RARE EARTH ELEMENTS MINING PROJECT
Mining is an important industry in Pakistan. Pakistan has deposits of several minerals including coal, copper, gold, chromite, mineral salt, bauxite and several other minerals. A variety of precious and semi-precious minerals are also mined. These include peridot, aquamarine, topaz, ruby, emerald, the rare-earth minerals bastnaesite and xenotime, sphene, tourmaline, and many varieties and types of quartz.
Significance of Exploration and Development of Rare Earth Metals in Pakistan
The forthcoming era, as predicted by energy sector specialists, will of course entail a shift “away from fossil fuels” and toward establishing alternative renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power, among others. Resultantly, there will be unlimited dependence on the utilization of rare earth elements (REE), as these are extensively used in wind turbines and solar plates. Therefore, it is evident that in this age of resource competition, the possession and production of rare earth metals is key, since they are strategic and critical to a variety of other high-tech products and manufacturing processes, including catalytic converters, petroleum refining, color TV & flat panel displays, permanent magnets, batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, medical devices, and various defense systems like missiles, jet engines, and satellite components. This group of 17 metals, which habitually occur together in nature, is strategically so important that former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping made a timely acknowledgement of its importance almost 2 decades ago. “The Middle East has oil and China has rare earths,” he said in 1992. His strategic foresight in pushing his nation to develop this resource, in the form of directives, proved so effective that today China is supplying 97% of the global requirement, which is 140,000 tons/annum and is projected to rise to at least 185,000 tons annually. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, world demand for rare earth metals will continue to grow with the expansion of the middle class, especially in China, India and Africa. Demand will continue to grow because high tech products and renewable energy technology cannot function without rare earth metals.
In Pakistan, several occurrences of a peculiar rock type, namely carbonatite, globally recognized to contain these metals, has already been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjoining Khyber Agency (FATA) in a 150 km long and discontinuous belt, extending from the Pak-Afghan border in the west up to Tarbela area in the east. So far, 7 such occurrences have already been reported at the localities of Loe-Shilman, (Khyber Agency) and Sillai Patti, Khungi, Jambil, Koga, Tarbela and Jawar areas, all lying in Malakand Division, Swat Division and Swabi Districts.
Research work on surface outcrops conducted at PINSTECH Laboratories in Nelore, Islamabad, pertaining to the Malakand Agency and FATA, indicated the presence of 2-10kg/ton of only 4 rare earth metals, while elsewhere in the world, deposits containing a maximum of 10 kg/ton of total rare earth metals are being worked out. In November 2010, the Japanese government, having likely taken notice of this fact and realizing the potentiality of rare metals in Pakistan, showed their interest in Pakistan’s mineral commodities by requesting preliminary information for study through the Islamabad Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They subsequently offered their recommendations for the development/mining of these minerals to the government of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC), Islamabad, a federally owned commercial entrepreneur mandated for the whole spectrum of mineral sector activities, from exploration to ultimate utilization, can play a pivotal role - according to its Memorandum of Association - by initiating a project for the exploration and evaluation of rare earth metals in Pakistan. In this context, the PMDC has the privilege of entering into any type of Joint Venture partnership with whichever multinational mineral sector entrepreneur that is interested in the exploration & development of this group of minerals. Additionally, this organization, after restructuring and being allowed to work freely according to its mandated functions, also possesses the capabilities to ensure that progress takes place despite the efforts of politicians and bureaucracies to thwart it.