Metallurgists are needed to fix the sustainability gap

05.04.2017

Professor of Metallurgy Ari Jokilaakso’s researches the behaviour of chemical elements at high temperatures. He wants to give students a real understanding of chemical phenomena.

Photo: Mikko Raskinen

What do you research and why?

My professorship covers the high-temperature processes for producing metals and the momentum, heat, and mass transfer phenomena involved in these processes. This also includes chemical reactions and their kinetics. The sustainable production of metals from poor and impure raw materials brings new challenges into the process.

Research activities focus on the behaviour of different elements in high-temperature processes, because as new raw material groups are brought in they introduce into the processes substances that have not been there before. In terms of the behaviour studied, attention is paid in particular to how the substances distribute into different products such as metals and slag, or through evaporation into gases and flue dust.

Another line of research is the modelling of processes’ transfer phenomena and kinetics, primarily with the use of commercial CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) software. The basic phenomena can be modelled with the CFD tools, but the kinetics of the metallurgical reactions are added as submodels defined by the researchers and the required kinetic information is acquired through experimental research. The plan is to gather together two research groups that support and complement each other, one for experimental research and the other for computer modelling research. The objective of this is to find ways to develop the processes so that all the elements can completely be either stored, put to use or safely discarded in a controlled manner.

How did you become a researcher?

I graduated as a Master of Science in Engineering in the mid-80s when the sector was experiencing a depression and there was no industry work available, so postgraduate studies were a good option. I got so inspired by research that I stayed in it for 13 years. First I was working on my postgraduate research, then together with a research group, although during the same period I was offered work in the industry on several occasions. Conducting research, working with students and coaching and helping them proved to be very interesting and rewarding work. 

What have been the highlights of your career?

A significant milestone in my research career was attaining the position of Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland. I applied for it for five years. It was a significant achievement when I finally received it. Those years also taught me about making applications, so it was also an important learning experience.

In the industry, on the other hand, one interesting experience was working as a project manager for a small delivery project. The project was related to product development. We succeeded in solving the problems involved and produced a successful commercial product. Today, this water cooled slag launder, which is made of massive copper slab by pending it into U-shape, is used in iron slag tapping in addition to it’s original area in non-ferrous metals slags.

Another highlight would also be my 10 years as a Senior Vice President in HR for Outotec – especially from 2006 to 2012 during Outotec’s rapid growth as an independent stock-listed company. The work gave a privileged perspective on global business and leadership of human resources. The globalism highlighted well different cultures and the human resources aspect shed light on how to help people and promote professional growth and development. Those years were, of course, also hard and demanding ones in terms of the size of the workload. An especially important lesson from those years was the reality of constant change. After all I experienced there, it has been easier to deal with changes and tight situations.

The real highlight, though, was getting into my current job as a professor of metallurgy. As well as enjoying the research, I like teaching as well. When the opportunity came up to apply for this professorship, I seized it and fortunately ended up being selected.

What is the most important quality for a researcher?

A desire to figure out and understand things or curiosity or the ability to marvel at what happens in experiments, then the ability to ponder afterwards what the observations and results could be caused by. Moments of insight, when things “fall into place”, bring the feelings of success which are the researcher’s reward.

What would you like to convey to your students?

Enthusiasm and an understanding of chemical and transport phenomena. In addition, I want to highlight what is important in the business world and when working in the industry so that they are able to take this into consideration in their studies. An important matter that has arisen these days is the possible scarcity of raw materials and metals, in other words the question of how important this issue to humanity if we want to preserve and improve our standard of living also in developing countries. The yield from different processes must be improved and the technology of metal recycling made as efficient as possible. Metallurgists are needed to fix this sustainability gap.

What do you expect from the future at Aalto?

Interesting research projects and dissertations – preferably in cooperation with industry partners. I'm also interested in developing teaching and other university-related areas. International research cooperation is also on the wish list. Scarcity of resources is felt these days in the amount of funds available for research, and the responsibility of research group leaders for acquiring funding is growing continually. This all naturally brings both good results as well as a certain level of challenge. Indeed, my hopes for the future include both handling opportunities for carrying out research as well as developing research indicators.

A lot has changed since when I was last working in research. There are abundant support services for teaching, funding applications and administration. This frees up professors’ time for research and teaching.

My first impressions are that the initial friction in adopting new working practices is being experienced here in just the same way as in the business world. In the end, everything is nevertheless down to us as the workers and our attitude towards change and new things in general. When we trust in our shared goals and act accordingly, everything goes more smoothly.