270 – and counting!

Last week I threw around the figure of there being about 150 rare earth exploration projects worldwide. Wrong, as Gareth Hatch hastened to update me. In fact, he said, he was tracking 270 active rare earth projects being run by 176 separate junior mining and exploration companies in 28 countries. Rightly, too, he commented that “it is clear that many of these projects have arisen from individuals and groups jumping on the rare earth bandwagon,”.

No doubt RareMetalBlog readers have trouble themselves remaining on top of the fast changing rare earth scene, especially those developments in Australia. So it’s probably time for a snap-shot update of what is happening “Down Under”.

First the newest players on the scene.

Southern Crown Resources (ASX:SWR) listed on the Australian Securities Exchange less than a month ago, having raised capital on the basis of its gold and copper exploration. But it now joins the rare earth crowd by buying a private company which owns African projects prospective for REEs. These include Nkombwa in Zambia and Xiluvo in Mozambique, both of which are in early exploration stage. The third property is the Gakara project in Burundi. This includes the historic Karonge REE mine, which operated intermittently from 1936 (when Burundi was under Belgian control) until 1979, and produced a total of 5000 tonnes of concentrate. Data published in 1983 showed good levels of lanthanum, cerium, neodymium and samarium. An even bigger change of direction has occurred at IT company Datamotion Asia Pacific (ASX:DMN) which has picked up some early stage exploration ground in Western Australia. After a brief burst of investor enthusiasm, though, DMN’s share price declined and the stock closed on Christmas Eve at just 0.03c.

Another company to add to your Australian rare earth watch-list is Forte Energy (ASX:FTE – it is also listed on London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market) which has advanced uranium exploration in the West Africa nation of Guinea. It has reported recent work has revealed the presence of REEs at its Firwa project. The company said it will now re-assay all previous samples from Firwa with the aim of calculating an REE resource in addition to the existing uranium one.

Base metals, gold and uranium player Archer Exploration (ASX:AXE) has been drilling for manganese and other metals at its North Burra project in South Australia, and said assays of the drill cores returned significant shows of yttrium, neodymium and cerium in four of the manganese deposits. But Archer added hastily that “the potential economic significance of the REE values is not known at this time”. The cerium grades were as high as 0.22 per cent and yttrium at 0.169 per cent. Terbium was also present.

There have also been two important developments over at emerging producer Lynas Corp (ASX:LYC). The company has received permission from the Malawi government to acquire the Kangankunde project in that country which has an inferred resource of 107,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide. Lynas has been working on this acquisition since 2007 when it acquired geological records compiled by the French government’s geological organisation back in the late 1980s.

Just as interesting is the decision by Lynas to appoint as one of its directors Ziggy Switkowski. Dr Switkowski is a highly regarded figure in Australia, having once been the chief executive successively of the country’s two biggest telcos, Telstra and Optus. Back in 2006, he headed a federal government investigation into nuclear power options for Australia (he’s a nuclear physicist by training). His decision to join the Lynas board was seen in the local financial press as an important tick of approval for the company’s rare earth plans.

Disclaimer: None of the above should be read or construed as investment advice. Readers should seek independent and professional advice. The writer does not own shares in any company mentioned.