In 2001, native Iron Ranger Lehtinen founded Mesabi Nugget, which converts iron ore concentrate to pig iron nuggets. In 2007, he sold his share of the company to Indiana-based Steel Dynamics, which is building a $235-million nugget plant near Hoyt Lakes.
In April, Lehtinen moved on to a new challenge—what to do with the mountains of iron ore tailings left over from nine decades of mining. He bought a controlling interest in Nashwauk-based Magnetation, which plans to process the tailings, separate the iron from sand, and then sell the iron oxide concentrate to iron producers and steel makers.
Lehtinen expects to have his first separation plant operating by mid-January. “Production in phase one is expected to be 200,000 metric tons per year of iron concentrate,” he says. “We plan to double that and be at an annualized rate of 400,000 tons by October.” Lehtinen also expects to open a second plant in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a third in 2010.
In addition, Magnetation plans to sell wetland mitigation credits to companies by returning the residual tailings to the basins to create functioning wetlands. It also hopes to turn residual tailings into water treatment media for removing dissolved mercury from the scrubber effluents of coal-fired power plants—and develop a facility to turn the iron concentrate made from the tailings into high-quality steel alloys. Intriguing plans. Will the decline in steel production keep them from coming true?