Friday, September 17, 2010
"Green" mining investments?
Mining is one segment of my “green” investing strategy with which some might not agree. I would argue that mining is absolutely essential to most “green” technologies, including wind power, solar power, super-conductivity, advanced battery designs, highly efficient LED lighting and smart-grid just for a start. Without the metals and other diverse elements supplied by the mining companies of the world, modern electronics and “green” technologies would not exist. Silver and gold, copper and iron have always been important to the electronics industry. Just as important to modern semiconductors are the “rare earth” elements.
The rare earth elements are not really rare but are quite common and well distributed in the earth’s crust. They are, however, fairly difficult to purify into usable form. The rare earth group consists of 17 elements mostly in the lanthanide series of the periodic table. They most commonly occur in nature as oxides and are often intermixed at the same location. Highly-concentrated deposits suitable for mining operations are well distributed around the planet.
The problem today is China’s domination of rare earth mining and production. China now produces over 97% of commercially used rare earth elements. This situation came about because Chinese production was cheap and rare earth elements were an excellent export commodity. The rise of the native Chinese electronics industry increased domestic demand for rare earths. China is in the process of stopping export of these essential elements.
The need for more locally produced rare earth elements is putting a spotlight on mining and refining companies capable of replacing Chinese supply. There is no shortage of these companies and most of them are quite “cheap”. When the major electronics producers start feeling the pinch of reduced Chinese rare earth export policy these mining companies are in a position to see rapid, long term growth and share-price increases. A few of the companies I watch most closely are Great Western Minerals Group(GWMGF), Avalon Rare Metals(AVARF) and Sociedad Quimica Y Minera(SQM).
Let me reinforce the importance of the rare earth elements to “green” technology. These elements are used in almost all semiconductors including photovoltaic and PETE(photon enhanced thermal emission) cells. Rare earths are absolutely necessary for the strong magnets needed for efficient wind power and hydroelectric generation. Low-temperature superconductors require rare earth elements. LED lighting depends on rare earths. Many lasers, high-refractive-index glass formulations, colors for phosphors and LED’s and glass, fluorescent lamp bulbs, ceramic capacitors and portable x-ray machines all depend on rare earth elements.
My view is rare earth mining and production companies outside of China are a great short- and long-term investment. They should do nothing but continue to increase in value and share price(unless bought by a larger or wealthier competitor). Our part as “green” investors is to push them as hard as we can to make their mining and production operations as “green” as possible. It is also our responsibility to push the EPA and all other responsible government bodies with oversight authority to do their duty and ensure all rules and regulations are followed.