© Reuters. Greenland Anorthosite Mining geologist Anders Norby-Lie checks drill cores at an exploration site for an anorthosite deposit near Qeqertarsuatsiaat fjord, Greenland, September 11, 2021. REUTERS / Hannibal Hanschke
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
QEQERTARSUATSIAAT FJORD, Greenland (Reuters) – Amid the glaciers and turquoise fjords of southwestern Greenland, a mining company is betting that rock similar to the one the Apollo missions brought back from the Moon could address some of planet Earth’s climate change problems. .
“This rock was created in the early days of our planet’s formation,” says geologist Anders Norby-Lie, who began exploring anorthosite in the remote mountainous landscape of Greenland nine years ago.
More recently, it has excited mining companies and investors who hope to sell it as a relatively sustainable source of aluminum, as well as an ingredient for making fiberglass.
The government elected in April has placed it at the center of its efforts to promote Greenland as environmentally responsible, and even the US space agency NASA has taken note.
The mineral-rich island has become a great prospect for miners looking for anything from titanium to platinum to rare earth minerals that are necessary for electric vehicle engines.
That might seem like an easy solution to Greenland’s challenge of how to grow its small economy so that it can achieve its long-term goal of independence from Denmark, but the government campaigned on an environmental platform and must respect that.
“It’s not worth making all the money,” Greenland’s mineral resources minister Naaja Nathanielsen told Reuters in an interview in the capital Nuuk. “We have a greener profile and we have been willing to make some decisions about it quite quickly.”
The government has already banned future oil and gas exploration https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/greenland-puts-an-end-unsuccessful-oil-adventure-2021-07-16 and wants to reinstate the ban of uranium mining.
That would stop the development of one of the largest rare earth deposits in the world https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/greenland-prepares-legislation-halt-large-rare-earth-mine-2021-09- 17, called Kuannersuit in Greenlandic and Kvanefjeld in Danish because the deposit also contains uranium.
Kuannersuit, whose operator was in the final stages of obtaining a permit to mine, was a critical issue in the April elections https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/mining-magnets-arctic-island-finds -green -power-can-be-curse-2021-03-02 because locals fear that the uranium it contains could harm the country’s fragile environment.
“As far as we are concerned, uranium is a political problem driven by exaggerated and misleading claims,” the licensee, Greenland Minerals CEO John Mair, told Reuters.
The mine could generate royalties of around 1.5 billion Danish crowns ($ 233 million) each year, the government said.
By contrast, revenues from two small mines operating in the country are negligible, and Nathanielsen says the government’s budget plans do not assume any mining revenue.
THE DANISH MONEY TRAP
Some see little point in mining until Greenland has achieved independence.
A Danish colony until 1953, the semi-autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark has the right to declare independence by a simple vote, but that is likely a distant prospect.
Greenland has commissioned the job of drafting a constitution for a future independent Greenland.
Meanwhile, Greenland’s 57,000 people depend on Danish fishing and subsidies.
The subsidies would be reduced in proportion to future profits from mining, leading some to say that the minerals should be left in the ground for now.
“Under the current agreement, large-scale mineral extraction makes no sense,” Pele Broberg, minister for business and trade, told Reuters. “Why should we do that while we are subject to another country?”
Others worry that the government is deterring investment in large-scale mining of more conventional minerals, which they say is the way to diversify the economy and make it capable of supporting itself.
Jess Berthelsen, director of the Greenland SIK union, hoped the planned Kuannersuit mine and other large-scale projects would create jobs and said Danish subsidies are holding Greenland back.
“Sometimes I wish Denmark would stop sending money, because then people in this country would start to wake up. It is making us sleepy,” he said.
Meanwhile, corporate lobbyists worry about the government’s plan to reinstate the uranium ban, just eight years after it was lifted.
“Businesses are used to being under pressure from the authorities, but they are not used to this kind of instability,” said Christian Keldsen, director of the Greenland Business Association.
Those who live closer to the mineral highlighted in government plans for sustainable mining tend to support the search for new revenue.
“We have to find other ways to earn money. We cannot make a living from fishing,” said Johannes Hansen, a local firefighter and carpenter who lives in Qeqertarsuatsiaat. The city of about 160 people is about 50 minutes by boat from the planned anorthosite mine.
Greenland Anorthosite Mining, which is developing the mine, has a plan to ship 120 tons of crushed anorthosite to potential customers in the fiberglass industry, where it says it has value as a more environmentally friendly alternative to kaolin.
The company, which hopes to have an exploration permit by the end of 2022, says that anorthosite melts at a lower temperature than kaolin, has a lower heavy metal content and produces less waste and greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse.
The main objective is for anorthosite to be used as an alternative to bauxite to produce aluminum, one of the minerals that is considered essential to reduce emissions because it can be used to make lighter vehicles and is fully recyclable.
Greenland Anorthosite Mining says that aluminum can be produced more easily than when using bauxite ore, the main source of aluminum, and again produces less waste compared to existing processes.
Anorthosite also fits with the European Union’s ambitions to diversify mineral sources. It is found in Canada and Norway, as well as Greenland, while bauxite is concentrated in a belt around the Equator.
Asunción Aranda, who heads an EU-funded research project on anorthosite, said the technology had been seen to work, although research is needed to cut costs and minimize environmental impact.
“We don’t yet know if our process will be competitive from the start compared to the established production method,” he said.
“If all goes well and the aluminum industry is up and running, then we could see the first commercial production in eight to ten years.”
While the EU is focused on land uses and reducing emissions, NASA has ambition to find new environments for human activity.
It has been using crushed anorthosite powder from a smaller Greenland mine already in production, operated by Canada-based Hudson (NYSE 🙂 Resources, to test equipment as part of a space race that would involve mining on the moon and even establish communities there.
“The deposits in Greenland and elsewhere are not exactly like the moon, but they are quite close,” said John Gruener, a space scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
“If we are really going to live off the land at the south pole of the moon, which everyone is interested in now, we will have to learn to deal with anorthosite, the dominant rock that is there,” he said. “Having another supply of anorthosite from Greenland is great.”
Climate activists are not so sure.
Greenpeace has campaigned against deep-sea mineral extraction, saying it risks disrupting ecosystems that we haven’t even begun to understand and makes similar arguments against mining in space.
“We need to find sustainable solutions, not look for more sources in new frontiers. There is so much we just don’t know about these environments,” said Kevin Brigden, senior scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratory (NYSE :).
When asked about the concerns, the Greenland Resources Ministry said in an emailed statement that it did not expect the minerals mined in Greenland to be used only for green technology.
“But we are actively working to optimize the green profile and use our resources in the service of the good cause,” he said.
($ 1 = 6.4332 Danish crowns)