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"Global Mining Descisions in Your Palms"
“Lynas had enjoyed several stand-out years with strong rare earth prices and demand, though prices recently had been low due to China’s influence in markets. However, this was unlikely to last.”
Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director,
Lynas Rare Earths.
A look into the Rare Earth Metals
Shortly after she took over as Chief executive of rare earths miner Lynas Rare Earths in June 2014, Amanda Lacazes successfully led Lynas Rare Earths through a challenging turnaround, and to date Lynas is now the world’s only significant producer of separated rare earth materials outside of China. Lynas also operates the world’s largest single rare earths processing plant in Malaysia where it produces high-quality separated rare earth materials for export to manufacturing markets in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Designed from the ground up as an environmentally responsible producer, Lynas is uniquely positioned with its high-grade, tier 1, Mt Weld resource in Western Australia, inhouse IP, and a proven processing facility in Malaysia, which is the only Rare Earths centre of excellence outside of China.
As part of the company’s Lynas 2025 growth vision, Lynas is building an AUD $500 million Rare Earth Processing Facility project in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, and has proposed a Rare Earths Processing Facility in the United States. In United States, Lynas has already secured funding from the government more than double it initially intended to raise as the US government accelerates its mission to secure supplies of rare earths. The Defence Department had initially pledged $US120 million in June 2022 towards the construction of the facility but it will now contribute $US258 million (approx. AUD$384 million) toward construction of Lynas’ heavy rare earths refinery in Texas. Upon completion, the Texas project is expected to be the only scale producer of separated heavy rare earths outside of China. So far Lynas has bought a 149-acre greenfield site in Seadrift, Texas, for the planned facility, which will be co-located with a light rare earth’s separation plant. The site will also allow for potential growth opportunities in the future regarding to downstream processing and recycling. Amande Lacaze said that they are delighted to work with the US government and the project is a key pillar of Lynas’s growth strategy. This huge investment is but one of the few significant investments that have been announced in mining in recent times which underscore the more importance of mining in steering the world into the future. Ms Lacaze believes the emerging generation is questioning the need for mining but may then find it can provide them with a good living. She told the Diggers & Dealers Forum recently held in Kalgoorlie, Australia that mining matters, as none of us can live the lifestyle we aspire to without minerals.
A classical case is that of Australia where, historically, people said Australia lived off a sheep’s back, but are now more dependent on being on the shoulders of mining. Ms Lacaze said mining contributes almost 10% of the country’s GDP, supports more than 1.1 million jobs over 200 sites, pays an average salary of $144,000 and company taxes contributed AUD$59 billion while AUD$24 billion came from royalties.
The company’s’ Mount Weld mine, south of Laverton in WA’s northeastern goldfields, continues to produce a range of ore types, with high grades of rare earth oxides (REO) ranging in grades from 24% to 45%. Medium grades are in the range of 16% to24% and the mine cut-off grade is 4%. Exploration within and near the mine continues a search horizon below 200 metres. Like many Australian mines the key energy supply comes from renewables – a wind turbine farm, solar farm, and hybrid power plant. Spending continues, with the prominent Kalgoorlie processing facility on the western entrance to the city now in the commissioning stage.
“This is a beautiful plant,” Ms Lacaze said.
The Kalgoorlie complex is in Stage 4 of development with the waste treatment site the only required completion. The first delivery of concentrates is on site and when processed the upgraded material will go to the Malaysian plant where a second production facility has been developed. Lynas has sped up construction at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia amid worries that a facility in Malaysia may have to be partly wound down after regulators there raised concerns about radiation levels from the process of cracking and leaching. The company now expects to incur $470 million in costs to complete the construction of Kalgoorlie, compared to an earlier estimate of A$575 million. It also estimated an additional of A$50 million in operating costs to boost the plant’s production capacity to tap growing demand.
Once the new plant in the United States is running the Kalgoorlie plant’s material from Mt Weld will also go there. A new filter building and dissolution facility in Malaysia is a significant accomplishment, given some of the roadblocks that occurred there years ago when activists helped impede operations over claims of alarming radioactive material in the rare earths from Mt Weld.
Ms Lacaze also told delegates there was a need to think of the challenges for mining including infrastructure, its costs and government regulations. She said for Lynas the importance of building a rare earths industry outside of China was high. However, in June quarter there was record production at Mt Weld where a new government grant of $20 M is supporting building of a new plant.
“We’ve been in production for a decade and have faced every type of challenge that could be thrown at us,” Ms Lacaze added
Strong Human Requirement for minerals
In a world burgeoning toward a population of 9 to 10 billion, with a growing number achieving greater prosperity, the demand for resources surges across the spectrum. However, a persistent trend has been the gradual depletion in the quality of ores, commonly referred to as the “ore grade,” across most elemental resources. Remarkably, over the course of a century, the ore grade for copper has descended from a robust 4% to a meager sub-1% at present, with a continued downward trajectory. This decline in copper ore grade underscores a salient point: copper mining faces not only the pressure of depleting natural resources but is also emblematic of the overarching constraints inherent to our finite natural resources.
However, it is estimated that a newborn infant will utilize approximately 435 kgs of copper, 9818 kgs of iron ore, 395 kgs of lead, 227kgs of zinc, 1221kgs of aluminium, 5268kgs of clay, 13,649kgs of salt and 644,101 kgs of stone, sand, gravel, and cement throughout their lifetime. This calculation is detailed in the MEC Mineral Baby report, revealing that roughly 18,238 kilograms of new minerals must be supplied annually for each individual in the United States to manufacture the everyday items we rely on. These raw materials are everywhere, from the copper you used to turn on your light to the electronic device you used to view this blog. The extraction of these essential raw materials from the Earth underscores the paramount significance of the mining industry in driving our economic development. However, it’s worth noting that our connection to this vital industry often goes unnoticed or unacknowledged.
Meanwhile, the decline in copper ore grade necessitates excavating more extensive swaths of our planet’s surface to procure equivalent quantities of copper. Over the decade spanning from 2006 to 2016, the copper ore grade experienced a precipitous 25% decline. Paradoxically, during this period, total production surged by a commendable 30%. Concurrently, the aggregate energy consumption within this sector demonstrated a pronounced uptick, registering a substantial 46% increase. This intricate correlation unveils a more than linear relationship between the expansion of production and the escalation in energy utilization.
The conjecture is that this circumstance poses a formidable peril to the sector, as it leaves them acutely susceptible to profound concerns surrounding carbon emissions. While the connection between climate change and the laborious endeavours of excavation may seem distant, it is, in truth, inexorably intertwined. As an illustration, consider Chile’s unwavering commitment to the Paris climate accord, wherein they are pledged to curtail emissions by 30% before 2030. In this context, it is unequivocal that no industry can viably persist in perpetually escalating its carbon emissions.
The extraction of these raw materials from the Earth underscores the significance of the mining industry in our economic growth, even though our connection to this industry often remains underappreciated.
Mining companies are frequently subject to misconceptions, with much attention directed toward their environmental impact, often casting them as environmental exploiters. However, this perspective often deviates from reality. In fact, mining companies play a crucial role in advancing the worldwide shift towards clean energy. Furthermore, mining companies occupy a unique niche where hardware, software, mechanics, and robotics converge. They possess the capability to leverage technology across these domains to enhance safety, cleanliness, sustainability, and efficiency in their operations.
Certainly, not only has mining become a pillar of sustenance of certain economies but it has also become a better and haven for a sustainable world. There is growing significance of mining in today’s world. The decision to mine more depends on various factors and should be approached with careful consideration of economic, environmental, and social impacts. Some reasons why the world may consider mining more are:
Renewable Energy Transition
The mining industry is playing a pivotal role in providing the raw materials needed for renewable energy technologies. For instance, lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements are essential to produce batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage systems, which are crucial for the transition to clean energy. Rare earth elements are also used in wind turbines and solar panels. By facilitating the growth of clean energy sources, mining contributes to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, thus lowering carbon emissions associated with energy production.
Mining supplies critical minerals required for the manufacturing of electronic devices. Copper is fundamental for electrical conductivity in wires and circuit boards. Minerals like tantalum, tin, and tungsten are essential components in electronics.
Mining contributes to infrastructure growth and urbanization. Metals like steel and aluminium are used extensively in construction and transportation infrastructure. Cement production relies on raw materials extracted from mines.
Medicine and Healthcare
Mining provides minerals used in medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Minerals like titanium, which is mined, are used in medical implants. Minerals are essential in the production of various pharmaceuticals.
Agriculture and Food Production
Mining is involved in providing nutrients for agriculture. Phosphates, obtained through mining, are used in fertilizers to enhance crop growth. Minerals such as sulphur are used in food processing.
Global Supply Chain Resilience
The diversification of mineral sources is gaining importance. Countries are looking to secure a stable supply of critical minerals to reduce dependency on single suppliers, making mining a strategic consideration.
Job Creation and Economic Development
In many regions, mining operations generate employment and stimulate economic growth, contributing to sustainable development goals.
The mining industry drives innovation in extraction techniques, automation, and sustainable practices, which are increasingly important for environmental and economic reasons. The mining industry itself has been working on reducing its carbon footprint. This includes adopting more energy-efficient mining processes and equipment, utilizing cleaner energy sources for operations, and implementing technologies like automation and electrification to optimize energy use.
Sustainable mining practices are becoming more important to minimize the environmental impact of mining activities, ensuring that ecosystems are protected, and land is reclaimed after mining operations. Mining materials can be recycled and reused in various industries, which reduces the need for extracting new resources. A circular economy approach minimizes carbon emissions associated with primary resource extraction.
Conclusively, these practical examples demonstrate that mining is not only essential for various industries but also plays a crucial role in addressing global challenges such as the transition to clean energy, infrastructure development, and sustainable resource management. As a result, its significance continues to grow in today’s world. It’s ironic but to save the planet, we are going to need more mines and more mining. Critical minerals are essential components for cell phones, cars, energy towers, solar panels, wind turbines, fertilizers, machinery and all kinds of construction.