Moon dust: Greenland’s recipe to save planet Earth


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QEQERTARSUATSIAAT FJORD, Greenland, October 14 (Reuters) – Among the glaciers and turquoise fjords of southwest Greenland, a mining company is betting that rocks similar to those that the Apollo missions brought back from the moon may solve some of the problems of climate change of planet Earth.

“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 in hopes of selling 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 an eco-responsible one, and even the US space agency NASA has taken note.

The mineral-rich island has become an interesting prospect for miners looking for everything from copper and titanium to platinum and rare earth minerals, which are needed for electric vehicle engines.

It might seem like an easy solution to Greenland’s challenge of growing 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 honor it.

“Not all the money is worth making,” Greenland Mineral Resources Minister Naaja Nathanielsen told Reuters in an interview in the capital Nuuk. “We have a greener profile and we are ready to make decisions about it fairly quickly.”

The government has already banned future oil and gas exploration and wants to reinstate the ban on uranium mining.

This would stop the development of one of the largest rare earth deposits in the world, named Kuannersuit in Greenlandic and Kvanefjeld in Danish, because the deposit also contains uranium.

Kuannersuit, whose operator was in the process of securing a mining license, was a flashpoint in the April election as residents fear the uranium it contains could harm the industry. fragile environment of the country.

“As far as we are concerned, uranium is a political issue that is driven by exaggerated and misleading claims,” ​​John Mair, CEO of licensee Greenland Minerals (GGG.AX) told Reuters.

The mine could earn royalties of around 1.5 billion Danish kroner ($ 233 million) each year, the government said.

In contrast, income from two small mines operating in the country is negligible, and Nathanielsen says the government’s budget plans assume no mining income.

DANISH MONEY TRAP

Some see little interest in mining until Greenland gained independence.

A Danish colony until 1953, the semi-autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark has the right to declare its independence by a simple vote, but that risks being a distant prospect.

Greenland has commissioned work to draft a constitution for a future independent Greenland.

Meanwhile, Greenland’s 57,000 inhabitants depend on Danish fishing and subsidies.

Subsidies would be reduced in proportion to future revenues from mining, leading some to argue that minerals should be left in the ground for now.

“Under the current deal, large-scale mining does not make sense,” Pele Broberg, Minister of Business and Trade, told Reuters. “Why should we do this when we are subject to another country?” “

Others fear the government will discourage investment in large-scale mining of more conventional minerals, which they say is the way to diversify the economy and make it able to function on its own.

Jess Berthelsen, head of the Greenlandic union SIK, had hoped the planned mine at Kuannersuit and other large-scale projects would create jobs and said Danish grants were holding back Greenland.

“Sometimes I wish Denmark would stop sending money because then the people of this country would start to wake up. It puts us to sleep,” he said.

Meanwhile, business lobbyists are worried about the government’s plan to reinstate a uranium ban – just eight years after it was lifted.

“Businesses are used to being pressured by the authorities, but they are not used to this kind of instability,” said Christian Keldsen, director of the Greenland Business Association.

LOCAL SUPPORT

Those who live closest to the mineral notable in government plans for sustainable mining tend to support the pursuit of new income.

“We have to find other ways to make money. We cannot live on fishing alone,” said Johannes Hansen, a local firefighter and carpenter living in Qeqertarsuatsiaat. The town of about 160 residents is about a 50-minute boat ride from the planned anorthosite mine.

Greenland Anorthosite Mining, which is developing the mine, intends to ship 120 tonnes of crushed anorthosite to potential customers in the fiberglass industry, where it says it has value as a more environmental alternative. with kaolin.

The company, which hopes to secure an exploration permit by the end of 2022, says anorthosite melts at a lower temperature than kaolin, has a lower heavy metal content, and produces less waste and d ‘greenhouse gas emissions.

The main goal is to use anorthosite as an alternative to bauxite to produce aluminum, one of the minerals considered essential for reducing emissions because it can be used to lighten vehicles and is fully recyclable.

Greenland Anorthosite Mining claims that aluminum can be produced more easily than when bauxite ore, the main source of aluminum, is used, and again produces less waste compared to existing processes.

Anorthosite is also part of the European Union’s ambitions to diversify mineral sources. It is found in Canada and Norway, as well as Greenland, while the bauxite is concentrated in a belt around the equator.

Asuncion Aranda, who heads an EU-funded research project on anorthosite, said the technology has worked although research is needed to reduce costs and minimize environmental impact.

“We don’t yet know if our process will be competitive from the start against the established production method,” she said.

“If all goes well and the aluminum industry is there, we could see the first commercial production in eight to ten years.”

TERRESTRIAL AMBITIONS

As the EU focuses on land uses and reducing emissions, NASA has ambitions to find new environments for human activity.

It used crushed anorthosite powder from a small mine in Greenland already in production, operated by the Canadian company Hudson Resources (HUD.V), to test the equipment as part of a race to the space that would involve mining on the moon and even establishing communities there. .

“The deposits in Greenland and elsewhere aren’t exactly like the moon, but they’re pretty darn close,” said John Gruener, space scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“If we really want to live off the earth at the south pole of the moon, which everyone is interested in now, we will have to learn how to deal with anorthosite, the dominant rock 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 we haven’t even begun to understand, and is making similar arguments against space mining.

“We need to find lasting 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 Greenpeace Research Laboratory.

Asked about the concerns, Greenland’s Resource Department said in an emailed statement that it did not expect 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 a good cause,” he said.

($ 1 = 6.4332 Danish kroner)

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; edited by Barbara Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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