This has all the attributes of a PR campaign. Significant briefing of journalists by those most involved in the project. For we’re not, are we, to expect journalists to run off and get the information on rare earth deposits themselves now, are we? Especially since there’s none of them know the difference between a reserve, resource, deposit and stuff that just happens to be out there.
Which is why we get stuff like this:
Overlooking the small fishing town of Narsaq, next to painted houses and slow-moving icebergs, lies one the last great untapped deposits of rare earth materials.
About a quarter of the world’s rare earth minerals are thought to be found here, deep in the southern fjords of Greenland, providing key ingredients needed to build everything from wind turbines or electric vehicles.
Stuff and nonsense. The idea that a quarter of the world’s rare earths are there – ghastly, horrible, nonsense.
The reason it’s being said is of course that those who would go and mine it want lots of pressure to be put on the newly elected government which is inclined to not let them mine it. Because if no rare earths, no renewables revolution, so, suck it up Greenlanders, for the sake of the planet!
The truth being that it’s no such thing. Sure, it might well be a nice and large deposit. But the rare earths just aren’t rare. One of them alone, cerium, is as common as copper. There are 15 of them as well – so there’s rather more rare earths around than there is copper. And we mine millions of tonnes of copper a year (15 million) and 140,000 tonnes of rare earths. It just isn’t true – as it also isn’t true of copper – that deposits are so geographically concentrated.
It’s not even true that a rare earths mine is what is needed in order to gain this vaunted independence from the Chinese production line. What is needed is a separation plant. I and many others could, with ease, produce minerals that contain rare earths. We could even, if we were allowed to dispose of the thorium that would be a byproduct, produce a rare earth concentrate. It’s the next stage, the concentrate into the individual rare earths, that is the true chokepoint. And as the law currently is no one will be allowed to build one of those in the European Union. It would never pass the current environmental laws.
The mine just isn’t the bit that needs to be found.
Imagine, just for a moment, that Mariana Mazzucato was right. Yes, I know, silly idea, but. Imagine. Government makes clever investments which the private sector won’t at crucial points in the industrial cycle. Because all the clever people who know which investments need to be made are in government, right?
So, where is that research into new methods of separating rare earths? That being the thing that is needed – that being the thing that there are several promising routes to investigate. Oh, it’s not happening, right? When every government in the Northern Hemisphere is shouting that we must solve the rare earths problem?
Well, doesn’t that just piss all over Mazzucato’s chips?