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China growing uneasy over Greenland’s rare earth ambitions

by Ana Komnenic | August 9, 2013 | Reprinted by permission of Mining.com

China has long enjoyed its supremacy in the rare earths field but lately this position has been challenged by an often overlooked, massive island nation: Greenland.

The Asian giant produces 95% of the world’s Rare Earth Elements (REE) supply—a fact that has caused much unease among U.S. lawmakers—and has never had to face any real contenders, until now. Late last year the industry was buzzing with rumours that Greenland could hold enough of these metals to satisfy one-quarter of global demand over the next 50 years.

A recent visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Denmark—Greenland’s official hegemon—caused some analysts to speculate that the People’s Republic may be getting a little antsy over the country’s valuable deposits, Ice News reports.

According to European Commission data, Greenland has “especially strong potential in six of the 14 elements on the EU critical raw materials list.”

In fact, one company is well on its way to becoming a real threat: Greenland’s Tanbreez Mining—of Australian parentage—has been eyeing the island’s southern region since 2010. According to a company news release, they planned to file a final application for an exploration licence by July 2013.

But the People’s Republic may find some solace in the fact that Greenland is overwhelmingly concerned about the environmental and safety implications of mining rare earths, which may cause some roadblocks. However, Tanbreez asserts that these concerns do not apply to the areas it plans on mining.

Meanwhile, China’s domestic REE industry is hitting a rough patch. According to Ice News, “excessive mining” has made extraction difficult for the country’s miners. Illegal mining has also plagued the sector.

Aside from Greenland, China’s rare earths industry has other challengers to consider. According to Greenland’s Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, Brazil has 37% of the world’s rare earth potential—12% more than China—and Vietnam 10%.

The U.S. is also ramping up exploration and recently tasked the U.S. Geological Survey with uncovering domestic supplies in old mine site tailings.

Chinese officials and REE producers addressed these concerns at the country’s Baotou Rare Earth Industry Forum on Thursday.

“The output of each rare earth mine in the United States, Australia and Russia is often less than 25,000 tonnes,” Zhang Zhong, president of China’s top rare earth producer told Xinhuanet. “Although Vietnam, India, Canada and South Africa have launched some rare earth projects, they need plenty of time to put them into operation and realize the capacity.”

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