Private exploration company Tanbreez Mining Greenland sees its massive eudialyte deposit providing uncontaminated light and heavy rare earths for hundreds of years to come.
You might be surprised to learn that the company owning one of the largest heavy rare earth reserves in the world is, at least for the moment, not on the stock market. Private Greenlandic exploration company Tanbreez Mining Greenland A/S is solely owned by Australian prospecting company Rimbal Pty Ltd, a group specialised in locating projects and aiding successful floats: the two most recent being London Mining (AIM: LOND) and Greenland Minerals and Energy (ASX: GGG).
Both Tanbreez Mining and Rimbal are owned by Greg Barnes, a geologist and experienced consultant. He first saw the Ilimaussaq property in southern Greenland in 1992, but had to wait until 2001 to take it up. In the following years, he founded Tanbreez Mining Greenland to develop it into the Tanbreez project, spending approximately AU$40 million to date in completing the various regulatory steps.
“Tanbreez is the only rare earth project in Greenland to have completed its feasibility, environmental and social impact studies,” says Barnes. “We are also the only company to have applied for a full exploitation licence.”
The massive deposit has a lower grade than some other rare earth element (REE) deposits, but it has so many advantages as to put Tanbreez among the lowest-cost REE producers once it begins operation. Even a quick glance at the project’s credentials tells you it is a mine worth waiting for.
Boasting 4.3 billion tonnes of ore, the Tanbreez deposit contains a significant portion of the planet’s zirconia, niobium, tantalum and rare earths, as well as Hafnium and Yttrium elements. These commodities come together to form the name of the project and company: TA standing for tantalum, NB for niobium, REE for rare earth elements and Z for zirconium. All the elements are contained within the single mineral of eudialyte.
“In almost all other deposits there are 3-10 REE minerals, which virtually means these deposits cannot be concentrated due to the inability to get a concentrate,” comments Barnes. The single-mineral, constant-grade nature of the Tanbreez deposit simplifies concentration and separation, which can be done magnetically.
The Tanbreez ore body forms the lower, most exposed part of the Meso-Proterzoic Ilimaussaq intrusion that covers approximately 18km x 8km of land. About 7km x 3km of the ore is exposed at surface, lending itself to simple open-cut mining with minimal overburden. Most of what little waste rock there is will be used for road construction and maintenance. Initial throughput at the Tanbreez mine will be 500,000tpa, rising to 1.5Mtpa.
Barnes anticipates the project’s throughput reaching 3Mtpa within 5-10 years of operation.
The ore body contains both light and heavy REEs, with heavies making up 30% of the composition. It is the world’s largest dysprosium body, containing so much of the metal that, at the peak of the mining boom, mining it would almost have been economical for that commodity alone. Tanbreez could produce a number of by-products from the operation:
-Feldspar, used in glass and ceramics;
-Arfvedsonite, used in sound-proof tiles and road fill; and
-Sodalite, a fluorescent marker material.
Other possible by-products include gypsum, quartz, silica gel, acid and gold, copper and zinc sulphides. According to Barnes, selling these by-products “should pay for most, if not all, of the operating costs at the mine site”.
The overall mining project consists of an open mine pit, processing plant, port including a helipad, mine camp, tailings deposit and internally connecting roads.
In harmony with the environment
Unusually for a REE ore body, the Tanbreez eudialyte deposit contains no uranium or thorium. The environmental safety of the project helped inspire Tanbreez’s company slogan: ‘Mining for Greener Technologies’.
“Tanbreez is virtually the only rare-earth project in the world that doesn’t have uranium and thorium in the ore body,” says Barnes. “These radioactive contaminants can create quite an environmental mess in other rare earth projects, but we avoid those issues completely. In addition, the REEs we’re mining are typically used for green and modern technologies, such as wind turbines.”
The project’s location next to a natural deep-water harbour reduces the amount of environmental interference necessary for the project’s development. Quite unusually for Greenland, there is also existing infrastructure in the area providing links to the town of Qaqortoq and elsewhere.
“The distance to town is 30 kilometres, so there’s a local viable labour force. Having hydropower to site, a natural harbour, water and labour close by is a major benefit,” says Barnes. These advantageous logistics help to minimise the capital cost of the project.
Barnes comments that Greenland has been “forgotten, in many ways” – it has a long mining history, but relatively little has been produced over that time and there are zero mines operating there today. “It has the same area and rocks as Western Australia – the difference is that no-one’s been looking here,” he adds. Barnes attributes Greenland’s apparent unpopularity to peoples’ tendency to perceive the environment as prohibitively cold, remote and dangerous, when in reality the Tanbreez site sits at the same latitude as Oslo in Norway and is warmer in winter and cooler in summer, due to the Gulf Stream flowing past. The surrounding sea is thus largely ice-free, which makes everything a little bit easier.
Looking forward to a long life
Tanbreez’s application for an exploitation licence was delivered to the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum in March 2012. Barnes expects to receive the full licence later this year.
“In the meantime, and over the next 12 months, we’ll be doing various things – some chemistry on the tailings, some further plant design and putting together the financing,” says Barnes. “We’re looking at starting production in 2015 or 2016.”
Understandably, Barnes and Tanbreez are not looking beyond the Tanbreez project for further opportunities; this single massive project has more than enough to offer, and then some. “I think the fact that it is such an incredibly sized project – 4.3 billion tonnes – puts it well and truly among the largest rare earth projects ever,” he comments.
“Its high percentage of heavy rare earths could make it the dominant project in that field, and its mine life could potentially stretch to thousands of years.”