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How GreenTechs in Ida-Virumaa transform mining waste to raw materials

With the help of the Just Transition Fund, two companies – Ragn-Sells and Trisector – are investing in new technologies to recycle the mountains of waste originating from oil shale exploitation.

“Waste is only waste if you waste it.” That’s the slogan of Trisector, and they mean it literally, because for them, waste is a recyclable material and the raw material for industries around the world. As a new green-tech company, Trisector is developing an innovative process to upcycle mine tailings into secondary raw materials, for example, as industrial minerals for construction, road building, and agroforestry applications, and as functional fillers used in plastics, paper, paints, and sealants. As a result of decades of oil shale processing in Ida-Virumaa, there are massive ash hills and there really are huge quantities of mining waste – estimated at over a quarter of a billion tonnes.

Trisector is now looking to use these mine tailings to produce both coarse and fine industrial minerals and mineral fillers. The idea is to do this in partnership with Eesti Energia, which has significant mine tailings accumulated at its Estonia Mine – almost 150 million tonnes of “mining waste” that has been stocked up over more than 50 years. Arnout Lugtmeijer, founder of Trisector, says that the first phase of their plant will have a capacity of 1 million tonnes per year, but the plan is to increase this in modules to 5 million tonnes. Trisector is additionally investing almost 1 million euros to complete the development of an innovative technology for the refining of oil shale waste, of which 658 000 euros will come from the Just Transition Fund. However, the planned investment for the construction of a full-scale production plant already amounts to 30 million euros.

Trisector core team: Mikko Hedman, Paavo Pettai, Aleksandr Snatkin, and Arnout Lugtmeijer

This will also mean up to a hundred new, high-skilled jobs, but also work for many indirect partners. “As 90% of our production is for export (raw materials in Scandinavia and in the north of continental Europe – Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium), logistics play a key role. In the first stage, we consider sea transport our primary export channel, but transport within Estonia will be by rail. With the construction and completion of Rail Baltica, we see a considerable possibility that rail’s export share to north-west Europe could also increase,” says Lugtmeijer.

“Throughout the entire logistics chain, it is important for us that things are done with the minimum footprint, and this will certainly be one of the key factors when making specific decisions. Our whole production and logistics process must help the consumers of our products to achieve ‹Scope3› impact, with the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions.”

Estonia is the first EU member state qualified to distribute Just Transition Fund resources. To help Ida-Virumaa with new investments and shift away from the oil shale industry, the European Commission is backing new and innovative businesses with a total of 340 million euros.

What a waste!

Another project concerning the ash hills, but also developing innovative technology with the help of the Just Transition Fund, is planned by Ragn-Sells, a privately held corporate group involved in waste management. Ragn-Sells’ subsidiary R-S OSA Service OÜ is setting up a demonstration plant in Ida-Virumaa to pilot oil shale ash valorising technology. They plan to extract calcium carbonate from oil shale ash, the leftover material from oil shale combustion, utilising a chemical method that cleanses the calcium from the pulverised ash, transfers it to an aqueous solution, and binds it with carbon dioxide derived from, for example, boiler dust, to produce calcium carbonate.

The total investment amounts to 10.3 million euros, of which 2.6 million euros will be the contribution from the Just Transition Fund. “The design of the demonstration plant is underway, and we are already bringing in specialists, as the plan is to have the plant up and running next year. A lot will depend on the results of the demonstration plant, but we hope that with planning and construction, the industrial plant will be operational in 2031,” explains Alar Saluste, member of the management board at R-S OSA Service.

Alar Saluste

Plans are optimistic because there are many sectors and products that need calcium carbonate as a raw material for their own production, ranging from the plastics industry to the food and pharmaceutical industries.

“We have already received feedback and proof from our partners that the new raw material produced from waste is of a quality equivalent to fresh raw material, which can now be left unearthed, thereby significantly reducing the environmental impact and carbon footprint,” says Saluste. “As reducing the carbon footprint of end products is an extremely important issue that our future customers are already very strongly addressing, our product will enable them to make a significant step forward in the use of circular and low-carbon materials in their production process,” Saluste continues. “The immediate effect for us and for the European Union economy as a whole is that we will be able to bring a calcium carbonate to the market whose production will not cause any immediate damage to the environment – i.e. no new quarries will be opened, no additional cubic metres of soil will be excavated, and the huge amounts of CO2 emissions that inevitably result when calcium carbonate is produced conventionally will be avoided.”

The Ragn-Sells project aims to demonstrate that waste could be utilised to produce raw materials for everyday uses. Besides calcium carbonate, ash hills may yield other valuable raw material to be extracted in the future. “We will start with calcium carbonate and then move on to iron or magnesium, for example. Magnesium is in the top three of the EU’s list of critical raw materials, and in the future, we could cover 30% of the magnesium that EU industry needs,” Saluste concludes.


While there are many (re)uses, there is also a huge amount of oil shale ash in Ida-Virumaa – an estimated 500 million tonnes of it has been deposited there, which is enough for the Ragn-Sells industrial plant for about 300 years! So, according to Alar Saluste, there will certainly be enough raw material for future competitors. “This is a very strong new opportunity for the Estonian economy, if we handle this ‘waste’ in the right way. There is plenty of ash, sharing is not a problem, we are patient, and valorising this ‘waste’ in Estonia is important.”

Science for a better planet

Waste recycling is a clear trend in Estonia and worldwide. The companies Trisector and Ragn-Sells, which are developing technologies for the reprocessing of oil shale waste, are good proof of this trend. The valorisation of local resources is also an important strategic direction for the country and has great potential in commercial, as well as wider social and environmental, terms. The Just Transition Fund aims to increase the knowledge intensity of companies and support the creation of modern and smart industry in Ida-Virumaa. Such development projects will play an important role in this.

To boost the development of new and knowledge-intensive technologies, Estonia has also set up an applied research centre, currently supporting a limited number of topics. Applied research centres, in general, help companies to carry out laboratory measurements, create prototypes, carry out simulations, test small-scale production first, and develop processes to bring a new technology to a mass-production scale, shares Madis Raukas, head of the Applied Research Programme at Enterprise Estonia.

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