Investment in the rare earth mining industry and energy transition

Mining companies spend billions of dollars on deals and investments for the energy transition rather than paying out money to shareholders. The mining industry wants to mine more copper, nickel, raw materials and rare-earth metals key to modern technology. BHP Group, the world’s largest mining company by market value, is close to acquiring copper and gold miner OZ Minerals Ltd for more than $6 billion. Rio Tinto, in turn, is investing in developing the over $7 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia.

The Chinese investigation into lithium mining irregularities could disrupt global supply chains for this critical metal for the energy transition. Officials are investigating environmental violations by companies suspected of mining lithium without permits at China’s most important lithium production site in Yichun, Jiangxi province. According to calculations by the CITIC Securities investment bank, shutting down operations at Yichun for a month could reduce global lithium supplies by 13%.

Due to their similarity to other metal ions, purification of rare-earth elements is burdensome and cost-effective in a few locations. However, Swiss ETH/EPF scientists have described the discovery of lanpepsy, a protein that binds rare earth elements, distinguishing them from other minerals and metals. This protein could contribute to developing biologically inspired processes for the sustainable purification of rare-earth elements.

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