Congratulations to the team at Kittilä Mine’s Water Treatment Plant in Finland – winners of this year’s Michel Letourneau Award!

The team’s winning initiative stemmed from an initial idea to treat process water more efficiently,  put forward by mill production engineer, Tomas Mälkiä. The team then came together to implement the idea which has had a significant positive impact on reducing the mine’s environmental footprint, while also saving money and conserving energy.

The Michel Letourneau Award celebrates achievements in teamwork, productivity improvements, cost control, innovation, accident prevention and health and safety.  Those themes are reflected in an ongoing campaign at Kittilä that encourages employee suggestions on how to improve mining and processing operations.

Tomas and his colleagues were looking at ways to optimize Kittilä’s new water treatment plant process, making it easier and more efficient to operate, while still ensuring the water quality at the end of the treatment process met all environmental permit requirements.

Typically, the process works by heating intake water to a high enough temperature to create the necessary chemical reaction – one that turns the sulfates (a by-product of processing gold sulfide ores) that remain in the water from liquid to solid form, allowing them to be collected and removed before discharging the clear, clean water back into the environment.

Tomas wondered if it was absolutely necessary to heat up the water in order to trigger the chemical reaction – a critical question given that Kittilä is located in the Lapland region of northern Finland, where local waters often reach a frigid zero (0°) degree temperature during the winter months.

“My idea was that if the water is constantly flowing and being pumped to the next step in the process it won’t freeze, and we can try to precipitate sulfate without excess heat energy. Our team tested the concept over a six-month period, keeping the water flow stable, constantly adjusting the sulfate levels, optimizing the pH balance and eventually, we got the results we needed. Since then, we haven’t heated the process water and it hasn’t impacted the plant’s performance.  We continue to meet all the requirements of our environmental permit.”

Tomas’s idea will save the mine roughly 1,000 Mwh of energy per year, which equates to about 100,000 € per year. Additionally, the previous approach required Kittilä to consume approximately 100,000 litres of fuel each year to heat the water, a major environmental and financial impact.

“It is an honour to accept this award on behalf of the team. This definitely would not have been possible without a team effort, as my colleagues provided the metallurgical and chemical expertise to make the idea work and we are all proud to have seen it succeed.”

Patrice Gilbert, Vice President, Health & Safety and Community, said, “We selected the Kittilä Mill Team and this initiative as the winner of the Michel Letourneau Award because not only is it delivering triple bottom line results, it shines a light on the impact one idea and one change can have on an entire organization and on the environment.”

Agnico Eagle’s CEO Sean Boyd added, “This kind of innovative thinking will continue to drive our performance at Agnico Eagle. It encourages all of us to take a second look at what we are doing, how we are doing it and how we could do it better.”

Tomas and Antti Heikkilä, Daily Supervisor, were recently in Toronto where they were presented with the prize by the award’s namesake, Michel Letourneau himself. Now retired, our former colleague Michel Letourneau was one of Agnico Eagle’s most enthusiastic and active champions for leadership and innovation, particularly in health and safety as he was our first Corporate Director of Health & Safety.