By BOSORINA ROBBY
THE mining industry is slowly moving away from traditional gold and copper mining with the onset of other mining companies looking into minerals such as nickel and cobalt (Ramu NiCo), molybdenum, rhenium (Yandera) and now rare earths by an American company called Geovic Mining Corporation, The National reports.
Rare earths are elements that are abundant in the earth's crust but because of their geochemical properties, they are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms, thus known as 'rare earth minerals'.
Geovic Mining Corp is one of few mining companies in the world that specialises in the exploration and extraction of these "elusive" minerals.
Speaking at the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) twilight hour session last week, Geovic founder William Buckovic, said that exploration of these minerals were different from gold and copper.
He said the minerals could be found anywhere but with highly specialised tools to help locate deposits.
However, it is the extraction of the minerals that is very expensive and difficult as the minerals can be found in places where it is economically impossible to extract.
Rare earths are used to produce mobile phones, jet carriers and stealth technology besides satellites, radar and sonar technology, batteries, lasers, portable X-ray machines and equipment used by military agencies.
Geovic Exploration geologist Erwin Schutfort said they came to PNG early this year in the hopes of exploring the geological terrain to see if PNG had deposits of rare earths.
So far, they had applied for and received an exploration licence for two years in Morobe.
Schutfort said the venture into non-traditional mining was a new thing for the country, as could be seen from other mines but was also to see if PNG could contribute to the global demand for these minerals.
Currently, China is the world's biggest producer of rare earths. However, the supply is slowly decreasing and Geovic is stepping in to see if PNG has the potential.
MRA managing director Kepas Wali said this was an exciting time for PNG and the mining industry because there were only a few rare earth countries in the world and this would diversify mining activities in the country.
He said if the exploration turned up positive, it should pave the way for more people to come to PNG in search of these very valuable minerals.