Insight: South Korea hunts tungsten savor in bustle for rare minerals

Insight: South Korea hunts tungsten savor in bustle for rare minerals

5/5 © Reuters. An employee guides internal a tungsten mine in Gangwon Province, South Korea, March 31, 2022. Image taken March 31, 2022. REUTERS/ Heo Ran 2/5

By Ju-min Park and Joe Brock

SANGDONG, South Korea (Reuters) – Blue tungsten winking from the walls of deserted mine shafts, in a town that’s seen better days, normally is a catalyst for South Korea’s say to interrupt China’s dominance of severe minerals and stake its mumble to the raw affords of the long dawdle.

The mine in Sangdong, 180 km southeast of Seoul, is being brought help from the tiring to extract the rare metallic that’s came all over new cost within the digital age in applied sciences starting from telephones and chips to electric autos and missiles.

“Why reopen it now after 30 years? Since it design sovereignty over natural resources,” acknowledged Lee Dong-seob, vice president of mine owner Almonty Korea Tungsten Corp.

“Sources bask in change into weapons and strategic property.”

Sangdong is one of no longer much less than 30 severe mineral mines or processing crops globally which had been launched or reopened outdoors China over the final four years, basically based on a Reuters overview of initiatives launched by governments and corporations. These encompass initiatives increasing lithium in Australia, rare earths within the United States and tungsten in Britain.

The dimensions of the plans illustrates the stress felt by worldwide locations internationally to real affords of severe minerals understanding to be very significant for the fairway vitality transition, from lithium in EV batteries to magnesium in laptops and neodymium came all over in wind turbines.

Overall attach a matter to for such rare minerals is anticipated to amplify four-fold by 2040, the International Vitality Company acknowledged final year. For those stale in electric autos and battery storage, attach a matter to is projected to grow 30-fold, it added.

Many worldwide locations seek for their minerals power as a topic of national safety because China controls the mining, processing or refining of diverse those resources.

The Asian powerhouse is the ultimate provider of severe minerals to the United States and Europe, basically based on a watch by the China Geological Behold in 2019. Of the 35 minerals the United States has labeled as severe, China is the ultimate provider of 13, along with rare earth substances very significant for smooth-vitality applied sciences, the watch came all over. China is the ultimate offer of 21 key minerals for the European Union, equivalent to antimony stale in batteries, it acknowledged.

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“In the severe raw cloth restaurant, China is sitting eating its dessert, and the comfort of the world is within the taxi reading the menu,” acknowledged Julian Kettle, senior vice president for metals and mining at consultancy Wood MacKenzie.


The stakes are namely excessive for South Korea, house of major chipmakers esteem Samsung Electronics (OTC: SSNLF). The nation is the world’s biggest person of tungsten per capita and relies on China for 95% of its imports of the metallic, which is prized for its unrivalled energy and its resistance to heat.

China controls over 80% of world tungsten affords, basically based on CRU Physique of workers, London-basically based commodity analysts.

The mine at Sangdong, a as soon as bustling town of 30,000 residents that’s now house to trusty 1,000, holds one of many world’s biggest tungsten deposits and might well also fabricate 10% of world provide when it opens subsequent year, basically based on its owner.

Lewis Dismal, CEO of Almonty Korea’s Canadian-basically based guardian Almonty Industries, informed Reuters that it deliberate to provide about half of of the operation’s processed output to the domestic market in South Korea in its build to Chinese provide.

“It be straightforward to retract from China and China is the ultimate shopping and selling partner of South Korea however they know they’re over-dependent,” Dismal acknowledged. “It be significant to bask in a understanding B factual now.”

Sangdong’s tungsten, came all over in 1916 all around the Eastern colonial know-how, changed into as soon as a spine of the South Korean financial system, accounting for 70% of the nation’s export earnings within the 1960s when it changed into largely stale in metallic-reducing instruments.

The mine changed into closed in 1994 due to more cost effective provide of the mineral from China, which made it commercially unviable, however now Almonty is having a bet that attach a matter to, and prices will continue to upward push pushed by the digital and green revolutions in addition to a increasing desire by worldwide locations to diversify their provide sources.

European prices of 88.5% minimum paratungstate – the precious raw cloth ingredient in tungsten merchandise – are shopping and selling around $346 per tonne, up bigger than 25% from a year ago and terminate to their top ranges in five years, basically based on pricing agency Asian Metallic.

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The Sangdong mine is being modernised, with mammoth tunnels being dug underground, while work has also started on a tungsten crushing and grinding plant.

“We should always always peaceful sustain operating this extra or much less mine so that new applied sciences will also be handed over to the following generations,” acknowledged Kang Dong-hoon, a manager in Sangdong, the build a “Pleasure of Korea” brand is displayed on a wall of the mine place of job.

“We now bask in got been lost within the mining industry for 30 years. If we lose this likelihood, then there’ll doubtless be no extra.”

Almonty Industries has signed a 15-year deal to promote tungsten to Pennsylvania-basically based International Tungsten & Powders, a provider to the U.S. army, which variously uses the metallic in artillery shell guidelines, rockets and satellite antennae.

Yet there are no guarantees of prolonged-length of time success for the mining neighborhood, which is investing about $100 million within the Sangdong mission. Such ventures should always peaceful peaceful fight to compete with China and there are concerns amongst some industry experts that developed worldwide locations is no longer going to note via on commitments to diversify provide chains for severe minerals.


Seoul set apart up an Economic Security Key Gadgets Taskforce after a provide disaster final November when Beijing tightened exports of urea solution, which many South Korean diesel autos are required by legislation to make consume of to nick help emissions. Nearly 97% of South Korea’s urea got here from China at the time and shortages precipitated dread-shopping for at filling stations all around the nation.

The Korean Mine Rehabilitation and Sources Company (KOMIR), a executive agency to blame for national handy resource safety, informed Reuters it had dedicated to subsidise about 37% of Sangdong’s tunnelling charges and would take into tale extra give a own to to mitigate any capacity environmental distress.

Incoming President Yoon Seok-yeol pledged in January to nick help mineral dependence on “a definite nation”, and final month launched a new handy resource plan that can allow the executive to share stockpiling data with the non-public sector.

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South Korea is no longer alone.

The US, European Union and Japan bask in all launched or up as much as now national severe mineral provide solutions over the final two years, laying out mountainous plans to make investments in extra rather a pair of provide traces to nick help their reliance on China.

Mineral provide chains bask in also change into a feature of diplomatic missions. 

Final year, Canada and the European Union launched a strategic partnership on raw affords to nick help dependence on China, while South Korea only within the near previous signed collaboration deals with Australia and Indonesia on mineral provide chains. 

“Present-chain diplomacy will doubtless be prioritised by many governments within the approaching years as having access to severe raw affords for the fairway and digital transition has change into a top priority,” acknowledged Henning Gloystein, director of vitality and local weather resources at the Eurasia Physique of workers consultancy.

In November, China’s top economic planner acknowledged it might probably step up exploration of strategic mineral resources along with rare earths, tungsten and copper


Funding globally of $200 billion in extra mining and smelter capacity is obligatory to fulfill severe mineral provide attach a matter to by 2030, 10 occasions what’s being dedicated currently, Kettle acknowledged.

Yet initiatives bask in confronted resistance from communities who don’t desire a mine or smelter terminate to their properties.

In January, shall we embrace, stress from environmentalists precipitated Serbia to revoke Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO)’s lithium exploration licence while U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration cancelled two leases for Antofagasta (LON: ANTO)’s copper and nickel mines in Minnesota. 

In Sangdong, some residents are uncertain that the mine will fortify their lives.

“Many people in this town didn’t take into consideration the mine would the truth is near help,” acknowledged Kim Kwang-gil, 75, who for a few years lived off the tungsten he panned from a circulate flowing down from the mine when it operated.

“The mine does no longer need as many people as earlier than, because all the things is accomplished by machines.”

GRAPHIC-S.Korea’s reliance on China for critical minerals (jpeg)

GRAPHIC-S.Korea’s reliance on China for critical minerals (interactive)


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