Industry Q&A: Geoff Eupene Assesses Australia’s Role on the Global Rare Earths Stage
Posted: 07/07/2011 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
Reuters reported earlier this week that companies such as Molycorp, Lynas and Avalon Rare Metals may rest assured that developing the rare earths offshore bounty could take decades and cost billions, making it little more than a pipe dream for many.
Whilst the number of firms seeking licences to dig through the Pacific Ocean floor is growing rapidly, prices for rare earth metals continue to skyrocket as China, producer of some 97 percent of the global supply, has repeatedly clamped down on exports.
Indeed, with China still holding the majority of the world’s rare earths supply (despite recent discoveries reported in India and Japan) there is ample discussion around the role Australia is yet to play in the rare earth market.
A recent Mining IQ conference specific to Rare Earth and Strategic Metal Conference in June brought these discussions to the fore and challenged attendees to discuss and debate the opportunities and challenges they face.
One of the delegates, Geoff Eupene, Exploration Director with Crossland Uranium Mines Ltd was happy to comment on how Australian miners can make full use of the opening in the international rare earths market.
Can you comment on Australia’s role in the global REE stage?
Everyone recognises that you either get in very soon or you will miss out. That is the way those of us who are serious about establishing a presence have got to approach it. We certainly are trying to move as fast as we can to get that resource evaluated so that we know whether we can produce to meet demand. I think the window is identified as 1-2 years at this stage but I believe that this will likely extend to 4-5 years and if you aren’t in the game in that period you will likely miss out.
The potential for rapid development of the rare earths resource is huge. However we have to very quickly fast track our processes to determine how to jump in and make the most of the opportunity. Our company, and likely many others, are currently in a period of assessment.
Where do you see the Rare Earths industry heading in the next 2-3 years?
There’s variability in demand for the different rare earths. Don’t forget we are talking one third of all metals when we are talking about rare earths – so there is going to be a lot of differentiation between all the elements within rare earths. It is accepted that some of the elements will have more demand than others and that is something that different companies are going to deal with in different ways.
A lot of the new production, for instance, doesn’t have much of the heavy rare earths in it, yet the real critical demand in the long term is for heavy rare earths. So there is an imbalance there. And in my opinion that creates an opportunity for less advanced players to get involved in the market.
What are the critical challenges affecting players in this early phase of development?
What’s interesting to me, is the challenge of how are we going to deal with the issues of the radioactive components in the various rare earth minerals. Everyone needs these commodities for the green energy revolution but in the process we are going to have to deal with radioactivity that is generated.
I think there is a role for government to get involved here. We really need the governments to face up to these matters and produce legislation that enables these commodities to be developed – both in Australia and globally. Certainly it’s been brought to the attention of all the attendees that they will have to deal with it.
Now that China has cut their rare earths export, it’s opened up Australia’s participation in the international market. Are there any lessons you feel can translate to the Australian market?
You have got to be realistic and see this as a challenge. That change gives us the market impetus to get in there and to get involved as a key player. However, the ability to raise funds to actually progress these projects is dependent on those prices and that’s what the Chinese have done for us.
Were there any interesting comments that arose at this conference that you will take away with you?
There was some talk at conference about how there might be a connection with the development of thorium reactors for instance to utilise the thorium that many deposits will produce and make it into a commodity rather than a waste product. Environmentally that makes a lot of sense.
In addition, I think there will be many new uses developed for rare earths – as more of these rare commodities have increasing amounts of them available. I think we will see more applications developed for the multitude of elements.
Why did you choose to attend at this event?
I came on a fact finding mission – to build contacts in industry, to ascertain where industry is headed and to determine whether we are on the right track or not. It’s been very valuable in those areas.
About the event: Mining IQ’s 2011 Rare Earth & Strategic Metals forum acted as a stepping stone for players entering into this industry. This event encompassed the overall rare earth industry. From understanding the occurrences and resources present in Australia, to current and upcoming projects, the difficulties associated with processing, dealing with thorium and uranium, as well as the demand of these metals from the end-users of rare earths. For more information on the series click here.
Major Pitfalls in Mine Planning
An Introduction to Carbon Tax: The Basics
INDUSTRY Q&A: Mining IQ interviews Jock Cunningham, CSIRO
Does Language Matter in Mining?
4 Tips for Using Thin Spray-On Liners (TSL)
Industry Q&A: Professor David Williams, Golder Professor of Geomechanics, School of Civil Engineering
Industry Q&A: Integrating Wildlife Into Mine Closure and Rehabilitation Practice
Industry Q&A: Overcoming the Skills Shortage through Effective and Intuitive Mining Education
FIFO Damaging Sex Lives
Cultural Heritage Management in Mining
* = required.