Pensana’s rare earth processing hub
Early-stage development has started on the establishment of Pensana’s rare earth processing hub at the Saltend Chemicals Park in Humber, in the UK following the recent £15-million premium equity raise which was strongly supported by the Pensana’s major shareholders.
The Saltend plant will be the first major rare earth separation facility to be built in over a decade and the first to be located in a freeport. The final tax and customs regimes for the Humber Freeport are being finalised but are expected to take the form of an economic enterprise zone, providing a combination of benefits, enabling the rapid development of the project and frictionless trade with European and international customers, Pensana acclaims.
The company is aiming to establish Saltend as an attractive alternative for mining houses who may otherwise be limited to selling their products to China, having designed the facility to be easily adapted to cater for a range of rare earth feedstocks.
Importantly, for many miners around the world that are looking to access to the European and US supply chains, it is becoming increasingly clear that the planned European Union and UK carbon border taxation will mean it is no longer acceptable for manufacturers to source material extracted or processed unsustainably, Pensana notes.
Pensana is advancing the front-end engineering design (FEED) for the Saltend facility, as well as for its Longonjo rare earth mining project, both of which are expected to be finalised in October. Ongoing continuous process pilot plant runs to confirm equipment selection, sizing and specifications will continue through to September, reflecting the importance placed on confirmation of scalability of design, the company highlights. Pensana is working with international engineering group Wood, which has committed 40 experts from its Western Australian, UK and South African operations to work on the FEED for both projects.
The Saltend site is currently being prepared for construction by the pxGroup and is scheduled to be handed over in the next few months.
In Angola, Pensana is working closely with contractors and government officials to progress the Longonjo project, while strictly adhering to travel restrictions arising from the global pandemic, it notes.
“Demands for more secure and responsible supply chains, higher prices on carbon and policies such as the border carbon adjustments are setting the stage for greater transparency and traceability in minerals and metals – enablers of the global energy transition.
“The Humber is already the UK’s busiest port complex; the freeport status with its customs and tax incentives aimed at levelling up, provides the opportunity to establish the world’s first rare earth processing hub within an economic enterprise zone, with the benefits of frictionless trade with Europe and the rest of the world.
“We continue to work closely with our application for funding from the Automotive Transformation Fund, a long-term programme designed to enable the UK to build the world’s most comprehensive and compelling electrified vehicle supply chain, supporting over 160 000 jobs,” chairperson Paul Atherley says.
Greenland’s rare earths and EU’s exploitation plan
A new two-party coalition government on the autonomous Danish territory is planning to stop one of the world’s biggest rare earth mining projects over fears that radioactive uranium, which is also present in the deposit, could damage the local environment. The prospect that the mine, known as Kuannersuit, could be shut down is a heavy blow to the EU’s long-term plan to source more rare earth metals — which are key to the production of a range of green technology from electric cars to wind turbines — from politically stable Western-aligned countries. The EU is increasingly concerned that relying on China, which sources the bulk of “critical” raw materials — those defined as economically important and with high supply risk — is unwise among ongoing diplomatic tensions between Brussels and Beijing.
“The new coalition does not support uranium mining,” Naaja Hjelholt Nathanielsen, Greenland’s new minister of mining, told Politico.
Her party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), made scrapping the rare earth mine and uranium central to its campaign ahead of last month’s election. And following its win at the ballot box, it is widely expected to make good on that promise.
Nathanielsen said she has yet to meet with Greenland Minerals, the Australia-based company developing the mine, but she expects the government will make an announcement about the project “before summer.” The proposal is currently subject to a public hearing that is scheduled to end June 1.
“I suppose they will stop the project,” said Erik Jensen, the leader of the Siumut party, which came second and lost power in the April election. His party has long backed the mine, but it too has cooled on the project in recent months.
“We are neutral in the issue right now because we would like to first see the hearing process and what the geologists have said about the project,” Jensen said.
A long time coming
The deposit at Kuannnersuit, which is in Greenland’s more hospitable southwest, was discovered by Danish geologists in the mid-1950s and received a big publicity boost in 1957 when the Danish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr visited the site and expressed optimism about mining there. After decades of prospecting for uranium for eventual nuclear power plants in Denmark, Copenhagen suspended the mining program amid growing popular resistance to nuclear energy.
In 2013, the Greenlandic government shifted course again, and after a vote said uranium mining could restart, a move that re-energized the Kuannersuit project with its mix of uranium and rare earth metals.
Greenland Minerals argues the scheme would provide hundreds of well-paid jobs and vital state income. Greenland’s economy currently runs in large part on a subsidy from the Danish state, something parties advocating Greenlandic independence, including IA and Siumut, hope to change by developing a number of key industries, especially mining, fishing and tourism.
But in the town of Narsaq, close to the Kuannersuit mine site, opponents of the project say they fear radioactive dust from the pit will damage people’s health, pollute local farmland and scare away tourists.
Narsaq local Mariane Paviasen, an MP with IA who has campaigned against the mine, was recently appointed head of the parliament’s committee on trade and raw materials.
“I want to do what I promised and stop the mining of uranium on Greenland,” she told local media.
Undermining the EU’s plans
China currently accounts for around 70 percent of rare earth mining globally and between 85 percent and 90 percent of rare earth processing, according to a report by the consultancy Adamas. That’s not ideal for the EU, which is wary of relying too heavily on one country for the supplies of materials like neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium it needs to make its green ambitions a reality.
“By diversifying the supply from third countries and developing the EU’s own capacity for extraction, processing, recycling, refining and separation of rare earths, we can become more resilient and sustainable,” Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said in September, at the launch of the EU executive’s Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials.
The EU’s biggest known deposit of rare earths lies close to Sweden’s second-largest lake in a hamlet called Norra Kärr. But local concerns about the environmental impact of mineral extraction on local water supplies mean production, if it ever happens, is still years away. The Kuannersuit deposit is believed to be even larger, and while Greenland lies outside the EU, bloc-member Denmark retains control over foreign, defense and security policy. That means Copenhagen would be expected to have a say over where Greenland sells uranium and rare earths because of their strategic nature, experts say, making Greenland a more stable trading partner than China.
The EU is not the only one interested. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s famous offer to buy Greenland in 2019 was in part motivated by a desire to control the island’s mineral reserves. The U.S. has since opened a consulate general in the Greenlandic capital Nuuk and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the island last week.
Despite the bleak outlook, Greenland Minerals is not giving up, and chief executive John Mair said the company would continue to make its case for Kuannersuit at the upcoming public hearing.
“If it stalls due to unforeseen political reasons, it will not be seen as a positive step in the eyes of the international investment community,” Mair told the Australian business paper the Market Herald.
Mining Minister Nathanielsen acknowledged communication from the Greenlandic government over the years regarding uranium mining had “been back and forth with changing viewpoints.”
But she added that, beyond uranium, the new government is strongly in favor of the further development of Greenland’s mining industry at sites where uranium is not present. “The legislative framework is in general robust and investors and projects more than welcome,” she said.
Greenland election results could halt rare-earth mining
Since Greenland held its first election in 1979, the social democratic party Siumut has been in power, with only one exception of four years.
Now the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) celebrate as it became clear they had gained a clear majority.
Unprecedented global interest
The reason for the change can be found in Kuannersuit – a site of mineral deposits in the south of Greenland. According to the US Geological Survey, Greenland has the world’s largest undeveloped deposit of rare-earth minerals. These minerals are essential components in green technology, so demand is on the rise, leading to global interest in securing a stable supply-chain as a part of green transition. A report published last year by the European Commission exposed Europe’s needs in this sector. As it stands now, China controls around 80 percent of the supply for rare-earth minerals.
In Kuannersuit, the Australian-owned Greenland Minerals has been operating since 2007. Among its largest shareholders is the Chinese firm Shenghe Resources Holding, with 10.5 percent of the shares. Earlier this year, EUobserver revealed that Greenland Minerals had declared wishes to export all potential outputs of rare earths from Kuannersuit to Europe, and not China, as had been feared. Kuannersuit has been seen as an opportunity for Western global players to challenge China’s near monopoly on rare-earth minerals – and the Greenland election found itself getting unprecedented global attention.
To understand the election result, it is also essential to understand Greenland’s history of colonial ties to Denmark, according to Javier Arnaut, assistant professor at the Ilisimatusarfik University in Greenland. For several years, Arnaut focused his research on mineral mining and economic and institutional development in Greenland. Just before the election, a poll revealed that 63 percent of those asked were against this specific mining project in Kuannersuit. The IA party leader, Múte B. Egede, promised that a vote for IA would be a vote to put mining activities in Kuannersuit on hold.
“Greenland is a country with an independent cultural heritage; inuit history; its own language etc. We must understand the natural Greenlandic need for also obtaining financial independence from its colonial ties with Denmark. And financial independence is something to which the mining industry could offer new opportunities,” Arnaut said.
But for her part, the Greenlandic MP representing IA in the Danish parliament does not agree with this position.
Aaja Chemnitz Larsen argues that other paths must be fully examined.
“In IA, we do not believe in a quick-fix for obtaining independence. We believe in a slow process, where Greenland will have the necessary time to adjust to financial independence, through a peaceful and environmentally sustainable solution. As it is now, we have other challenges that must be taken care of first: We have rising inequality and a healthcare system on its knees,” Larsen said.
Arnaut added that the focus on Chinese involvement and the global attention might have had an effect at the ballot box. The idea of a foreign player interfering in Greenlandic affairs might have had an effect on the eventual choice, he said.
Meanwhile, Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam, the Greenlandic MP representing Siumut in the Danish Parliament, said the premise of the conversation about Kuannersuit was wrong.
“It is a narrow, Western, post-colonial premise to only focus on Kuannersuit and the potential profit – not only for Greenland, but also the potential buyers of the rare minerals,” she said.
Arctic diplomacy and independence
According to Arnaut, Greenland finds itself in a dilemma. The question of independence has come to the fore, as rare-earth minerals opened up a way to reduce dependence on Danish grants. But the mining site also opened up Greenland to exploitation by other external players.
Høegh-Dam pointed out that further steps still needed to be taken towards stronger independence when it comes to foreign policy. She is a firm believer in diplomatic reasoning and focus when it comes to the inevitable part played by Greenland in matters of the Arctic on the international scene. Høegh-Dam described it as remarkable, albeit positive, that, last year, Denmark invited Greenland to participate in the discussions leading up to a visit from the American secretary of state.
Inviting Greenland to discuss matters concerning Greenland’s foreign affairs has not been normal protocol for Denmark in the past. Chemnitz Larsen added that in IA they operate by the motto “Nothing about Greenland, without Greenland”.
And that meant that when matters concerning Greenland were discussed, Greenland should be invited to take part in the discussion. When asked about the EU Commission’s initiative in August 2019 inviting stakeholders to advise on the EU’s new Arctic Strategy, both Høegh-Dam and Chemnitz sounded very positive.
“The Greenlandic collaborations should be chosen wisely,” Chemnitz Larsen added cryptically, however. “I believe in diplomacy and shared values,” she said.
The following weeks will reveal whether the mining site in Kuannersuit will be put on hold for good. The Danish government declined to comment on the election outcome.
Interest in Greenland’s rare-earths
Greenland has what the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calls the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth metals. Deposit is a term that means an amount of a resource, like a mineral, that exists in the ground. Most of Greenland, the world’s largest island, is north of the Arctic Circle. But the island’s ice covering and glaciers are shrinking. As a result, two Australia-based mining companies are racing for approval to dig. One of the companies is seeking financing in the United States. The other company is owned in part by a Chinese state-supported company.
Each Greenland mine would cost about $500 million to develop, the companies say. Both plan to send mined material away for final processing. This processing often takes place in China. The two possible mines in Greenland are less than 16 kilometers from each other. They are at the southern end of the island, near a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The debate over the possible mines has created a political crisis. In April, a general election will be held on the island of 56,000 people. Many Greenlanders are concerned about pollution. But they believe mining is important for developing their economy. In a 2013 public opinion study, just over half said they want raw materials to become the country’s main source of money. The country may support either project, both projects, or neither project. But for those Greenlanders open to mining, the two possibilities come down to a choice between one mine that would not produce radioactive material and another that would.
The first mine project would not involve nuclear material. It has won early environmental approval, but it needs investment and a processing plan.
The second project has already spent more than $100 million preparing to mine. It has proven processing technology through its Chinese partner. And it won early political support from Greenland’s government. But its plans include exporting uranium, a nuclear fuel. It recently ran into strong opposition from residents of the nearby town of Narsaq among others.
Mariane Paviasen is an opposition lawmaker from Narsaq. She said she opposed the mining project because it presents a threat to the environment.
“As indigenous people we have lived in harmony with nature for many, many years,” Paviasen said. “We use these lands to hunt and fish.”
An important resource
Greenland’s decision comes at a time when some Western countries are considering ways to break free of China in the production of an important resource.
Rare earth metals have many uses, and last year China produced about 90 percent of them, said Toronto-based Adamas Intelligence. The only rare earth mine now operating in the United States is Mountain Pass in California. It is partly owned by a Chinese state-backed company that sends material mined in the United States to China for processing. As U.S.-China tensions increase, President Joe Biden’s administration said last month it will reconsider important U.S. supplies, including rare earths.
Greenland, a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, has a gross domestic product of around $3 billion. Its government wants to gain from foreign investments. Greenland’s government did not answer Reuters’ requests for comment for this story. Last month, the Acting Minister of Resources, Vittus Qujaukitsoq, said that if Greenlanders suddenly decide they do not want the second project, “we’ll make a fool of investors. The credibility of the whole country is at stake.”
Greenland’s rare-earths potential and the ‘green power’
Greenland has huge resources of metals known as rare-Earths, used to create compact, super-strong magnets that help power equipment such as wind turbines, electric vehicles, combat aircraft and weapons systems. The metals are abundant globally, but processing them is difficult and dirty – so much so that the US, which used to dominate production, surrendered that position to China about 20 years ago. As Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers recede, two Australia-based mining companies – one seeking funding in the US, the other part-owned by a Chinese state-backed firm – are racing for approval to dig into what the US Geological Survey (USGS) calls the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare Earth metals.
The contest underscores the polluting side of clean energy, as well as how hard it is for the West to break free of China in production of a vital resource. Rare Earth metals have many uses, and last year China produced about 90% of them, according to Toronto-based consultancy Adamas Intelligence. As US-China tensions mount, President Joe Biden’s administration said last month it will review key US supplies, including rare Earths, to ensure other countries cannot weaponise them against the US. Each Greenland mine would cost about $500 million to develop, the companies say. Both plan to send mined material away for final processing, an activity that is heavily concentrated in China. The only rare earth mine now operating in the US – Mountain Pass in California – is partly owned by a Chinese state-backed company that currently sends material mined in the US to China for processing. The Greenland sites are less than 16 km from each other at the southern tip of the island, near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Debate on them has triggered a political crisis in the capital of Nuuk, forcing a general election on the island of 56,000, due in April. Many Greenlanders, while concerned about pollution, feel mining is key to develop their fragile economy. In a 2013 poll, just over half said they want raw materials to become the country’s main source of income. The country may ultimately back either project, both or neither, but for those Greenlanders open to mining, the two proposals boil down to a choice between one mine that would not produce radioactive material and another that would.
The first mine, a private initiative from an Australian geologist who has presented it to US officials, would not involve nuclear material. It has won preliminary environmental approval, but it needs cash and a processing plan. The second one has already spent more than $100 million preparing to mine, has proven processing technology through its Chinese partner, and won initial political support from Greenland’s coalition government. But its plans include exporting uranium, a nuclear fuel, to China, and it recently ran into strong opposition, including from residents of the nearby town of Narsaq.
“As indigenous people we have lived in harmony with nature for many, many years,” said Mariane Paviasen, an opposition lawmaker who lives in the town. “We use these lands to hunt and fish.”
Greenland, a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark, has a gross domestic product of around $3 billion – similar to Andorra and Burundi. With its people living mostly on fishing and grants from Copenhagen, its government is keen to attract foreign investment. It does not have an estimate for royalties from the first project, but expects around 1.5 billion Danish crowns ($245 million) each year from the Chinese-linked one – equivalent to roughly 15% of public spending. Greenland’s government did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Acting Minister of Resources Vittus Qujaukitsoq said last month that if Greenlanders suddenly decide they don’t want the second project, “we’ll make a fool of investors. The credibility of the whole country is at stake.”
Greenland’s rare Earth metals are also a chance for America and Europe to regain control of a strategic resource. The island’s potential as a source of the raw materials needed for renewable energy technologies gained momentum in 2010, when China threatened to cut off its supply of rare Earth metals to Japan, and tightened quotas to international buyers. Prices for some of the metals have jumped in recent months, driven by surging demand for electric vehicles as well as concerns that Beijing may restrict sales. Greenland’s position near the eastern flank of the United States makes it a sensitive location. Former US President Donald Trump offered to buy the island in 2019, and he was not the first US president to do so: In 1946, Harry S. Truman offered Denmark $100 million for it. A defence treaty between Denmark and the US dating back to 1951 gives the US military almost unlimited rights there, and Greenland houses the northernmost US military base.
Friedbert Pflüger, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, says the revenues generated by a major mine could give its owner leverage over policies in Greenland, and a strong Chinese presence there may pose strategic threats.
“The very presence of Chinese companies in Greenland could be used as justification for China to intervene,” said Pflüger, a former German politician and ex-deputy defence minister.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that such comments politicise economic and trade issues through “groundless speculation,” adding “China has always supported Chinese companies to carry out foreign economic cooperation in accordance with market principles and international rules.” The US State Department said: “We encourage our allies and partners to carefully review any investments … that could give China access to critical infrastructure in ways that compromise their security or allow China to exert undue, adverse influence over their domestic economies.” Denmark, which handles foreign affairs and defence for Greenland, has in the past headed off Chinese involvement in infrastructure projects, which government sources say was because of security concerns. Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod declined to comment on the security implications of China’s involvement. But he told Reuters that Copenhagen’s close ties with the US “should not be seen as an obstacle to commercial investments in Greenland”. China is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so it can import uranium from Greenland. But since the fuel is used in nuclear weapons, that would be sensitive. Copenhagen, which has the final say, declined to comment. Trump’s offer for Greenland aimed to help address Chinese dominance of rare earth supplies. Those involved say he was partly following up on talks between US officials and a privately held company called Tanbreez Mining Greenland A/S. Tanbreez is the owner of the first Greenland site – Kringlerne, or Killavaat Alannguat in Greenlandic. The company’s owner, Australian geologist Greg Barnes, told Reuters he had met US officials weeks before Trump made the offer, and the company website shows Barnes with them and the former US ambassador to Denmark on a site visit. The USGS confirmed its officials had visited the site in 2019; Washington and a representative for the former president declined to comment.
Barnes said he had put A$50 million ($38.6 million) of his own cash into the Greenland project. New York-based investment banker Christopher Messina, managing director at capital markets advisory services firm Mannahatta Partners, is trying to assemble more financing. He says Kringlerne is “such a huge deposit that what comes out of it could satisfy manufacturing demands in the US for years to come.”
Whether or not that pans out, Barnes says the metals produced by his project can be processed outside China, although he has not yet decided where, and declined to say at what cost.
He said the royalties it would generate for Greenland would be roughly the same as those promised by the China-linked plan. “We’ve managed to get our capital costs down without Chinese technology,” Barnes told Reuters.
The only major plant outside China that does the complex work of separating individual rare earth elements is in Malaysia. But others – including the Mountain Pass mine in the US – are planning or have started to build such facilities.
“For the foreseeable future, China is going to be the major player in all of these supply chains simply because it’s so far advanced and because it’s not stopping and waiting for alternatives to catch up,” said Ryan Castilloux, head of Adamas.
Tanbreez says half the rare earth metals it mines would be lanthanum and cerium – relatively plentiful metals used in telescope lenses and auto catalysts to cut emissions. About a fifth would be yttrium, which is in demand for lasers and the superconductors used in quantum computing. Neither of the Greenland projects would be pollution-free. Both plan for mined rock to be locally crushed and separated into concentrates to send for final processing. Tanbreez’s mining waste will be piped to a lake which, while it does not contain fish, feeds a river with a large population of Arctic char. Turbid water could impact the char, according to the company’s environmental report, which says it plans to dump some 550 tonnes a day of waste material into the lake and will dam it to prevent disruption downstream. Tanbreez’s plan has passed the public consultations stage and received a government permit in September. Now the company is working on parliament approval.
Both the Greenland projects, though run from Australia, are part of a European Union initiative, the European Raw Materials Alliance, to boost Europe’s output of critical minerals and cut dependence on China for rare Earth metals. The alliance, funded by the EU, is coordinating investment and providing seed money for European mines, processing plants and industries such as magnets.
Last year, the EU kick-started 10 billion euros ($12 billion) of investment into rare earth and other green-energy-related projects, and it says its demand for rare earth metals could surge as much as tenfold by 2050. It says China currently makes up 98% of its supply.
“This is a very critical period of time,” says the Alliance’s head Bernd Schäfer. “We in Europe are facing raw materials scarcity on many levels and also the need for action.”
The rival mountaintop site not far from Tanbreez is called Kvanefjeld, or Kuannersuit in Greenlandic. For John Mair, managing director of its owner, Greenland Minerals Ltd., it’s a world-class opportunity at the right moment. Kvanefjeld’s main offer is neodymium, needed for wind turbines. Brussels says the EU’s demand for the metal may reach 13,000 tonnes per year by 2050, three times more than it used in 2015. Neodymium is also used in combat aircraft.
Greenland Minerals is a listed firm in which Chinese company Shenghe Resources is the biggest shareholder, with just under 10%. Shenghe, which also has a similar size stake in Mountain Pass, declined to comment for this story. Greenland Minerals, which bought its concession from Barnes, says its planned mine will, at least initially, send minerals it produces to China for final processing. It says it plans to find a site in Europe but has not said when. The company has a strong hand. Back in 2011, the estimated costs for setting up Kvanefjeld were $2.3 billion. By 2019, these shrank to $505 million, the company says: Shenghe, whose biggest shareholder is a state-run Chinese mineral research institute, has helped boost efficiency. But Greenland Minerals faces public opposition. It is one step behind Tanbreez in the environmental vetting process – and its ores include significant amounts of radioactive materials. When Greenland Minerals embarked on public consultations this year, protests erupted. At one meeting in Narsaq on February 10, locals both inside and outside the hall banged windows and played loud music to disrupt presentations. As opposition mounted, a small pro-mining party, Demokraatit, triggered a general election by pulling out of Greenland’s coalition in early February. Polls suggest Greenland’s main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA), which has a zero-tolerance policy for uranium, will become the biggest in parliament, so would be first to try to form a new coalition.
“Our aim,” IA lawmaker and Narsaq resident Paviasen told Reuters, “is to halt the (Kvanefjeld) mining project.” But IA says it has not expressed opposition to Tanbreez, which is seen as less of a threat to the environment.
Kvanefjeld would dump much more waste than Tanbreez – about 8,500 tonnes each day – into a lake on top of the mountain, the Greenland Minerals plan says. Greenland Minerals says any increase in background radiation from its Kvanefjeld mine will be minimal. It plans to build a concrete 45-meter dam to contain the radioactive waste and to spray water on the ground to keep the dust from blowing away. The dam will be built to international standards to “withstand even the worst imaginable seismic activity,” it said in a report submitted to Greenland’s government last year.
Even so, residents say they worry contaminated water will seep into nearby rivers or that the dam will fail entirely. They cite the collapse of a mining dam in Brazil two years ago that killed 270 people. As the crisis has deepened, Greenland Minerals’ shares have dropped by more than 50%. If the mine goes ahead, Paviasen says, many people plan to move away.
Russian rare and rare earth metals production plan for global leadership
Large corporations from the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea are extremely interested in rare and rare earth metals supplies from Russia. The global shift towards “green” energy increases the role of Russia as a reliable supplier of raw materials, local media reports.
According to Kommersant, Russia’s leading business news outlet, the details of recently revealed roadmap of the program, jointly developed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the state nuclear corporation Rosatom, indicate that Russian state-owned and state-controlled corporations and companies to invest 284.6 billion rubles (~$4 billion) in the next three years into the development of operations in Russia and abroad that will focus on RM-REE mining and processing.
The roadmap assumes that production of RM (lithium, niobium, tantalum, etc.) is expected to reach 11,800 tonnes by 2024 and 43,400 tonnes by 2030, whereas output of REE is expected to grow to 7,000 tonnes by 2024 and to 30,000 tonnes by 2030.
Kommersant said that successful implementation of this program will make Russia one of the world’s largest exporters of RM and REE. As an integral part of this program, 10 new plants will be commissioned in Russia alone, and each plant will exploit its own deposit of raw materials.
In addition, Russian mining companies will participate in the establishment of mining operations in Argentina, Chile and Africa, which will focus on production of lithium and cobalt.
Greenland’s snap election could shape rare-earth access
Among the lofty dramatics of geopolitics, international observers now find themselves paying attention to the operation of a tiny democracy of 56,000 people, most of it conducted in Greenlandic, and the rest in Danish. The same analysts who emphasize Greenland’s importance to securing supply chains also underline the need to develop healthy interfaces with Greenlanders and their democratic institutions.
Greenland’s status can be hard to pin down. It is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, free to and keen to develop further its independence from the Danes, yet constrained by its reliance on them for roughly half of its annual budget. Greenland’s citizens, mostly Inuit, are entitled to take over any of the many responsibilities currently fulfilled by Copenhagen—which include immigration, shipping, and some aspects of foreign policy—on the condition that they pick up the cost as well. Full independence is a constitutionally enshrined option, so long as it receives popular backing in a referendum.
The island’s geographical contours are also confusing. Although the Mercator projection vastly exaggerates its size, Greenland is still huge, three times the size of Texas. Its geography is mind-melting: To get to Japan from Greenland, the proverbial crow would fly north, touching down before a southward-flying competitor reaches Brazil. It’s hard to say where land ends and ice begins. Every year researchers scan the coastline for new islands revealed by the retreating glaciers, heaped upon Greenland’s vast interior, a significant part of which is below sea level. And they are melting at an astonishing rate, opening the land, which is rich in rare-earth minerals and other resources, just as the melting ice opens the surrounding sea.
A new report, produced by the U.K.-based Polar Research and Policy Initiative, describes how then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to buy Greenland in 2019—which many islanders received as an insult—has impacted official thinking in the United States. Many there are increasingly aware, the report notes, that China is “simultaneously the world’s biggest reserve, producer, consumer, processor, importer and exporter of rare earths.” The United States has also taken notice of China’s recent survey of companies intended to determine how it can use its dominance in rare earths, as well as of suggestions in Chinese state media that rare earths could be a way of responding to new U.S. trade and tech barriers.
In February, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order underlining America’s need for “resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains.” The order specified that the secretary of defense “shall submit a report identifying risks in the supply chain for critical minerals and other identified strategic materials, including rare earth elements” and produce “policy recommendations to address these risks.” The same week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argued that China’s dominance of rare earths is “not sustainable.”
As a result, Greenland is edging up the priority list in Washington, aided by a new U.S. Consulate in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk that opened last June.
It is in this context that the Polar Research and Policy Initiative report calls for “a Five Eyes Critical Minerals Alliance that can contribute to building greater resource security for the UK and its allies through enhanced cooperation in, and with, Greenland.” It notes that of the 41 companies that hold licenses to exploit, explore, and prospect for resources in Greenland, 27 are “headquartered in, listed in or substantially connected to the UK, Canada and Australia.”
The report thus argues that “given the UK’s vast footprint in Greenland, it is as much in the interest of its Five Eyes and European partners, as it is in its own interest, to encourage a pivoting of UK foreign, defence, security and trade policy towards Greenland and the cultivation of a new UK-Greenland Special Relationship.”
These proposals are being taken seriously in the U.K. The Polar Research and Policy Initiative serves as secretariat for a new British parliamentary grouping, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Greenland, formed in November 2020. According to the group’s vice chairman, Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Rosindell, who sits on the U.K.’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the West “cannot afford to ignore” Greenland. “The region possesses an abundance of several critical minerals which provide the Five Eyes Alliance, upon which British security ultimately rests, a unique opportunity to reduce our dependence on China in resources essential to defence and security,” Rosindell told me by email. Alluding also to “China’s growing assertiveness in the region,” he said, “I urge the UK Government to engage with the very highest levels of the Biden administration to coordinate a response.”
Greenland rare earths project close to approval
Rare earths, which contain 17 different minerals, are found in Greenland, and the mine on the top of Kuannersuit, some 600 meters above sea level, has never been closer to becoming a reality than today.
Greenland’s young liberal minister for raw materials, Jens Frederik Nielsen, is openly supportive:
“This is an important mine. It will create jobs and economic growth. It would be great if we were already at the finishing line, but we must of course follow the law and the process must be allowed to be played out,” he told me in Nuuk a few days ago.
With the necessary reservations he predicts that the mine may open “within a year, perhaps only half a year”. This is epoch-making.
If you look at Kuannersuit from the air, you will see large whitish patches of mountain with little or no vegetation. The rare earths are sufficiently potent to be easily detected, and while most people have no inkling as to their practical use, their importance to the world has grown almost as fast as that of uranium back when nuclear power was in the making. Today, scores of crucial technological inventions are highly dependent on rare earth minerals. These minerals, with names like neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium, are indispensable in the electronic fridges, self-driving cars and other electronics that are to communicate through the internet-of-things. They pulsate in the computer, I write on, in my cell phone and in navigation systems for nuclear missiles. They are used in solar panels and they are essential in magnets for the pumps, windmills and electrical vehicles that are paramount for the fight against global warming. Without the rare earths many of the political ambitions to combat the climate crisis would be endangered. According to Greenland Minerals Kuannersuit is particularly rich in four of the key minerals – the ones mentioned above. In Nuuk during a two hour briefing, Jørn Skov, who is Greenland Minerals’ new Executive Managing Director, told me that Kuannersuit may satisfy towards one fifth of the world’s demand for these four:
“I think it is a fantastic story. Greenland can deliver 15-20 percent of what is needed to drive the green transition. This is the world’s greatest challenge, and imagine that Greenland can help solve this. Meanwhile, Kuannersuit may also solve some of Greenlands own fundamental economic problems,” he says.
Over the last 10-12 years Greenland Minerals have drilled more than 70 kilometers of holes into Kuannersuit and the size and composition of the mineral deposits have been certified by Australia’s Joint Ore Reserves Committee. Documentation is important: Jørn Skov and Greenland Minerals’ Australian holding company need investors who are willing to invest 1,2 billion US dollars in order to establish the mine, if the political permission is granted from Nuuk.
USA and China
I heard on an earlier occasion that Greenland Minerals might buy Sofus’ farm. Even Jørn Skov’s engaging presentation does not exclude the possibility that a mine on top of Kuannersuit’s uneven plateau, where some 1200 workers are due during the construction phase, will produce such amounts of dust and so much trucking with heavy vehicles that the area closest to the mine might be somewhat contaminated. For years, large yellow signs stuck on containers from Greenland Minerals near Sofus’ farm have warned bypassing locals against potential nuclear radiation, and many of Narsaq’s citizens are nervous. They fear for their children’s health, for the sheep in the valleys, the fish and the whales in the fjord, for the nascent south Greenland veggie-farms, for the wild berries on the mountain, for their peace of mind and tranquility. Some years back, rumors had it that the whole of Narsaq will close or have to relocate if the mine moves in.
And do all these details carry any importance to other than the locals? Yes, indeed. On July 22. In 2019 præsident Trump issued a Presidential Memoranda for publication in the Federal Register. The president asked his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, to take note of the president’s concern that the US does not possess sufficient capacity for the production of minerals from rare earths.
The president sternly suggested other ways forward:
“Without Presidential action under section 303 of the Act, United States industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the production capability for separation and processing of Light Rare Earth Elements adequately and in a timely manner. Further, purchases, purchase commitments, or other action pursuant to section 303 of the Act are the most cost-effective, expedient, and practical alternative method for meeting the need for this critical capability.”
The president wanted increased effort to solve the problem, and three weeks later he confirmed that he had indeed contemplated buying the whole Greenland — including its 57000 inhabitants, sled dogs and minerals. As many will recall, the offer was promptly rejected by Greenland and Denmark, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland, but the pursuit of Greenland’s minerals continued. For three weeks in August 2019 a US sponsored airborne survey for new deposits took place in southern Greenland, and when Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, chief advisor to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greenland in October 2019, the rare earths once again played an important role. In June this year, the Pentagon asked Congress to legislate to secure sufficient rare earths for US defence. The news portal DefenceNews reported that the proposed legislation would raise spending caps under the Defense Production Act to enable the US government to spend up to $1.75 billion on rare earth elements in munitions and missiles.
In 2016, China’s interest in Kuannersuit became evident as the Chinese mining conglomerate Shenge bought 12,5 percent of Greenland Minerals’ shares. Shenge is still the company’s largest shareholder, now with nine per cent of the shares. The point here is, that China controls more than 90 percent of the global production of minerals from rare earths. The process of separating the minerals from the ore is technologically demanding, expensive and messy, particularly since acids are used in the extraction process. The Chinese companies are world champions in this and the EU and the US both worry that China might use its monopoly for pressure. Which is why it did not go unnoticed when, in 2018, Greenland Minerals signed a non-binding agreement with Shenge, which stipulated that Shenge might eventually buy the total output of rare earths from Kuannersuit, some ca. 32.000 ton of ore.
“Shenghe have expressed an intent to acquire all rare earth output produced at the Project whether as a mineral or chemical concentrate product on arm’s length pricing reflecting published internationally traded prices,“ Greenland Minerals wrote in a press release, after which the company’s stocks went up.
In January 2019 Shenge signed a deal with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), which was also to enjoy the fruits from Kuannersuit. According to the Federation of American Scientists the state owned CNNC is a key developer behind China’s nuclear power supply as well as China’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Taking aim at Europe
Today, however, any focus by Greenland Minerals on direct sales to China seems to have evaporated. Instead, representatives of Greenland Minerals hold sales talks in Bruxelles. In September, the EU Commission launched a wide ranging campaign to secure supplies of rare earths and other strategic minerals to Europe. The EU Commission wants to connect European industries with producers of rare earths like Greenland Minerals, and Jørn Skov finds the approach promising. Shenge from China will still deliver the necessary technology for the mine at Kuannersuit, just like Shenge provides knowhow and technology for the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California, where Shenge is also a shareholder. Not even the US makes do without China’s expertise, but Greenland Minerals’ strategy is now to sell the entire package of valuable rare earth content from Kuannersuit in Europe. Time will show if this also goes for the uranium from Kuannersuit that Niels Bohr looked for six decades ago. Any export of uranium from Greenland must be preceded by a detailed agreement between Denmark and the end user country.
“We cannot say anything about this at this stage,” says Jørn Skov.
Greenland Minerals talks about the uranium as a by-product from the potential mine that will inevitably be unearthed as the rare earths are excavated. But even if uranium makes up only a small portion of Greenland Minerals’ planned production, it pains many souls and minds in Greenland. The citizens of Narsaq and many in the rest of Greenland have been bitterly divided over uranium since the 1980’s. In 2014, a ban on uranium mining in Greenland was lifted by the parlamentet in Nuuk with only a one vote majority. The opposing forces have united in Urani Naamik, a Uranium-No-Thanks-association, and Muté B. Egede, chairman of Inuit Ataqatigiit, Greenland’s largest opposition party, who is also a southerner, was more than blunt in his dismissal of the mine on Kuannersuit when I asked him earlier this year:
“We are against uranium in Greenland, both exploration and mining. It divides our population, and we don’t think that Greenland should be turned into a waste depot for future generations. There are other and more sustainable businesses we would much rather help develop in southern Greenland,” he said.
His party argues for a referendum on uranium and talks strongly about the waste issue. Each year, Greenland Mining will crush three mill tons of ore at Kuannersuit and export only a tiny fraction. The rest, the so-called tailings, are to be deposited in a large lake on top of Kuannersuit. The head of the Nuuk office of the Arctic Programme of the World Wildlife Fund, Kaare Winther Hansen, also remains sceptical:
“First of all, Greenland Minerals will not ship its chemical waste out of Greenland. They want to dump it in a lake behind an artificial dam, and there are doubts about these dams: Will they last or will they not? We are not impressed. Secondly, they will not establish an under-ground mine, but an open pit mine on a location with thorium, uranium and fluoride compounds, which are potentially dangerous and likely to spread in the surrounding area since it is an open pit mine. The citizens of Narsaq live only five kilometers from the nearest part of the mine. They use surface water for drinking, so you will also have a dust-problem,” he says
Greenland Minerals habit of headhunting the most capable of the Greenland governments own staff also irks the critics. They object when top civil servants exchange their access to confidential government information with top tier jobs with Greenland Minerals. From the outset in 2007 the company hired the head of the Department of Raw Materials in Nuuk. A few years laters, Lars-Emil Johansen, a former member of Greenland’s government and former head of Siumut, Greenland’s largest political party, took on the position as chairman of the board Greenland Minerals and in July this year Jørn Skov took the plunge. For more than two decades until shortly before accepting his present executive position with Greenland Minerals, Skov worked as head of key departments within Greenland’s government. He was well known for his profound influence on legislation pertaining to Greenland’s raw materials; one of the most powerful shadows behind Greenland’s front line politicians.
“I am probably not the least controversial figure in the country,” as he says.
“We find it scary,” said the former head of Urani Naamik, Marianne Paviasen, who is now a member of parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit.
Jørn Skov, who also took with him a trusted colleague, did not break any laws, and the Kuannersuit mine enjoys support from a majority of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, at least until further notice. The support is garnered primarily because of the promise of more than 700 permanent jobs in Narsaq, all in the mine. Such a boom would cause a revolution in south Greenland, a region painfully suffering from unemployment and from a serious exodus of many young and qualified people. More than half of the 700 jobs at the proposed mine at Kuannersuit will go to foreigners, since Greenland cannot provide the needed number of skilled hands, but still: According to Greenland Minerals’ own estimate, Greenland’s treasury is likely to receive more than 200 mill USD per year in taxes and other income throughout the life of the mine. Should such sums really materialize, Kuannersuit may potentially help solve a major part of Greenland’s economic woes.
“We will simply close the holes in Greenland’s economy,” says Skov.
To the more eager this may make Greenland’s secession from Denmark look more realistic; Greenland’s first ever constitution is already in the oven. Jens Frederik Nielsen, the minister for raw materials, does not talk of secession or high politics at all, but he readily shares his high expectations:
“For me, wealth is the jobs we create and the tax revenue that follows. We can build news competences and we will have a ground for new developments in southern Greenland, that is still badly hurting. That is the most important to me,” he tells me.
Nielsen seems convinced that the environment will be handled responsibly:
“We have good legislation on raw materials, which forces the companies to adhere to very hard demands. I have much sympathy for the concerns about radioactivity within the local population. I have talked to the association about this, but I trust our legislation,” he says.
The public hearing about Greenland Minerals’ plans for environmental protection and for the potential mine’s interaction with the rest of society will probably last at least ten weeks. Afterwards, all complaints must be registered and addressed by the authorities or Greenland Minerals.
When this is over, Greenland’s political leadership in Nuuk, the parliament and Naalakkersuisut, the government, will make a final decision whether the mine on Kuannersuit will be allowed to go ahead or not.
Greenland Minerals’ Kvanefjeld project in Greenland able to meet growing rare-earth demand
Kvanefjeld Rare Earth Project in Greenland is one of the most advanced rare earth projects globally. The permitting process for Kvanefjeld, requires three impact assessments and supporting studies to be prepared and accepted for public consultation. These include the environmental impact assessment (EIA), social impact assessment (SIA) and maritime safety study – which all undergo a detailed process prior to being accepted for the government to present for formal consultation.
Greenland Minerals Ltd’s Kvanefjeld project is ideally placed to meet growing rare-earth demand and has the potential to become Greenland’s first world-class mining operation. To date, the SIA, maritime and safety study and EIA have been accepted for public consultation.
Greenland’s Environmental Agency for Mineral Resource Activities (EAMRA) advised in late September that the independent scientific reviews of the Kvanefjeld Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and supporting studies concluded and the EIA had been assessed to meet the requirements of the EIA Guidelines for public consultation.
In their assessment, EAMRA stated that they were very satisfied with how the review‐revision process has been conducted with a high degree of mutual flexibility and cooperation. With the EIA technical review‐revision phase concluded, the Company looks forward to updating on the timing of a public consultation phase, and subsequent steps to complete project permitting.
Managing director Dr John Mair said at the time: “The completion of the independent technical EIA reviews and confirmation that the Kvanefjeld EIA meets Greenland Guidelines is a major project milestone.
“The EIA process has been thorough, in‐depth, and comprehensive in order to provide a high degree of stakeholder confidence in the Kvanefjeld Project.”
Test-work delivers increasing recoveries
Locked cycle test-work has been underway at the BTMR laboratories in China though 2020, overseen by rare earth specialists Shenghe Resources Holding Co Ltd. The test-work closely represents the performance of a commercial circuit and builds on extensive single batch flotation and initial locked cycle tests. Results have been validated with check assays undertaken at SGS Laboratories in Perth, Australia, and an independent Chinese assay laboratory. This latest locked cycle test-work completed multiple cycles of tests using the planned commercial circuit and included recycling of process water to determine the impact of residual reagents in solution on flotation performance. Results confirm the ‘outstanding’ performance of the optimised flotation circuit, with the ability to concentrate the rare earths into a much smaller mass than that of the original ore, allowing for a small refinery circuit for hydrometallurgical treatment.
Greenland’s role in supply chains
The Kvanefjeld Project is founded on a unique geological environment in southern Greenland, that contains vast mineral resources enriched in critical rare metals. At a planned processing rate of 3 million tonnes/year, Kvanefjeld will be a globally significant producer of light RE magnet metals neodymium and praseodymium (combined Nd-Pr oxide of 5,690t/a) as well as being a significant producer of the strategically significant heavy REs terbium and dysprosium (44t/a and 270t/a respectively).
Rare earth production costs will be low owing to favourable metallurgy, coupled with additional revenue streams generated through the by-production of uranium, zinc and fluorspar (metspar). Kvanefjeld has an initial mine life of 37 years, based on a 108-million-tonne ore reserve (JORC 2012), however, this represents only 10% of the broader resource. There is clear scope to extend the ore reserves and expand production and extend the project mine life.