The team of researchers from Europe that was in the country few months ago says preliminary results of their findings show that Malawi has potential for raw materials used in green technologies.
The findings were based on a study of mineral elements in the Lake Chilwa Alkaline province, specifically targeting Songwe Hill, a potential area for rare earth element minerals.
In a statement released last week and published in the Ore Geology Reviews journal, the research team said that the new findings could pave the way for mining companies to significantly increase the likelihood of enhancing the global security of the supply of critical rare earth elements.
The statement said the new research reveals that the Songwe Hill carbonatite, an igneous rock containing at least 50 percent carbonate minerals, is composed not just of the relatively common rare earth mineral synchysite, but also the heavy rare earth-enriched variety of the mineral apatite.
It further said the apatite is the key to why Songwe has a higher content of heavy rare earths than most other similar types of carbonatite host rock.
“The occurrence of heavy rare earth rich apatite is particularly uncommon in carbonatites. Our work indicates that you need to ‘simmer’ these rocks in hot fluids to cause heavy rare earth enrichment.
“This is particularly useful as combined extraction of both light rare earth minerals and the heavy rare earth rich apatite creates a well-balanced deposit potentially suitable to support the growing magnetics industry,” Sam Broom-Fendley, lead author of the study, said.
Professor of Applied Mineralogy at Camborne School of Mines, Frances Wall, said a better understanding of how and where heavy rare earths can be concentrated helps exploration companies improve their deposit models and increases the chances of a new rare earth deposit coming into production.
Mkango Resources Chief Executive Officer, William Dawes, said the company is very pleased to have collaborated on this pioneering research into heavy rare earth enrichment at Songwe.
“Our focus is on developing a new sustainable source of light and heavy rare earths outside China. Pushing the boundaries of research into rare earths through collaborations with leaders in the field is a core theme of the company’s strategy,” he said.
Presently, many of the 15 naturally occurring rare earth elements are essential components in the vast majority of green and digital technology production and advances.
These include neodymium, a ‘light rare earth’ element vital for the production of permanent magnets in electric cars, wind turbines and smartphones; and ‘heavy rare earth’ elements such as dysprosium, europium and terbium which are used in lighting, anti-fraud and safety technologies.
However, all 15 are considered as “critical raw materials” by the European Union, due to risks of disruption to the supply by the dominant global producer, China.