REE legacy from Communist era

Exploration work done more than 30 years ago by an increasing desperate and resources-poor former Communist East Germany may be about to help ease some pressure in present-day Germany so far as rare earth supplies are concerned. There’s a project containing 41,600 tonnes of REE along with 8700 tonnes of niobium just waiting for the right financing partner.

In October last year, there was a flurry of news items relating to German concerns about the availability of rare earths. Typical was an item that appeared in The New York Times which said that “German companies say they are being pressed by Chinese officials to increase their investments in China if they want to be assured of access to rare earths and two other obscure elements, tungsten and antimony. China dominates the mining of these metals,” the paper reported.

Indeed it does. In the case of antimony, China still supplies 90 per cent of the world’s needs – and a Chinese company is at present trying to buy a promising Australian antimony project which would help maintain its iron grip.

This week a small German company, Heidelberg-based Deutsche Rohstoff AG (Frankfurt Stock Exchange code DR0) has made progress on the tungsten front by closing a deal to buy a tungsten-molybdenum deposit in the Australian state of Queensland.

But a potentially bigger prize is the company’s Storkwitz REE project in Germany itself. In its latest update, Deutsche Rohstoff says it is in negotiation with a potential partner who could ensure the future financing of its REE plans.

There’s an interesting background to this project. In the 1970s, the then East Germany – it called itself the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – needed to find supplies of metals for its industries. The mark issued by the Communist government in East Berlin was not a convertible currency. Between 1973 and 1985 there was extensive drilling near the town of Delitzsch which identified what the company describes as Western Europe’s only known REE deposit, along with another deposit containing tungsten, molybdenum and germanium.

The collapse of the GDR in 1989 meant neither deposit was developed. But in 2007, Deutsche Rohstoff obtained control of the projects. The resource figures for REE and niobium quoted above are based on 49 drill holes, but the deposit remains open at depth which allows for the possibility that the resource could be further enlarged.

The REE are present in grades up to 3.55 per cent and are dominated by the lights – lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium and neodymium, although there is a high yttrium content. The company says radioactivity is not an issue and the niobium occurs “nearly pure, without tantalum”. Preliminary works indicates 93 per cent recovery using in-situ leaching. An option to buy the produced REE has already been signed by an unnamed customer.

In the other deposit, there is a contained 52,000 tonnes of tungsten, 2600 tonnes of molybdenum and 350 tonnes of germanium.