MINING: Rare Earth Minerals Mining At Steenkampskraal
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RARE earth minerals to be mined at Steenkampskraal about 350 km north of Cape Town are to be processed in the Western Cape before they are exported to meet the growing world demand for these elements used in high tech industries.
In addition it now seems likely that “tailings” from Namakwa Sands titanium mine near Saldanha will also be processed at the plant to extract yet more rare earth minerals.
The Canadian company, Great Western Minerals, will run the separation plant in a joint venture with the Chinese company Ganzhou Qiandong. GWM will have a 75 percent stake in the project and the Chinese firm will own 25 percent of the plant and supply much to the expertise.
Total investment in the mine and the separation plant should be in excess R400 million.
China dominates the rare earth minerals industry and controls 95 percent of current world supplies.
Rare earth minerals are essential for a range of high tech industries from smart phones to hybrid cars. Permanent magnets made from the minerals are very much stronger and lighter than conventional iron magnets and have made smaller and more powerful electric motors possible as well as efficient wind turbines.
According to Mining Weekly, the Steenkampskraal plant should be producing 2 700 tonnes a year by 2013 and this will increase to 5 000 tonnes. Processing tailings from Namaqua Sands and other mining activities should increase output to 10 000 tonnes a year.
A second Canadian Company, Frontier Rare Earths, owns the old Zandkopsdrift mine in Namaqualand. The mine has been described as a significant resource both in terms of the quantity and the quality of the deposit and the open cast mine is expected to produce 20 000 tonnes a year when it goes into production.
These developments should open up opportunities for South African high tech companies who will have access to the rare earth products.
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