Afghanistan and Kazakhstan may become new global centers of rare earth metals’ production
Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, two countries in Central Asia, may become new global centers of rare earth metals’ production during the next several years, according to recent statements of some US and Russian scientists.
In the case of Afghanistan, according to recent studies, conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS), total value of the country’s rare and rare earth metals, is estimated at US$1 trillion.
In their studies the US geologists used the Soviet maps, which were prepared by Soviet scientists in 1979-1980. At that period of time the USSR had plans for the establishment of its own production of rare earth metals and other mineral deposits in Afghanistan, however, after the pullout of Soviet troops from the territory of the country the Soviet government decided to refuse from further implementation of the project.
Total volume of discovered rare and rare earth reserves in Afghanistan is estimated at more than 1.4 million tonnes, the majority of which are located in the Hanashin district of the Helmand province of the country (Southern Afghanistan).
One of the most valuable metal that was discovered in the country’s territory is praseodymium (photo above), which a silver metal that is used in the manufacture of specialty glasses and for the improvement of the properties of some alloys.
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In addition, Afghanistan has one of the world’s richest litium reserves, which is located in the Western part of the country.
In addition to rare earth metals, magnetic and gravitational explorations had shown the existence of huge reserves of iron-containing minerals in the country, which are located at a depth of 10 km., as well as rich oil and gas reserves.
Finally, Afghanistan has big coal reserves, which are estimated at 60 million tonnes, as well as of iron ore in the volume of 2.2 billion tonnes, as well as huge reserves of aluminum.
So far, an interest for the production of rare earth metals as well as other mineral deposits in Afghanistan, has already been expressed by the US, Russia, China and India.
In the case of China, the Chinese government has recently signed a 30 years’ contract for the production of coal in Afghanistan, while Indian companies are going to develop local iron ore deposits.
At the same time Afghanistan is expected to be not the only country in Central Asia, which may increase the production of rare earth metals in the near future. The same plans has Kazakhstan, a transcontinental country in Central Asia and a former Soviet state
As part of these plans, a new state program has been recently approved by the Kazakh government.
The program is known as On the development and production of rare and rare earth metals in Kazakhstan for the period of 2015-2019, and involves a significant increase of production and development of the country’s of rare and REM fields during the next four years.
The program also involves the establishment of a special state reserve of rare an rare earth metals in the country. It is planned that a particular attention will be paid for the production of such metals as beryllium, tantalum, dysprosium and neodymium.
The project is expected to be implemented by a local Ulba Metallurgical Plant, one of the world leaders in terms of production of beryllium, tantalum, and niobium, as well as uranium-based fuel bricks for nuclear power stations.
As part of these plans is also building of a new mine processing complex, (based on the deposits of titanium-zirconium ores Shokash in the Aktobe area of the country), which will have the capacity to process up to 750,000 m3 of ore per year.
Finally, according to plans of the Kazakh government, is the increase of production of REM bulk concentrates in the city of Stepnogorsk up to 3000 tonnes per year.
Eugene Gerden is an international free-lance writer, based in St. Petersburg, who specializes on writing in the field of mining, metals and rare earth metals. ... <Read more about Eugene Gerden>