Kalbar and Climate Change – the Greenwash

Protest against the mine.

The proposed Fingerboards mineral sands mine is becoming an election issue in East Gippsland with 3 candidates so far expressing opposition to it. Kalbar Resources have recently opened a shopfront in Bairnsdale with an apparent ‘greenwash’ claim of ‘sustainability’ in its window. Since no mine is sustainable their ‘environmental’ claims rest upon the need for rare earths (RE) in the transition to renewable energy.

Their website claims correctly that “the Rare Earths is a group of elements that are not actually that rare in the earth’s crust, but are rare to find in economic concentrations. The Fingerboards deposit is rich in the highly valuable rare earths…” and then incorrectly asserts “These rare earths…are essential to…temperature magnets used in windfarms, and the powerful batteries in electric vehicles.” Elsewhere it is noted that the Enercon wind turbine from Germany – currently the world’s largest – has no components with RE minerals. Some unconfirmed estimates suggest that as little as 10% of wind generators have RE minerals in them.

Further the website claims “Once in production, the Fingerboards is expected to supply up to 10% of global demand for rare earths required for the development of clean energy. This will be pivotal, to Bloomberg’s estimate of wind and solar energy reaching a combined 48% of global energy capacity by 2040. The proposed Gippsland off-shore wind farm would consume roughly 50% of the Fingerboards annual Neodynium and Prasodynium (NdPr) production, enabling the construction of 14,000 gigawatts of wind power annually; enough to power 14 million homes. Rare earths production from the Fingerboards is enough to construct 2.8 million electric vehicles annually.”

Aside from an outdated Bloomberg estimate the tone of the website implies that none of this will happen without the mine. As well as noting the absence of RE in at least some wind turbines (above) Kalbar are not considering alternative supplies, product substitution and possible recycling of these materials. That without the Fingerboards mine the clean energy revolution will not occur is arrant nonsense. And it will almost certainly happen a lot faster than the Bloomberg prediction.

Though promoting the clean energy revolution and RE in their publicity it should be noted that a ‘typical Fingerboards concentrate’ has about 2% RE which in turn represents slightly over 20% of the estimated value. This can be compared with 30% titanium mainly used in paint and 16% zircon used mainly in ceramics. I have requested a full analysis of their typical concentrate from Kalbar – that is the missing 52% – but as yet have had no reply. I suspect that it probably contains the usual nasties including radioactive Thorium and possibly Uranium.

The long and short of it is that the Kalbar website is mainly greenwash and the clean energy revolution is going to happen anyway. I hope to comment in a later blog on the greenhouse gases that such a project as Kalbar envisages would produce.