Great Western sees S.African rare earth production

Wed Feb 9, 2011 1:14pm GMT

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Canadian rare earth processor Great Western Minerals Group expects output of 2,700 tonnes a year from its South African rare earth mine in two years' time, company executives said on Wednesday.

When Steenkampskraal mine, 400 km (250 miles) northwest of Cape Town, cranks up again -- it was officially closed in 1965

-- it will make Great Western one of the few non-Chinese firms mining and processing rare earth minerals.

"Not only will we be one of the very few integrated rare earth producers in the world, we will be one of the first to produce the critical heavy rare earths," Chief Executive Jim Engdahl told an African mining conference.

Rare earths, which are used in smartphones and hybrid cars, as well as in the aerospace industry, abound in the high-grade ore at Steenkampskraal, Engdahl said.

"As a result of the grade, it will produce more heavy rare earth per tonne than any other known deposit in the world today," he told Reuters.

China produces over 95 percent of the world's rare earths, triggering global concerns about the Asian economic powerhouse dominating production, especially after recent cuts to export quotas sent prices of individual oxides soaring.

Engdahl said South Africa, already the world's top platinum and a major gold producer, could emerge as a global leader in rare earth exports, driven by Chinese demand for the minerals.   Continued...

<p>Mineworkers work deep underground at Harmony Gold Mine's Cooke shaft near Johannesburg, September 22, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings</p>
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