Canadian miner Stans Energy Corp. is carrying out grade and feasibility assessments at their Kutessay II deposit in Kyrgyzstan in the belief it could be the first major heavy Rare Earths deposit outside of China. For those of you, like me, who had to reach for the atlas to see exactly where Kyrgyzstan is here is a map courtesy of worldatlas.com.
The name may be recently familiar from the news, the country went through a coup earlier this month when the former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed and thrown out the country following bloody unrest in which he is said to have authorized troops to open fire on protesters killing 83 people.
Stans Energy purchased the deposit from the Kyrgyz government in December 2009 but appear to enjoy the backing of the new regime under Roza Otunbayeva’s interim government, which is committed to democratic elections later this year according to this Financial Times article.
Located about 150 kms east of the capital Bishkek, the mine was extensively developed in the days when the country was part of the Soviet Union according to an article in Industrial Minerals. The Soviets used the mine to supply their nuclear program and were running at a rate of 300,000 tons per anum of ore at an average grade of 0.41%, equivalent to 750 tons per anum of rare earth metal after recovery loses. Stans intends to raise production to 2,000 tons per anum but this will require extensive replacement and upgrading of the old Soviet processing facilities still on site.
As the article explains, rare earths tend to get lumped together as one ore source when in reality the term covers some 15 or so different metals who’s value varies enormously. Â¨”Out of 15 rare earth elements, we estimate that there are five that you can make a lot of money on, five you break even on and five you have got to find a use for, Stans CEO Robert Mackay said. Â¨”Fortunately for our deposit, the combined percentages of the five you make money on are the highest dollar value of any deposit in the world: neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium and, probably, yttrium, he added. Of the historical reserve estimates at Kutessay II, dysprosium represents 6.7% of total rare earths, with terbium making up 1.15% and neodymium representing 8.5%.Â¨Â¨”The big ones everyone is looking for now are dysprosium and terbium and this deposit has some of the best grades of those two in the world in percentage terms, he said in the article.
From a position of being totally at the mercy of China just two years ago, it is encouraging to see how miners have identified and are actively working to develop rare earth deposits around the world. Higher prices for these metals, while not welcome to consumers, are ultimately what will make many of these deposits viable alternatives to China’s dominance.