S. African rare earth mine hopes for boost from US-China feud

A general view of Steenkampskraal (SKK) rare-earth mine on July 29, 2019, about 80Km from the Western Cape town of Vanrhynsdorp. (AFP)
Updated 26 August 2019

S. African rare earth mine hopes for boost from US-China feud

  • Rare earth elements are a group of 17 minerals unique for their magnetic, catalytic and electrochemical properties

CAPE TOWN: It’s old, doesn’t look like much and is located well out the way in an arid part of western South Africa.
But the Steenkampskraal Mine may be about to become piping hot mining property thanks to some of the world’s highest-grade deposits of rare earth metals.
“Steenkampskraal will become a very important source of rare earths for the global industry,” Trevor Blench, chairman of Steenkampskraal Holdings Limited, said during a recent tour.
The mine, located about 350 km north of Cape Town, used to produce thorium, a component of nuclear fuel, in the 1950s and 60s.
But now it’s been found to also have monazite ore which contains extremely high grade rare earth minerals including neodymium and praseodymium — elements vital to cutting-edge industries.
Manufacturing uses range from tinted welding goggles to industrial magnets, strong alloys for aircraft engines, military hardware, hybrid cars, consumer electronic devices, medical equipment and even the flints in cigarette lighters.

‘Tech minerals’
China produces the largest share of “tech minerals,” with a domestic output of 120,000 tons in 2018. That’s vastly more than the US, which relies on China for about 80 percent of its rare-earth imports.
But now Beijing has threatened to cut off the supply as trade frictions mount, prompting US President Donald Trump to give the Pentagon an executive order to find other sources of the crucial elements.

Rare earth elements are a group of 17 minerals unique for their magnetic, catalytic and electrochemical properties.
For the first time since 1985, China last year became a net importer of some rare earths for its industrial needs, while the government cracked down on illegal exploration and production.
Global sales of electric cars, which need the minerals, jumped by 68 percent in 2018 to 5.12 million, with China selling over a million vehicles, according to the International Energy Agency.

FASTFACT

17 - Rare earth elements are a group of 17 minerals unique for their magnetic, catalytic and electrochemical properties.

“China may, as a result of its own requirements, just export less and less to the rest of the world,” Blench said.
Steenkampskraal Mine could just be the answer to growing demand, he suggested.
“About 14 percent of this rock is rare earths. That is an extraordinarily high grade and we don’t know anything like it on the planet,” Blench said, holding a small but heavy reddish brown rock.
Worldwide, many mines have around six percent or less rare earths in their ore.
No mines for rare earth elements currently operate in South Africa, but the government confirms the presence of yet-to-be tapped tech minerals.
“South Africa is certainly on par with any other country that would lay a claim to being able to supply rare earths elements to meet this increasing demand,” said mineralogist Deshenthree Chetty at Mintek, a government mineral and metallurgy research department.
She added that it would be “a great deal for our country to be able to supply, and we are in a position to do so, as long as those markets are favorable.”
“We have an abundance of rocks in which rare earth elements are found,” Mosa Mabuza, CEO of the Council for GeoScience, which surveys mineral deposits, told AFP.


Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

Updated 16 September 2019

Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

  • Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award
  • Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB

SOFIA: A Saudi-led consortium was definitively reinstated on Monday as the builder of a new gas pipeline through Bulgaria, intended to hook up to Gazprom’s TurkStream project.
Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award.
The latest development brings to an end a long-running tussle between the Saudi-led consortium and its competitors for the project, a consortium of Luxembourg-based Completions Development, Italy’s Bonatti and Germany’s Max Streicher.
Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB — to build the 474-kilometer (294-mile) pipeline.
But Bulgartransgaz later decided to strike the winner off the tender for failing to supply documents needed to sign off the contract.
Instead it accepted the offer of the second-placed consortium led by Completions Development.
However, Bulgaria’s competition watchdog ruled in July that the operator should honor its previous commitments and sign a contract with the Saudi-led group.
The watchdog’s verdict was subject to a final appeal in the courts but the Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the appeal had been withdrawn, meaning that the Arkad-led group has now been definitively reinstated.
Bulgartransgaz is in a hurry to complete the pipeline as soon as possible in a bid to enable Russian gas giant Gazprom to hook it up to its TurkStream pipeline after it becomes operational at the end of this year.
Bulgaria, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas for its domestic needs, has been repeatedly criticized by both the EU and the United States for failing to diversify both its gas sources and its delivery routes.
The Balkan country hopes to start receiving Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field as well as liquefied natural gas from various sources via terminals in Greece through a 182-kilometer (113-mile) interconnector expected to be ready by the end of 2020.