The discovery of rare earth elements in Turkey presents a challenge to China’s stronghold over digital technology in the West.
Rare earth elements, like energy, underlie the infrastructural needs of a smooth-running, modern society. They are critical to common communication devices—such as cell phones and computers—but are also essential components in a lot of ‘green’ technology, such as electric cars and wind turbines.
The world market for rare earth elements has so far been dominated by China. The Far East country has the largest known reserve of rare earth elements at 800 million tons, accounting for 30% of the global market. But this balance of natural resource power is about to shift, since Turkey recently discovered the world’s second largest rare earth element reserve in central Anatolia, coming in at an estimated 694 million tons.
Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Dönmez said that drilling work had started already in 2011 and that the estimate of the size of the reserve is based on a full analysis of the collected samples. According to Dönmez, the field is extremely close to the surface, making it relatively cheap to extract the elements. Out of the 17 known rare elements, Turkey will be able to extract 10 from the reserve.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans to establish “a production facility that will process ore.” Once the trial production results are in, industrial facilities will be established. “Our goal is to process 570,000 tons of ore annually when this facility reaches full capacity, 10,000 tons of rare earth oxides, 72,000 tons of barite, 70,000 tons of fluorite, and 250 tons of thorium,” said Erdogan.
According to Minister Dönmez, the goal is to use the reserves as a gateway to further establish a high-end industry in Turkey. “If you earn one unit when you sell the ore you extract without processing, you can make it ten times more valuable when you turn it into an intermediate product, and 100 times more when you turn it into an end product,” explained Dönmez. His sights are clearly on industrial production:
We will first produce the materials that our industry needs, but we will have the opportunity to export more than we need. It will be one of the good examples of our new economy model focused on investment, employment, production, and export, which we frequently express in the Turkish Economy Model. We will have the opportunity to realize all the products of the supply chain from the first product to the end product here. Our goal is to produce high-tech, value-added products from this field and offer them to our people.
For Turkey, the discovery of the reserves is most welcome good news, as the country is currently suffering from hyper-inflation that has hit the 78% mark.