Rare earth processor buys mining rights in Greenland | Tech Talks and Innovations

BEIJING (AP) — One of the world’s few rare-earth processors outside of China has acquired exploration rights for mines in Greenland, paving the way to diversify its supply of minerals important to advanced and environmental technologies.

Rare earth elements are a group of minerals used in the production of electric cars, wind turbines, electronics, robots and other machines. China currently dominates global production, processing about 85% of the world’s rare earths, but a surge in demand is forcing companies to look for other sources.

Toronto-based Neo Performance Materials, a rare earth processor, said Monday it plans to develop the Sarfartok deposit in southwest Greenland and ship the ore to its plant in Estonia in eastern Europe. It is one of only two plants outside of China that highly process rare earth elements.

Neo plans to launch the mine in two to three years. This will be the company’s first major mining project. CEO Constantin Karayanapoulos said that by opening the mine, he hoped to protect the company from volatile rare-earth prices, which have soared in recent years due to supply disruptions and strong demand.

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

Karayanapoulos called it “business, not geopolitics.” But in recent years, rare earth elements have drawn the attention of policymakers in Washington, Beijing and other capitals, given their importance to the global high-tech supply chain. The US, Europe and Japan call their dependence on China’s rare earths a “national security risk” and seek to diversify their supplies.

But such efforts have been fraught with difficulties, as mines in other countries have faced opposition or failed to launch after fluctuating prices scared away investors.

Meanwhile, supplies of rare earths have dwindled, and some mines are raising ethical and environmental concerns. Rare earth mining is dirty business when it’s cheap, and China, the world’s biggest miner, has closed many mines in recent years to stop environmental damage.

Some of the loot was transferred to Myanmar, where the lack of oversight hides a dirty secret. An Associated Press investigation this month found that Myanmar’s landmines are linked to environmental destruction, land theft from villagers and money funneled to brutal militias, including at least one linked to Myanmar’s secretive military government. The AP traced rare earths from Myanmar to the supply chains of 78 companies, including major auto makers and electronics giants.

The US State Department said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about illegal mining in Myanmar and called on other countries to ensure that their economic activities with Myanmar “do not contribute to or exacerbate the regime’s violence against its own people”.

Karayanapoulos said that in Greenland, the company plans to excavate the stone, grind it and do basic processing that does not involve the use of harmful chemicals. The ore will then be shipped to Estonia, where it will be processed into a form that can be used to make magnets.

Plans to create another mine of rare earth elements in Greenland have failed voters brought to power a left-wing government that blocked development. The site had high concentrations of uranium, raising concerns about how the radioactive waste would be disposed of.

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

Meanwhile, some customers are aware of the risks of mining in unregulated, conflict-ridden areas such as Myanmar and are increasingly willing to pay more for rare earth elements from regulated and transparent jurisdictions, Karayanapoulos said.

“You’re making the problem worse by doing it irresponsibly and with regimes that are killing their own people,” he said. “It’s not sustainable.”

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