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Kenya’s $100 billion hidden mineral deposits

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Minerals explorer Cortec announced it had found rare earth deposits worth $62.4 billion in Kwale County, putting the country among top five potential global producers in a market dominated by China. TEA Graphic/FILE

Minerals explorer Cortec announced it had found rare earth deposits worth $62.4 billion in Kwale County, putting the country among top five potential global producers in a market dominated by China. TEA Graphic/FILE  Nation Media Group

By SCOLA KAMAU and CHRISTINE MUNGAI The EastAfrican

Posted  Saturday, July 20  2013 at  13:59

In Summary

  • Mrima Hill, in the coastal county of Kwale, has one of the top five rare earth deposits in the world. The area also has niobium deposits estimated to be worth $35 billion.
  • Kenyan government will earn three per cent royalties from the nobium project and five per cent from the rare earths mining.
  • The global demand for niobium, used to strengthen steel, is rising rapidly, with Mrima Hill now positioned in the world’s top six deposits.
  • If Cortec’s lab results are confirmed, Kenya will serve the hungry global market including Africa that is scrambling for the meagre supply of the element.
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Kenya’s profile as a potential top rare earth minerals producer rose a rung higher after mineral explorer Cortec announced it had found deposits worth $62.4 billion.

Mrima Hill, in the coastal county of Kwale, has one of the top five rare earth deposits in the world. The area also has niobium deposits estimated to be worth $35 billion.

“This is by far the largest mineral deposit in Kenya and the find at Mrima Hill will make Kenya one of the largest rare earth producers in the world,” said David Anderson, managing director of Cortec Kenya Mining.

The Kenyan government will earn three per cent royalties from the nobium project and five per cent from the rare earths mining. Under the Constitution, 80 per cent of these earnings will go to the central government, 15 per cent to Kwale County and five per cent to local residents.

A global scarcity of rare earth in a market largely controlled by China has kept prices high, with Japan, which accounts for a third of all global demand, hard-hit by scarcity and looking to diversify its supply sources.

China has been supplying 90 per cent or more of the world’s rare earth minerals for over a decade, but it is also the largest consumer (72 per cent in 2012).

Cortec, which holds the mining licence for Mrima Hill, has also confirmed a deposit of 680 million kilogrammes of niobium, held in 105 million tonnes at 0.7 per cent niobium pentoxide.

The global demand for niobium, used to strengthen steel, is rising rapidly, with Mrima Hill now positioned in the world’s top six deposits.

Kenya is poised to join Tanzania as a rare earth supplier. In March, Tanzania announced the discovery of lower grade deposits within the Wigu Hill Rare Earth Project located 170 km south-west of Dar es Salaam.

If Cortec’s lab results are confirmed, Kenya will serve the hungry global market including Africa that is scrambling for the meagre supply of the element.

With the demand rising in China as its electronics market grows, the country could only produce enough of some elements for its own needs and limit some exports, giving new entrants like Kenya a chance to capture the global market.

What makes them valuable and useful in manufacturing is the way they interact with other elements to get results that each could never achieve alone.

Rare earths have numerous applications in technology and manufacturing. They are used to make high power magnets for lightweight electric motors and MRI imaging.

They are also used in manufacture of car engines and chemical factories, rechargeable batteries and generators for wind turbines. It is red phosphors from rare earth elements that made the colour television possible, and by extension, computer screens, laptops and mobile phones.

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