Iran moving into rare earths space as part of mining push
Late last year Bloomberg reported plans in Teheran that, if successful, could mean Iran earning more cash from mining than from crude oil. And now we have Iran talking about getting into the rare earths business (and, interestingly, Bloomberg cited REE along with copper and iron ore as Iran’s potential mineral development highlights in that earlier report).
Iran is estimated to hold about 7% of the world’s mineral reserves. The country claims to have the world’s largest resources of zinc (Australia would probably dispute that), the ninth largest copper resources, the ninth in size for iron ore (there are at least 200 known deposits), the world’s tenth largest resource of uranium and the eleventh largest in lead. There are plenty of other minerals – for example, the Iranians claim to know of 45 economic manganese deposits. Feldspar has been long produced in the country.
Iran claims to have the largest gold resource in the Middle East, with 14 gold zones having been identified, and the government has stated it sees raising gold production as an economic priority. There are believed to be 15 operating gold mines, and there have been reports that Kazakhstan has signed an agreement to develop a gold project in Iran.
Late last year, when sanctions were still in place, London merchant bank Hannam & Partners produced a detailed report on Iran’s mining industry. It noted that, before sanctions, minerals had accounted for 30% of the country’s non-oil exports.
The number of operating mines had risen from 3,125 in 2005 to 5,574 in 2010.
It appears that the mining world has been beating a path to Iran’s door. In March Sinosteel concluded a deal to develop alumina and aluminium plants. Denmark has expressed an interest in Iran’s mineral deposits in Zanjan province. This year deals worth a total $6 billion have been inked with French and Italian mining investors. In February it was reported that Japan was committing $10 billion to projects involving production of zinc, iron ore and aluminium. China is said to be interested in the zinc and talks have been held with Germany, Austria and Italy.
Iran’s Tasmin news agency now reports that the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, has unveiled plans for the extraction of rare earth elements in the country as by-products of uranium mining process.
Speaking on television, Salehi said his organization has signed contracts with the local industries to produce rare earth elements simultaneous with the extraction of uranium in the mines. The extraction of rare earth elements, “which are very expensive”, will reduce the costs of uranium production, he explained.
According to Tasmin, the production of rare earths in the uranium mines will start in the current Iranian year and the elements will be used for both domestic consumption and exports.
Back in February, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported that the National Research Centre for Minerals in Alborz province had separated neodymium, cerium, praseodymium, yttrium and lanthanum oxides.
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