Geological Survey of Finland GTK, which operates under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, and Radai Oy got acquainted in 2016 during Business Finland's mining industry projects. The innovative technology of the Oulu-based startup was a good fit in the GTK-led EU Horizon 2020 NEXT project, which developed sensitive mineral exploration methods for the Arctic regions and densely populated areas in central and southern Europe. Launched in 2018, NEXT had a budget of 6.9 million euros.
"GTK asked us to participate because we had special expertise in drones. NEXT was a Research and Innovation Actions project where we had to develop something new and innovative rather than developing the existing technology. Also, we already had a product development branch for the measuring devices developed in the project," explains Radai's CEO Ari Saartenoja.
The preparatory support and travel funds granted by the Regional Council of Lapland facilitated Radai's decision to go to Brussels to meet the project partners and prepare the application. The SMEs invited to the consortium were given a lot of responsibility. Radai led a technical work package that included geochemistry, sampling, geophysical measurements, and drone technology, among other things.
"We had to grow into the role because drone mineral exploration was only one small component in the wider project. But NEXT had a great team that welded tightly together. GTK was the promoter that created the strong team spirit," says Saartenoja.
A veteran of many national and international projects, GTK is a sought-after partner for projects funded in Finland and the EU. GTK has active research cooperation with global companies operating in the extractive industry and various technology and service developers in co-financed projects and direct customer assignments. Business Finland has been financing R&I projects in the mineral sector for a decade. This year, GTK has eight projects underway funded by Business Finland, with total funding of more than €1.5 million.
The sustainable utilization of raw materials and the development of mineral exploration methods have been major themes for which GTK has received funding from Business Finland. We have been able to take the results from these projects forward with larger networks to the EU funding side.
"Business Finland is currently the largest single financier in our co-financed activities. The sustainable utilization of raw materials and the development of mineral exploration methods have been major themes for which GTK has received funding from Business Finland. We have been able to take the results from these projects forward with larger networks to the EU funding side," says Raisa Neitola, GTK's Head of Project Management.
"It often lowers the threshold for companies to participate in EU projects when they can work alongside research organizations with strong experience in project management."
Radai developed a new electromagnetic measurement system and magnetic vector measurement for ore exploration during the three-and-a-half-year-long NEXT project. In 2020 the experts of the European Commission's assessed the product of Radai's NEXT project as a top innovation product with high market potential in the near future.
"We were able to develop one product to completion and made good progress with the second measurement system. We've had customers for the vector field measurement of the magnetic field using drones," says Saartenoja. "Vector field measurement is challenging and therefore a little more expensive than the traditional total magnetic field measurement. The customers have found added value in the new measurement method for ore prospecting."
Radai is currently expanding its ore field surveying activities in the Nordic countries and has established a new company in Zambia, one of Africa's most mineral-rich countries. The company is also involved in two new Horizon projects.
"I launched the last Horizon application myself, after which the University of Oulu took over," says Saartenoja, encouraging Finnish SMEs to seize the opportunities that come from working in consortia.
Once you get access to this world, even a young company can start applying for funding or building a consortium.
"The cooperation is initiated through the institutions and by networking. Small companies should indicate their willingness to participate in big projects. Once you get access to this world, even a young company can start applying for funding or building a consortium."
GTK has a significant role in creating the network of companies that participates in the research projects.
"We strive to open up opportunities also for SMEs. In the last Horizon Europe application round, Radai was part of a competing consortium and got the funding. This is great and a good example of how a small company that participated in a GTK project has gained the confidence to join other EU projects," says Vesa Nykänen, Research Professor at GTK.
At the same time, GTK and Radai are continuing their active collaboration. A new joint research project is in the works again.
Text: Sami Sallinen