Chileans Bet Apple Will Pay a Premium for Clean Rare Earths – by Eduardo Thomson (Bloomberg News – June 2, 2015)

The future of rare-earth minerals used in everything from iPhones to Tomahawk missiles lies under the pine plantations of southern Chile, and in a secret formula, according to closely held junior miner Mineria Activa.

Elements such as neodymium and dysprosium are contained in clays near the city of Concepcion in concentrations similar to those found in southern China, which has all but cornered global supply until now. The similarities end there, Arturo Albornoz, who heads Activa’s Biolantanidos project, said in an interview.

While operations in China typically pump ammonium sulfate into the ground and wait for the chemical to seep out with the minerals, at Biolantanidos the plan is to dig out the clay, put it through a tank-leaching process with biodegradable chemicals and return it cleaned to the ground, replanting pine and eucalyptus trees.

It may be laborious, but Albornoz is hoping companies such as ThyssenKrupp AG, Apple Inc. and Tomahawk cruise missile maker Raytheon Co. will end up paying a premium, knowing their suppliers aren’t destroying the planet.

“It’s our big bet on green mining,” Albornoz said from the project site, near the town of Penco, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Santiago. “The chemicals may be more expensive, but we’re saving in storage and handling of waste,” with none of the tailings dams that disfigure the landscape in China.

Market Slump

Albornoz, a metallurgical engineer from Concepcion, declined to reveal the biodegradable chemical formula, which the company is in the process of patenting.

It’s not the best time to be developing a rare-earth project, according to research firm Stormcrow Capital Ltd.

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