Chinese interest in mining in Greenland hasn’t received a lot of media attention this year, after General Nice (俊安) bought the Isua iron mine, which probably no one would think of developing at the moment (‘cucurbitae caput non habemus‘). That doesn’t mean Greenlandic officials have stopped promoting the island’s ores to Chinese potential investors (there have been meetings in October), or that Chinese interest no longer exists; quite the contrary. As two projects China Nonferrous is expected to help finance and build approach the production stage, Chinese investment in Greenland could become a reality pretty soon.
My latest piece for the China Policy Institute blog discusses these developments.
Vittus Qujaukitsoq, a Greenlandic minister (naalakkersuisoq) whose portfolio now includes natural resources, has expressed optimism that Ironbark’s zinc and lead project in Citronen Fjord is likely to succeed in attracting financing and start production as planned. The mine is located in the island’s far North (KNR). The statement came during a public meeting on the project in Nuuk, a step in the approval process for an exploitation license. Meetings planned in other Greenlandic towns have been suspended due to bad weather.
At least part of the financing for the Citronen mine is likely to come from China. Ironbark has signed (non-binding) agreements with China Nonferrous (中色) according to which the Chinese SOE could help finance and build the mine, as well as eventually own a stake in it. China Nonferrous is also expected to be involved in the Kvanefjeld U+REE mine in the south of the island. Another Arctic project of them is a plan to build Iceland’s fourth aluminium smelter in Hafursstaðir.
Although Chinese SOEs have been involved in exploration in Greenland since 2009 (and their interest in the island’s ores goes back to four years earlier), China Nonferrous seems likely to be the first Chinese company to actually take part in the extraction of Greenlandic minerals.
If it goes ahead, the project will require a couple hundred (mostly foreign) workers.
Citronen Fjord is above 80°N, probably the world’s northernmost mine. The second northernmost mine with Chinese involvement could well be in Russia: as I mentioned in my latest post on Yakutia, Heilongjiang province companies are considering investing in the Tirekhtyakh Тирехтях lead deposit, at around 69°N.
ASX-listed Ironbark have just applied for an exploitation permit for the Citronen Fjord zinc and lead project in Greenland’s far north, where they have been exploring for several years now. A series of public consultation meetings on the project will take place until next January. China Nonferrous (中色) is expected to become a partner in the financing and construction of the project.
The project is expected to employ a couple hundred people during its construction and exploitation phases. Ironbark documents submitted to the Greenlandic gov’t (and available online) explain that around 80% of these will be foreigners at first, but that they will be later “progressively replaced” with local staff. The mine’s remote location means that foreign staff will be flown in from abroad, meaning it will hardly be seen in Greenlandic towns. Although the main local trade union have aired some worries about immigrant workers and their employment conditions, the scale and location of the project likely mean it won’t create the sort of controversy that once surrounded the Isua iron project.
State-owned integrated miner China Nonferrous, through their main listed arm NFC (中色股份), signed non-binding agreements with Ironbark in 2013 and 2014 that envisage the Chinese SOE’s involvement in financing and building the mine and eventually owning a stake in it.
Nonfezza, also through NFC, are also involved in the Kvanefjeld rare-earth mine in the south of the island, a project that has already started trial production. They’ve also signed a preliminary agreement to build an aluminium smelter in Iceland.
Here’s an overview of Chinese involvement in Greenland mining.
If you’re looking for an overview of Chinese mining activities in Greenland thorough enough to talk your fellow dinner-party guests into submission, then I know where you can procure one. The University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog has just posted such an overview, titled “Shock and ore“, in which I go over the mining ventures with some degree of Chinese participation, with an emphasis on General Nice, the new owner of the Isua mine.
John Mair from Greenland Minerals and Energy has told Chinese news site DZH News (大智慧) that a feasibility study for the Kvanefjeld rare earth project is almost done, and that trial production might start once an environmental study is ready later this year.
China Nonferrous (CNMC, 中色), a national state-owned integrated miner, is involved in GMEL’s Kvanefjeld project through its largest listed subsidiary, Shenzhen-listed NFC (中色股份). This involvement officially began with a non-binding MoU between NFC and GMEL signed one year ago (‘China Nonferrous enters Greenland rare-earth game‘). That cooperation seems to be progressing towards more concrete form as, according to a recent GMEL announcement, multiple meetings between the two companies have been taking place during the past year, both at management and technical levels.
However ‘non-binding’ it might be at the moment, cooperation between China Nonferrous and the Kvanefjeld operator is an MoU made in Heaven. The Kvanefjeld mine is expected to produce output fitting the needs of China Nonferrous’ colossal REE separation plant under construction in Xinfeng 新丰 county in Guangdong, and rather cheaply at that.
GMEL has also announced they’ve secured up to $20m from Long State (远邦投资), a HK-based resource investment company with Mainland connections I might (or might not) have occasion to talk about in some future post. They also say they’re looking forward to getting more financing during this year.
Other than in Kvanefjeld, Nonfezza are also involved in Ironbark’s zinc project in Citronenfjord at the other end of Greenland.
A visit to Greenland by a group Chinese potential investors is scheduled to take all of this week and meet with local officials, including the premier and ministers. According to the organiser, Beijing law firm Rainmaker/Yuren (雨仁律师事务所), the delegation will visit companies with rights over iron, zinc, lead, gold, oil and gas deposits, as well as seafood processors.
The Jiangxi Daily (江西日报) carried a puff piece last week devoted to the aforementioned Bureau (江西有色地质勘查局), who have been exploring for copper, zinc and lead at Jiangxi Copper’s Wegener Halvø site, near Ittoqqortoormiit in eastern Greenland since 2011. The article also mentions the Bureau’s activities in tantalium and niobium exploration, both domestically and in Shakiso, Ethiopia, where a company from Jiangxi (or a duplet of closely connected companies, viz. King-Tan/Kingtai/Jingtai 江西景泰钽业有限公司 and ZCXC/Zhicheng 江西智诚新材料科技有限公司) has been active for some time.
There is both tantalum and niobium in Greenland, e.g. at Ram Resources‘ Motzfeldt Sø project in the south, at NunaMinerals’ Qeqertaasaq rare earth + Nb project near Nuuk, where Korean state-owned miner KORES (한국광물자원공사) has already shown interest, and in Kap Simpson, in an area where Czech company CGRG holds an exploration license, just across from Jiangxi Copper’s Wegener Halvø project. China has a high demand for tantalum and niobium, and Chinese companies have been acquiring stakes in Ta/Nb mines abroad, so it would make sense for them to look for it in Greenland as well.
I’ve written about Jiangxi Copper’s Greenland project, in a longish article last year, then in an update two months ago.