In January of this year Store Norske received 3.5 million kroner from the Norwegian Research Council for a collaborative project with SINTEF and Narvik University College to investigate if coal from the Lunckefjell mine can be used in ways other than sending it into power plants. Now the first test results are in - and they look good.
"More testing is needed, but the first test was very promising," said Aleksander Askeland, director of product and performance for Store Norske. "It dealt with about how reactive the coal will be in a metallurgical process. Lunckefjell's coal ended up in the upper echelon of what can be expected of coal."
How does it compare to Store Norske's other mines?
"On this parameter Lunckefjell's coal is the best we have," he said.
Traditionally there have been two possibilities for coal after it has seen the light from the mines in Svalbard: power or metallurgy. Coal going to power plants is used to produce energy. In the metallurgical industry, the coal's chemical properties are used to partly add carbon to iron so as to form steel, which requires good-quality coal with a low content of sulfur and phosphorus.
Coal that can be used for the latter bring a higher per-ton price, which can come in handy for Store Norske in an international market where standard-energy coal prices are down to 73 dollars per ton.
"The results of the test are highly welcome news," Askeland said. "Especially for Store Norske's part, but also for the cooperative project with SINTEF. The hypothesis that the coal could be used in the metallurgical industry was our main hypothesis and now we are more optimistic than before."
The positive test results means Store Norske has passed the first hurdle to selling a larger portion of Lunckefjell's deposit at higher prices. The next step is finding out the ash composition of the coal.
"We are dependent on that there are no problem metals in the ash," Askeland said. "For in the metallurgical industry there cannot be undesirable contaminants that affect processing."
Stoping will decide
They may get an answer to that within the next few weeks. The tests are being carried out by SINTEF Materials and Chemistry in Trondheim, which has its own laboratory for such tests.
"At that time we'll get an indication of how close we are to the ideal situation," Askeland said.
He emphasized that the results are not relevant for the entire tonnage of Lunckefjell. There are specific measurements for coal used by the industry, usually between three and 12 millimeters. Therefore not only must the chemical makeup be examined, but also what work in the mine will produce coal pieces of that size. Only then will they be able to estimate how much of deposit in Lunckefjell can be used in metallurgy.
But the road ahead is still long. There are still a number of tests to determine the results.
"We have tested both washed and non-washed coal," Askeland said. "When stoping gets started we need to test the coal there as well."