The Pulse: “Free” rare earths illusion; Time’s take on REE; Crop waste to energy

It all depends what you mean by “free” rare earths.

One of the first rules you learn turning up in the Philippines as a journalist is to always double-check any story in a local newspaper before presenting it as fact to your own readers. The Manila press is a hurly-burly business, a large number of English and Tagalog dailies competing for the attention of readers.

So “free rare earths” was certainly an attention-grabber – but so far there’s no sign of such an offer on the website of the company reportedly making such an offer.

First, a little background. The Philippines has been keen to discover rare earths. And the government mining agency has 20 million pesos ($490,000) burning a hole in its pocket, the budget for some exploration work. Some exploration has already occurred at Nueva Vizcaya on the main island of Luzon and also on the western island of Palawan.

China was going to help with technical expertise with the exploration, but then along came one of those territorial disputes like the one that erupted between China and Japan over some small islands and which led to Beijing cutting off rare earth supplies to Japanese manufacturers. In this case, it’s a dispute between Beijing and Manila over what is known as the Panatag Shoal in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea as that stretch of ocean is called in Manila) and who controls it. The government in Taipei is also a claimant.

This dispute led China last year to reneg on its offer to the Philippines Mines and Geoscience Bureau to help map out an exploration program; the Philippines came up with the P20 million, but China was also going to finance most of the work

Now along comes a story in both the Manila Bulletin and the Manila Standard (and which has started to be reproduced on other websites without much analysis).

These newspaper reports concur on one vital point: that Norway’s Intex Resources, which operates a laterite nickel mine on Mindoro Island, has offered to produce rare earths for the Philippines “for free”. Actually, that is something of a misleading terminology. The reports say that rare earths including scandium could be extracted in the mining process, Intex chief executive Jon Steen Petersen being quoted saying REEs and scandium could be produced by the Mindoro nickel mine without additional mining costs (my emphasis). The direct quote reads: “Intex/Mindoro Nickel could produce 100 tons scandium (and probably as much REE) per year from the waste liquor and has already started test work in Canada with this in mind. Since the mining and transport costs are already paid for by other metals, scandium and REE could come in as bonus, in addition to the fertilizer and other premiums Mindoro Nickel already is offering”. Note that word “premiums”: Intex is looking to make more money from its nickel byproducts.

So, that is “free” to the company – but it certainly won’t be for the purchaser. The other rare earths are not identified, but 100 tonnes of scandium would certainly be big news to others hoping to dominate that space.

RARE EARTHS: The latest issue of Time magazine devotes three pages to rare earths, most of the material being already deeply familiar to the ProEdgeWire readers.