The Ahtme ash hill findings launched the major project of raw material banks

Ragn-Sells' successful drilling operations at Ahtme's old ash hill laid the foundation for an extensive research project by the University of Tartu, the goal of which is to map critical raw materials for companies that could be contained in nearly 40 tailings and ash hills in Ida-Virumaa that have been lying idle until now.

Ragn-Sells, which wants to open a demo plant for oil shale ash valorisation in Narva in 2025, has already drilled five Estonian ash heaps in the past four years to find additional opportunities. Most recently, a mountain belonging to the Viru Keemia Group (VKG) was drilled in Ahtme, where such remarkable results were obtained that there is continued interest in them in European business and government circles.

"The results of the drilling confirm that, similar to the ash heaps of Eesti Energia, the ash heap of VKG Ahtme also contains plenty of calcium, magnesium, iron, aluminum, silicon and other raw materials. Among them, the European Union has also declared raw materials as critical raw materials, the extraction and processing of which would significantly pollute the environment," said Ragn-Sells OSA project manager Alar Saluste. "Our successful tests show that these useless ash heaps are actually real raw material banks, because with smart solutions, all these raw materials, which are so important for the Estonian and European economy, can be very successfully extracted from this ash and reused."

There is still no accurate overview of the size of Estonian raw material banks. There are only estimates that there are more than 1 billion tons of various industrial and mining wastes in nearly 40 mountains in Ida-Virumaa, of which nearly 600 million tons are oil shale ash. Solid waste covers more than 30 km2 of the territory of Ida-Virumaa, and various pollutants leak into the groundwater from many waste mountains. Thus, waste recycling also has a great positive environmental effect.

"In a situation where the European Union decided in the spring that by 2030, 40% of critical raw materials must come from the Union's own production, the hills of Ida-Virumaa are a good opportunity to create a new industry to replace the fading oil shale energy industry," explained Saluste. "If one billion tons of Ida-Virumaa's industrial waste is wisely recovered, it would be possible to satisfy the need for various materials in the whole of Europe for 10-20 years."

Professor of geology and mineralogy at the University of Tartu Kalle Kirsimäe said that in order to create a new circular economy industry in Ida-Virumaa, it is vitally important to have a thorough understanding of how much and what kind of raw materials are actually hidden in specific Estonian mountains of industrial and mining waste.

It is this work that geologists from the University of Tartu have decided to undertake in cooperation with the Estonian Geological Service. The project "Recycling of solid industrial waste deposited in Ida-Virumaa" applied for by the Fair Transition Fund is being prepared, and in addition to Ragn-Sells, seven other companies have shown great interest in it. In addition to information on the composition of mountains, their interest lies in finding competitive technological solutions. In addition to the chemical industry, it is certainly possible to use waste in the fertilizer and building materials industry.

"When the project starts, all available information about the waste mountains will be gathered, locations and quantities will be linked into a single map application, and additional chemical and mineral composition studies will be launched in those cases where the ignorance is the greatest and at the same time the material is the most promising. At the same time, various possibilities of use are being explored, if Estonian competence is insufficient, foreign experts are also involved," explained Kirsimäe.