Greenland - The Rare Earth Frontier  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Economist has a report on Greenland's rare earth potential - Why does Greenland’s election have global implications?.

The world may not often be very interested in Greenland but it is fascinated by what lies beneath it. As the country’s ice cap melts, hidden mineral wealth is coming tantalisingly within reach. The country’s riches include “rare earth” metals that are essential in the production of many electronic devices, from electric-car batteries to television screens. Metals such as cerium (used in glass manufacturing) and yttrium (which goes into electronic displays) are among those that are hidden under the ice. Many rare earths are not as scarce as their misleading name suggests, but they are scattered thinly and can be difficult to extract. In Greenland they are often mixed up with uranium, which under the country's current laws is illegal to mine. Most of the precious metals therefore remain underground. ...

Should Ms Hammond’s plans go ahead, and Greenland manage to ramp up its extraction of rare earths, it could deliver a jolt to the market for the valuable metals. At the moment rare-earth supply is dominated by China. In recent years China has restricted its exports of rare earths, citing environmental concerns. Extraction of the metals is dirty and dangerous, and stories of poisoning are common. But some see an ulterior motive in China’s cutbacks: by controlling the supply of high-value materials, China can also control their use in finished products. That could help it in its broader strategy to move from low- to high-value manufacturing. If Greenland becomes a big supplier of those same minerals, China’s grip on the market could loosen, and prices around the world may fall. Polar politics therefore matter to many more than the 57,000 people who live in Greenland.

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