Project Kvanefjeld ›› Rare earth - greener world

Rare earth - greener world

The world faces many challenges. We are well on our way to destroy our environment; it gives rise to deep concern.

The earths atmosphere is heated in an alarming speed - a phenomenon, which scientist believe is man made, because we increasingly burn fossil fuel based on oil and gas. It changes the composition of the atmosphere, and help the so-called greenhouse gas and affect everywhere on the earths environment.

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But the greenhouse gas is just one of the negative consequences of our inconsiderate behaviour, because we emit numerous toxic gasses out to the atmosphere. Toxins, that all living creatures inhale.

Today the man made climate changes is a highly prioritized political agenda throughout the world. But even though climate change have put an new standard for the fluvial political debate, it hasn't been possible for the political leaders to come up to an agreement about the big and revolutionary initiatives. The difference between the interests by rich and poor countries' are still too large, the UN global warming conference in Copenhagen and Mexico City in 2009 and 2010 revealed it.

Social, economic and political relations have so far prevented immediate initiatives, that can reduce CO2 emission and other greenhouse gases, which is why we only see gradual changes, when it's about transportation and energy sources, but changes will be higher and higher relieved by new technology.

The car industry is a good example, that new, important and environmentally friendly initiatives based on the so-called rare earth metals are taken, which has unique physical, chemical and optical properties. In current years special focus is on hybrid cars, thrusted by a combustion engine working together with an electrical system. The idea with hybrid cars is to produce a vehicle, that uses much less regular fuel than a conventional car engine.

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Hybrid cars use rare earth metals both in the electric engines and the rechargeable batteries, thrusting the engines. But what is a rare earth metal?

Rare earth metals is a group of special metals unique in their physical, chemical and optical properties. The group includes 15 lanthanides, the elements lanthanum, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, promethium (does not occur naturally), neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium og lutetium. The elements yttrium and scandium can also be included, since they have the same characteristics, so a total of 17 rare earth metals.

Rare earth metals are included in the strongest permanent magnets. These magnets are used in electrical motors to enhance the effect. Because of the greater strength, fewer materials are necessary, as a consequence the motor can be smaller and lighter.

Electrical motors, that use rare earth metals, included as a vital part in hybrid cars, which increasingly will be a normal means of transportation on the roads in the future. The powerful magnets  with rare earth metals also allow smaller hard disc drives, used in many electrical appliances, needing data deposit.

Many electrical products are driven by rechargeable batteries. one of the most efficient rechargeable batteries is nickel-metal hybrid, used in hybrid cars and many electronic appliances. A mix of rare earth metals is in the alloy, used as the positive anode in nickel-metalhybrid-battery and constitutes about 26 percent of the battery weight.

A catalyst is an apparatus in the exhaust system in combustion engine to reduce the emission toxic substances. Such apparatus have bee adapted by many cars since the 1970's. New technology have produced a so-called three way- catalyst. This apparatus reduce the nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and oxygen, oxidize the carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and oxidize unburned hydro carbon. Cerium is the rare earth metal, which is used in those catalysts, used more and more in newer cars.

Rare earth metals are also used in other forms of catalysts, e.g. fluid-cracking catalysts, which increasingly are being used in the oil industry, as they make the split of crude oil into its component more effective.

The use of rare earth in magnets, rechargeable batteries and catalysts is more than 60 percent of the total consumption of rare earth metals. But the demand is expected to rise significantly in all mentioned areas.

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The global demand for rare earth metals is already greater than the total production. China accounts for more than 90 percent of the global production, and the country itself consume 60 percent. But China is at the same time very conscious about the strategic value, that the rare earth metals has been in the global industrial development, and in the later years China have reduced it's export to among other Japan and USA several times.

In that light there is a colossal international interest for the large deposit of rare earth metals on Kvanfjeld by Narsaq in South Greenland. After several years of test drilling and mining preparatory work the geologists assess, that, perhaps the deposit on Kvanefjeld is the largest in the world and big enough to cover 25 percent of the global market in several generations.

The large industrial enterprises within windmill industry, car industry and electronic industry need a long term and stable supplier to meet the rapidly growing demand for rare earth metals. The deposit on Kvanefjeld have the potential to meet the need on the global market and can at the same time "boost" the Greenlandic economy and industrial development. The deposit is world class, and through environmentally responsible operation, the mine can become one of the largest producers of rare earth metals.

Orbicon maps environment and health

The consulting firm Orbicon has worked to detect environmental health around Kvanefjeld since 2007 - and assess the impacts a mine can cause. GME pays, but has no influence on the results. Read more about Orbicon's ethical principles on the company's website.