A subsidiary company has been set up by aspiring seabed miner Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd (TSX-V: NZP; NZAX: CRP) to specifically look at retrieval of rare earth minerals from Chatham Rise seafloor.
Chatham Rock's chief executive Chris Castle said yesterday a 100% owned subsidiary Pacific Rare Earths Ltd, had been formed.
“This company has been formed to project-manage a work programme aimed at quantifying the extent, value and recoverability of rare earths elements and other potentially strategic or valuable minerals contained in the rock phosphate nodules on the Chatham Rise,” he said.
After exploring for phosphate nodules from the Chatham Rise, Chatham Phosphate had announced last year it also found rare earths and other valuable minerals within its permit area. The finds included cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium, yttrium, cobalt, rubidium, cesium, germanium, gallium, strontium, thallium and tungsten.
Many of the rare minerals are being touted for use in “green energy” solutions; including new generation batteries, solar panels and electric vehicles.
However, seabed mining in New Zealand won't be happening anytime soon.
While Chatham already has a mining licence for the Chatham Rise, its first marine consent application to the Environmental Protection Authority was rejected in 2015, and it is in the process to reapply by the end of this year.
A would-be Taranaki ironsands miner Trans-Tasman Resources last month had its second marine consent overturned in the High Court, after a challenge from environmentalists, iwi, communities and fishing companies.
Combined, Chatham Rock and Trans-Tasman have spent well over $100 million to date in research and development and numerous legal challenges.
Chatham Rock wants to suction up 1.5 million tonnes of phosphate nodules from the Chatham Rise seafloor, about 250 kilometres west of the Chatham Islands, in depths of up to 450 metres.
Castle said of the 17 recognised rare earths, 15 were found to be present in Chatham Rise rock phosphate nodules, as well as varying concentrations of other valuable minerals.
Those included nickel, cobalt, chromium, vanadium, zirconium, fluorine and strontium, he said.
“Collectively these minerals, if they can be efficiently extracted as by-products, represent not only an immensely strategic asset for NZ but could significantly improve the already attractive forecast project economics,” Castle said.
He said recovery of rare earths from seafloor muds would involve development of a new marine mining system and so would be considered separately from Chatham Rock's phosphate nodule project.
The primary challenge, he said, with production of rare earths from the muds was the extraction process.
Chatham Rock had started talks with skilled and funded external parties, both in New Zealand and overseas, to develop a better understanding of the extraction and recovery potential of the rare minerals.
*Simon Hartley is senior business reporter and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.