Circular Economy needs Mining Engineers

Saija Luukkanen

The mining industry is an important business line in Finland, offering many international job opportunities. How to attract new students to study mining engineering is an ongoing question; “If only I knew, I would act immediately!” exclaims Saija Luukkanen, director of Oulu Mining School. Public debate highlights the disadvantages of mining, but little is said about the importance of the mining industry to modern life. The link between the green transition and mining continues to allude many.

“We currently offer introductory courses in mining, covering the entire industry from mineral exploration to mine construction, without forgetting environmental, social and profitability issues. After the course, many students say that they only now understand the big picture,” says Luukkanen. “That should be marketed to students!” exclaims Ritva Tuunila, associate professor at LUT University and director of degree programs in chemical engineering. Ritva is excited, and is also familiar with the fact that it is only during their studies that students become aware of the opportunities offered to chemists by the mining industry. “Students choose chemical engineering, but they don’t apply with the mining industry in mind,” Tuunila smiles and mentions that LUT University was the most popular university in Finland last year for bachelor’s studies in chemical engineering.

Ritva Tuunila

Circular economy is part of mining studies

People who choose to study mining usually have a connection to the industry. Students are either from a mining region or their relatives have worked in the field. Ritva Tuunila points out, “Outsiders still think the mining (industry) is dirty, heavy and dangerous, although nowadays the work is often in an office environment, and highly integrated with computers”. Challenging measurement tasks are handled by drones, and heavy work procedures are performed by highly automated machinery. Despite the industry’s conservative reputation, according to Luukkanen’s experience, mining companies follow mining research with big interest. Environmental issues are of interest to both companies and students. “Courses in circular economy are hugely popular, and are also appealing to business students” says Ritva Tuunila about LUT’s situation. The circular economy is being studied more and more in Oulu, too. Research on the reuse of mining waste is being carried out at both universities, which supports the teaching of circular economy.

Super-experts through educational collaboration

The University of Oulu offers an exceptionally complete study unit in the field of mining, combining geosciences, mining technology and enrichment technology. LUT University, on the other hand, is at the forefront of water treatment and separation technology. “It is worth remembering that a student can complete a minor subject at another university. This opportunity is still underused”, Ritva Tuunila points out and continues: “I could think that our students of master’s degree in chemical engineering would study mining in Oulu. It would be an exceptional expertise in mastering both process and plant design as well as the actual mining process.” In Luukkanen’s opinion, it is strongly advisable for Finnish universities to cooperate more in education. For her, LUT University’s process water expertise is a great addition to the students of mining engineering in the University of Oulu. “There is a lot of co-operation in the field of research, but we can and should do more in the field of education,” says Luukkanen.

Interesting work while saving the world 

The learning environment at LUT and in the University of Oulu is relaxed, and the teaching is based on problem solving. It is also possible to build various entities quite flexibly from studies. “I would urge those planning their studies to think of different options,” says Luukkanen and Tuunila agrees. “If you want to make an impact, mining engineering, chemistry, environmental sciences and energy studies form a whole that can truly work for the environment,” says Tuunila. “Yes, just like that. Maybe we will not even realize that when one studies mining engineering and chemistry, you are at the core of the changing, modern world”, concludes Saija Luukkanen.

Saija Luukkanen is the director of the Oulu Mining School at the University of Oulu’s Faculty of Engineering and a professor in mineral processing.

Ritva Tuunila works at LUT University as an associate professor and head of the degree program in chemical engineering.

Both universities are members of the Xplorer mining network, which is coordinated by author Jaana Ryynänen.

Title picture: University of Oulu. Monitoring room of the concentrator facility at the Oulu Mining School