As at all our operations, Sibanye-Stillwater’s sustainability strategy and all environmental, social and governance policies and procedures will apply at Keliber. Our conduct and approach will be guided by our iCARES values. See Sustainability.
These will be supported by Keliber’s Code of Conduct.
The main principles of our environmental work are proactive consideration of environmental aspects and minimizing impacts. Central topics include, for example, water management, biodiversity, circular economy and chemical safety.
Our state-of-the-art production process, developed together with Metso Outotec, helps to minimize the environmental impacts of our production.
Once operations begin, the key focus of our environmental management work will be water management and ensuring the quality of natural water systems.
We have carried out extensive research related to the impacts of the mining areas, concentrator plant and lithium hydroxide refinery and their joint impacts on the water systems. We carefully follow all permit regulations and requirements, water system monitoring liabilities and metrics.
It is estimated that mining operations will not significantly affect the condition, eutrophy or acidity of the waters. The most significant impact on natural water systems is expected to be caused by explosive-based nitrogen.
Rainwater and snowmelt collected at the mines will be discharged first to wetland treatment for purification, after which the waters will be fed to natural water systems. Concentrator process waters will be fed to the concentrator’s wastewater treatment facility before the purified water is discharged into the natural water system.
The condition and functioning of the concentrator plant’s basins, dams and water management will be monitored according to monitoring programmes approved by the authorities.
The process water of both the concentrator and the lithium hydroxide refinery will be recycled as much as possible.
It is estimated that of seven existing or planned lithium chemicals production routes, that for the Keliber project will have the lowest emissions intensity (See Keliber Performs Well in Emissions Comparison). The intention is to use mainly natural gas for on-site energy requirements, supplemented by electricity supplied by the national grid, which will further reduce the project’s carbon intensity.
Traffic safety is highly important to residents in the area, and to Keliber and our transportation partners.
Planned mining areas are located far from inhabited areas and ore transport routes are planned so that they will minimise any disruption. Mining activities will be carried out during the day to minimise the impacts of any noise and ground vibration.
The spreading of noise from the concentrator has been modelled and will have only minor effects on the area. No significant noise impacts are expected from the Keliber refinery.
Part of the waste rock generated during mining will be used in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of mining areas. Most of the waste rock will be deposited/stored in the mining area.
Our aim is to rehabilitate mining areas into biodiverse living environments once operations have ended. The pits will be filled with water and turned into lakes that can be used for alternative purposes such as recreation. Stockpiled soil will be used for landscaping and vegetation will be planted. Conditions in former mining areas, including the quality and quantity of water, will continue to be monitored upon the completion of operations.
Biodiversity is central to our sustainability programme. We will work in a manner that enables us to predict environmental impacts in the best possible way, enabling us to undertake timely mitigation and prevent even the smallest possible harm.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), Keliber’s biodiversity impacts are expected to be low to moderate at most.
Among the species that may be affected, the moor frog (Rana arvalis) was detected during the mapping of Syväjärvi in 2014. The mining areas of Syväjärvi and Rapasaari also include the territory of the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Both species are protected by the Finnish Nature Conservation Act.
While estimates are that our operations will have only minor effects on the moor frog and golden eagle, we have, however, taken action to protect them.
Read more about the steps taken to protect the moor frog and golden eagle in Keliber’s Sustainability Review.
The EIA programme involves assessment of the impacts of the various options for implementation of mines and concentrator. The current state of the environment and the impact of future activities on the environment, soil and bedrock, surface and groundwater, flora and fauna were reviewed during the EIA process. Also investigated were potential impacts on the landscape, land use and community structures.
The 2017-2018 EIA procedure related to the Länttä, Syväjärvi, Outovesi, Rapasaari and Leviäkangas deposits located in the regions of Kaustinen and Kokkola.
In 2020–2021, an EIA was carried out for the expansion of the lithium province of Central Ostrobothnia, including the concentrator and the main mining area in the Päiväneva area.
In accordance with the Finnish Environmental Protection Act (86/2000), an environmental permit is required for any mining operation. Environmental permits are granted by the Regional State Administrative Agencies and compliance with permit regulations is supervised by the regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
The Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland (AVI) granted the environmental permit for the Keliber refinery on 28 June 2022. The initial environmental permit application for the refinery was submitted to AVI on 4 December 2020.
Mining areas and the concentrator
The Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland (AVI) has on 28 December 2022 granted an environmental permit for the Keliber lithium project’s Rapasaari mine and the concentrator plant in Päiväneva. The decision includes a water management permit for the concentrator, and a right to start preparations according to the Water Act, which makes it possible to use water from the river Köyhäjoki and build the needed structures for that. In addition, the permit includes an enforcement order, a right to start concentrator operations despite possible appeals. The environmental permit is not yet legally valid. Permits are available on https://ylupa.avi.fi/fi-FI (in Finnish only).
Keliber has valid environmental permits for the Syväjärvi mining area. In February 2019, the Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland granted Keliber an environmental permit for the Syväjärvi open pit mine operations and a water permit for the temporary draining of lakes Syväjärvi and Heinäjärvi, in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act (527/2014) and the Water Act (587/2011). Three appeals were filed in the Administrative Court of Vaasa against the Regional State Administrative Agency’s decision. On 16 June 2021, the Vaasa Administrative Court announced that it mostly rejects the appeals. This decision gained legal force in July 2021.
In addition, Keliber has valid environmental permits for the operations of the Länttä lithium mine, issued in 2006.
The permit documents are available in Finnish at https://ylupa.avi.fi/fi-FI
At Sibanye-Stillwater, we believe that everyone has the right to a safe working environment and that every employee should go home, safe, well and unharmed, every single day. We strive for zero harm at all operations and aim to eliminate the potential for fatalities, accidents and injury in the workplace. See Safety & health.
Keliber has a proactive approach to employee health and well-being, and to skills development: we develop processes, operating models and cultures that advance employee well-being and expertise, and offer opportunities for professional development.
We are a close working community in which respect for each other, consideration and fairness are cornerstones of our human resources approach.
The Keliber project will employ around 300 people (including contractors) at steady state. Around 500 people will be employed during the construction phase, approximately half of them at the Keliber lithium refinery. Local labour will be given preference, either directly or through our subcontractor partners.
We will advance diversity in our recruitment by selecting women and men equally for interviews, whenever possible.
Keliber will create shared value by producing quality products, delivering positive financial performance, contributing to regional well-being, and the local sourcing of goods and services as well as through the conduct of research and development.
Our long-term goal is to produce over 15,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium hydroxide annually for the manufacture of battery chemicals. The lithium battery market is growing globally due to growth in electric vehicles sales and increasing battery demand in several industries. Feasibility studies support the financial feasibility of Keliber’s lithium project.
In spring 2019, a preliminary assessment of the general economic impacts of mining and wind power projects in the Kaustinen sub-region was carried out by the Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius.
The assessment results showed that Keliber’s lithium project would bring significant economic benefits to the region, in both the investment and production phases. These results indicated the project has the potential to increase the number of employed people by up to 215 persons in the Kaustinen sub-region and by up to 280 in the Kokkola sub-region.
Estimated income tax accrual could increase by up to €2.5 million in the Kaustinen sub-region and by €2.4 million in the Kokkola sub-region. Real estate taxes could amount to €1.3 million in the Kaustinen sub-region and €1.1 million in the Kokkola sub-region.
The Keliber project will also contribute to economic growth and well-being through national and regional (Central Ostrobothnia) procurement.
Once construction of the Keliber lithium refinery begins, there will be significant benefits for the Finland fiscus and regional stakeholders, with meaningful local investment and support for regional suppliers.
Keliber conducts extensive research and development in the course of its business activities as well as in collaboration with public organisations such as the Geological Survey of Finland, University of Oulu, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius, Centria University of Applied Sciences, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and several others.