical compound.
It involves high-temperature processes where chemical reactions take place among gases, solids, and molten materials. Solids containing valuable metals are either reacted to form intermediate compounds for further processing or converted into their elemental or metallic state. The energy required to sustain the high-temperature pyrometallurgical processes may come entirely from the exothermic nature of the chemical reactions taking place, usually oxidation reactions. Often, however, energy must be added to the process by combustion of fuel or, in the case of some smelting processes, by the direct application of electrical energy.
Involves metallurgical processes that take place in some form of an electrolytic cell. The most common types of electrometallurgical processes are electrowinning and electro-refining. The metal of interest is plated onto a cathode, while an anode is composed of an inert electrical conductor. Electro-refining is used to dissolve an impure metallic anode (typically from a smelting process) and produce a high purity cathode.
Tenova’s capabilities to cover all aspects of extractive metallurgy allow the company to take “unusual challenges” to extract value from different raw materials.
In recent years, neologisms have been created to indicate new forms of mining such as “urban mining” and “technospheric mining”. Both names relate to mining activities carried out not on “natural” deposits, but rather on “man-made” deposits, more precisely, on technological waste deposits.
“This form of mining is one of the pillars of Circular Economy, poised to gain traction in the short-medium term not only due to the sustainability trend but also to the strong geopolitical tensions and trade wars happening in this period. Let’s not forget that steel has been and still is the most recycled material,” states Argenta.
A critical player in the energy transition and beyond
Regarding the future of the Techint Group, there are many areas in which Tenova could take a fundamental role in developing a more sustainable production on the eve of the goal of net-zero emissions.
Some of the opportunities for the development of green technologies include:
- Green Steel technologies: this is probably the most expansive area that spans from DRI technology to the rolling mill. Over and above the opportunities to reduce energy and raw material consumption, there is also the Hydrogen transition where Tenova is very active with some interesting industrial applications;
- Disruptive steelmaking technologies: Tenova develops technologies with low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) that could significantly impact steel production. For instance, the company is developing a technology to perform secondary metallurgy by electrolysis which could allow even Copper removal from the melt;
- Heat recovery applications: the company has a broad experience in recovering heat from "dirty" gases (including electricity generation by ORC or steam turbine);
- Digital applications: Tenova has developed its suite of products that can be used in many applications and helps achieve better control over the use of energy and production of pollutants and waste;
- Circular Economy: the company has developed and has performed feasibility studies at an industrial scale for the recovery of metal and mineral fraction from industrial residuals (waste) of metal industries (scale, filter dust, sludge, slag) and re-use them internally in the production process or valorize them externally in other sectors (such as cement industry, Zn production, road construction).