Rare earth and uranium projects are considered to require extensive technical development in order to successfully implement and establish economically-robust and sustainable mining operations. This can take many years. In this respect, Kvanefjeld is a project with a much longer and more comprehensive history than most.
First discovered by scientists in the 1950’s, Kvanefjeld was the subject of extensive work programs through the 1960’s, 70’s and into the 1980’s. These programs were funded by the Danish government and carried out by highly trained scientists. The historic studies investigated the geology and mineralogy of the Kvanefjeld area and established initial mineral resources. Historically, drill cores were analysed using geophysical (spectral) methods that identified only the uranium and thorium concentrations. The lack of multi-element chemical assays precluded the resource estimation of other components.
Extensive investigations were also made into processing the resources to extract uranium. After investigating a number of techniques, scientists established an alkaline pressure leach methodology that proved to be a highly effective means of extracting uranium. An adit was driven 900m through the Kvanefjeld resource for the extraction of bulk samples. The samples were shipped to Europe where extensive piloting of the processing method was successfully carried out. The final phases of the historical work programs involved a comprehensive feasibility assessment that included studies into mining and processing, environmental management, and infrastructure studies that including the investigation of establishing new hydro-electric power capacity to power the mine and processing plant.
Whilst much of the historical process development focused on uranium, the behavior of other metals was also documented through various phases of testwork, particularly the behavior of rare earth elements. In 1983, the Danish government decided not to pursue the option of nuclear power, and work programs on Kvanefjeld ceased. Ironically, this decision shortly followed some of the major technological developments on the project, which laid a clear path for the establishment of a mining operation.
Today, the funds expended on historical work programs would amount to approximately 250 M Danish Kroner in real dollar value, or approximately $50 M (USD).
Overview of Kvanefjeld plateau. The adit penetrated over 800m through the Kvanefjeld resource to facilitate the extraction of bulk material
The Modern Era (Greenland Minerals): A multi-element approach
For 24 years activity on Kvanefjeld retreated to a state of dormancy, until it caught the attention of Greenland Minerals and Energy Limited (GMEL), an Australian-domiciled but Greenland-focused exploration and development company.
With the acquisition of the Kvanefjeld project by GMEL in 2007 came a new approach. Geoscientists that had studied the Ilimaussaq complex had recognized the potential for substantial resources of rare earth elements, but this had never been properly evaluated. During historical resource studies, drill cores had only been analysed using spectral methods, such that comprehensive data existed for uranium and thorium only. GMEL’s first exploration program in 2007 confirmed that Kvanefjeld was clearly shaping up as an important resource of rare earth elements, as well as a uranium resource of global significance. Accordingly, this shifted the metallurgical focus to incorporate a greater emphasis onto the extraction of the rare earths, particularly given the previous advances that had already been made into uranium extraction.
All components of the historical work programs have been made available to GMEL, including historical drill core, and all technical reports.
Today, Kvanefjeld is recognized as one of the most substantial mineral resources of its kind globally, and with the recent discovery of three satellite deposits; the overall resource base of the northern Ilimaussaq Complex will continue to grow for many years to come.