Sunday, November 29, 2009

Greenland: Melting Ice; Rare Metals to be Unearthed?

The media has shown us in all its forms that the Greenland ice-sheet is melting, and along with the Antarctic peninsular, is one of the poster children for the reality of global warming. On the plus side is the possibility that under the ice of the Ilimaussaq Intrusion lies the world’s largest known reserve of rare earth metals, also known as lanthanides in the Periodic table of the Chemical Elements, which are used in mobile phones and all kinds of electronic devices, including hybrid cars. Currently China produces 95% of the world's supply of rare earth metals, and the Greenland find could urge a shift in world dominance.

Greenland, with a population of around 57,000 and a population density of a mere one person for each 15 square miles, is undergoing a political transformation in the lead-up to its imminent independence from Denmark, and as of January 2010, it will become the full owner of its natural resources. Accordingly, the rare earths alone could double Greenland's GPD since there are enough of them to sate one quarter of the world's hunger for them for the next 50 years.

As a further benefit of the site, the cost of extracting the rare earths will be partly covered by the lucrative extraction uranium there. This will shield against China undercutting the Greenland rare earth production by flooding the market with cheaper metals, which is how it has managed to establish dominance in the world market in terms of rare earth provision, to date.

The Ilimaussaq Intrusion is well-established as a source if uranium, but its novel exploitation as a source of rare earths is pivotal on the world geopolitical stage. To the chagrin of Japan, which intends to become a major player in electric car production, Chinese control of the amount of rare earth metals available to the marketplace has engendered a scramble by Toyota and major Japanese trading houses to ensure sufficient supplies of them from elsewhere. Indeed, the Japanese wish to establish a strategic national reserve of rare earths to meet demand from both "green" and military technologies, e.g. hybrid cars and weapons-guiding systems.

Through a massive increase in the global supply of rare earth metals within a regulated market with global price-controls, their use would naturally increase. Michael Hutchinson, a director of the London Metal Exchange and the non-executive chairman of Greenland Minerals said: "Rare earths could, therefore, undergo the same transformation as aluminium, with the same scene-changing effects. A century ago aluminium was so valuable a metal that Queen Victoria sported a ring made of it. When supply became cheaper and steadier, it fundamentally altered the way in which aircraft, cars and other technologies were built."

I wonder what other minerals including oil may be exhumed from the earth under melting Greenland, and for how much longer will the melting Antarctic remain sacrosanct?

Related Reading.

"Greenland challenge to Chinese over rare earth metals," By Leo Lewis.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, Minerals is one thing, but I have long thought that GM, however caused, will have the beneficial effect of liberating countless acres of formerly frozen lands and enabling them to be converted into productive land of all kinds resulting in new forests, farms, villages, towns, roads, railways, canals, you name it. Canada, Norway, Russia, Japan, four of the most dynamic (yes! even Russia! is dynamic) cultures in the earths history are on the verge of being blessed with untold riches, which upon reflection, I sometimes consider equivalent to the discovery of the Americas. But this time around, the world will have 21st century technology to exploit it all. Let us all pray that our children choose wisely.
Peter Melia

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Peter,

you may well be right. Also, waterways to access these "newly available" resources will be freed by melting ice. Is not the fabled North West Passage open for much of the year now?

I think that GW is going to happen on some level or another whatever the cause of it, and it does make sense to look on the positive side.

Indeed, let's hope that wisdom prevails and that "homo sapiens" is a wisely named species!

Best regards,