Rare earth processor buys mining rights in Greenland

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BEIJING (AP) — One of the world’s few rare-earth processors outside of China has purchased exploration rights to mine in Greenland, paving a path to diversify supplies of critical minerals for advanced and green technologies.

BEIJING (AP) — One of the world’s few rare-earth processors outside of China has purchased exploration rights to mine in Greenland, paving a path to diversify supplies of critical minerals for advanced and green technologies.

Rare earths are a group of minerals used in the manufacture of electric vehicles, wind turbines, electronics, robots and other machinery. China currently dominates global production, processing around 85% of the world’s rare earths, but skyrocketing demand is pushing companies to seek other sources.

Toronto-based rare earth processor Neo Performance Materials said on Monday it plans to develop the Sarfartoq deposit in southwest Greenland and send the ore to its facility in Estonia in Eastern Europe. East. It is one of only two factories outside of China that processes rare earths to a high degree.

Neo aims to operate the mine in two to three years. This will be the company’s first major mining project. CEO Constantine Karayannopoulos said by opening the mine he hopes to protect the company from volatile rare earth prices, which have soared in recent years due to supply disruptions and high demand.

“We are at the mercy of the market,” he said.

Karayannopoulos called it « business, not geopolitics. » But in recent years, rare earths have captured the attention of policymakers in Washington, Beijing and other capitals given their importance to the global high-tech supply chain. The United States, Europe and Japan call their dependence on Chinese rare earths a “national security risk” and have sought to diversify their supply.

But those efforts have struggled, as mines in other countries have faced opposition or failed to take off after fluctuating prices scared off investors.

Meanwhile, rare earth supplies have dwindled and some mines are raising ethical and environmental concerns. Rare-earth mining is bad business when done cheaply, and China, the world’s largest miner, has closed many mines in recent years to limit environmental damage.

Some of that mining has been outsourced to Myanmar, where a lack of oversight masks a dirty secret. An Associated Press investigation this month found that Myanmar’s mines have been linked to environmental destruction, the theft of land from villagers and the funneling of cash to brutal militias, including at least one linked to Myanmar’s secret military government. The AP traced rare earths from Myanmar to the supply chains of 78 companies, including major automakers and electronics giants.

The US State Department said in a statement it was « deeply concerned » about illicit mining in Myanmar and called on other countries to ensure that their economic activity with Myanmar « does not allow or ‘not further exacerbate the regime’s violence against its own people’.

Karayannopoulos said that in Greenland, the company plans to dig up the rock, crush it and perform basic processing that does not involve the use of harmful chemicals. The ore will then be shipped to Estonia, where it will then be processed into a form that can be used to make magnets.

Plans for another rare earth mine in Greenland fell through after voters swept a left-wing government that blocked development. The site had high concentrations of uranium, which raised concerns about how the radioactive waste would be disposed of.

Karayannopoulos said the site his company plans to develop has much lower levels of uranium, meaning it can be mined under current Greenland and European Union regulations. He said EU officials were encouraging the project because it could help the continent become more self-sufficient in rare earths.

Greenland, the largest island in the world, lies between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A 1.7 million square kilometer (660,000 square mile) ice cap covers 80% of the Arctic territory. The 56,000 inhabitants of Greenland are mainly indigenous Inuit.

Some rare earth customers, meanwhile, are aware of the risks of mining in unregulated and conflict-ridden areas like Myanmar, and are increasingly willing to pay more for rare earths from regulated jurisdictions and transparent,” said Karayannopoulos.

“You make the problem worse by doing it irresponsibly and with regimes that kill their own people,” he said. « It’s not sustainable. »

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Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Dake Kang, The Associated Press





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