Michael Wurmser



Critical raw materials: the balance of power is changing


The world now knows what we’ve suspected for a long time: our vanadium, phosphate and titanium in southern Norway’s Øygrei area constitute a world-class deposit. On top of that, our wider Bjerkreim Exploration Project contains more than 70 billion tonnes of mineralised rock. So far, this measures down to 1,500 metres and yet, this is only a third of the depth of the ore body.

We’ve talked about what this means for Norway in terms of future regional and national economic prosperity, as it looks to lucrative industries other than oil and gas. And we’ve discussed how friendly neighbour, Norway, can act as a catalyst to securing supplies of these EU Critical Raw Materials to Europe in years to come.

I’d now like to address what our vast deposits of these globally sought-after minerals mean further afield in the world, starting with Asia.

India: the need for phosphate fertilisers

India has the second largest population in the world. In 2020, that stood at 1.380 billion. By 2025, it’s expected to burgeon to above 1.656 billion people. It’s no surprise then, that fertilisers have played a major role in improving crop yields, and giving India more security in its food supplies; these will continue to act as lifelines in years to come. Historically, India has relied on imported phosphate rock to feed its people.

Import reliance

India currently imports the majority of its phosphate from Morocco and Western Sahara. At one point, India was importing nearly 1.1 million tonnes of rock phosphate from Morocco – 22% of India’s total import of rock phosphate. But there have been growing fears about it being mined in politically unstable places. Significantly, India also gets some of its phosphate supplies from China; more on this in a moment.

Alternative supply

Concern has also been rife about it being a finite resource that will run out within a few decades. It’s been estimated that the world will reach ‘peak phosphorus’ in 2030. And there’s more: environmentalists claim the use of chemical fertilisers in India is causing widespread nitrogen pollution that’s damaging soil and water supplies. Although our discoveries in Norway have thrown the peak phosphorus concept out the window, what’s clear is that it’s strategically important that India finds an alternative, safe, secure supply in the future.

In the Indian government’s own words: “The  government has been encouraging Indian Companies to establish joint ventures abroad in countries which are rich in fertilizer resources”

China: the need for (its own) phosphorus & vanadium

China is also a phosphate behemoth. In 2019, it was estimated that China possessed 3.2 billion tonnes of phosphate rock. What’s more, it’s the world’s top vanadium producer; in 2019 it’s claimed to have generated 40,000 metric tonnes. The country is about to announce its 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) for social and economic development – and it’s certain that its latest roadmap will have an impact on an array of commodity markets. No doubt, material self-sufficiency will be top of its agenda. With its new carbon neutrality pledge, it is generally expected that China will spur on further growth in wind and solar power.

Renewables on the rise

If its dependency on renewables is set to soar, its ability to store its green energy will need to rise in tandem. The lesser known key to that is vanadium – an extraordinary, powerhouse of renewable energy storage. It’s a possibility, then, that China may soon want to keep its vanadium for itself. That may prove true, also, of its own phosphorus reserves that are likely to be needed for its own food security in the future – especially with the largest population in the world.

Isolationist policies

And there is a precedent to such isolationist policies, that have made the world – and in particular, the United States – jittery. China is also home to the largest deposit of 17 rare earth metals, such as lithium and cobalt. As the dominant global producer, with 80% of them found and refined in China, they constitute a lucrative business for Asia’s biggest economy. It’s also proving to be a politically valuable commodity; The Financial Times reported in February that China was exploring limiting the export of rare earth metals that are crucial for the manufacture of American F-35 fighter jets and other ‘sophisticated US weaponry’. Rare earth metals are also central to the manufacture of products like smartphones, electric vehicles and wind turbines.

Weaponizing of resources?

All eyes – European ones included – are now on Beijing to see how far it will take the political weaponizing of its rare earth metals (and potentially other raw materials). Nowhere are eyes more peeled than in the Washington, after recent strained Sino-US relations – and talks of a ‘new Cold War’.

US: the need for titanium – and many other materials

President Joe Biden may well usher in an era of less polemical relations between the superpowers, but what is unchanged, is America’s insatiable thirst for raw materials. As a goliath in the world, that goes without saying. Its aerospace sector is by far the largest consumer of titanium metal. And it’s said to have imported more than 90% of the 1.4 million metric tonnes of the titanium minerals it consumed in 2019.

Clean energy economy

Vanadium is also used by the US in its defence industry and critical infrastructure; again, it’s almost entirely reliant on imports for this (Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada and South Korea). Interestingly, not from China – its duties had become too high. Following the announcement of Joe Biden’s $2 trillion environmental plan to “achieve ‘a 100% clean energy economy” and reach “net-zero emissions no later than 2050” it’ll be interesting to see whether the US pays more attention to vanadium redox flow batteries for renewable energy storage.

Norway: a neutral player

So, where does this leave Norway – and specifically Norge Mining’s world-class deposit of EU Critical Raw Materials? Considered a ‘neutral’ state, Norway is not part of the European Union, but is a friendly neighbour to Europe and the rest of the world. As I’ve described, the global trade landscape is shifting and demand is soaring. A tug of war for critical raw materials – like vanadium, phosphate and titanium – will no doubt ensue. And it’s very possible that Norway might find itself geographically – and strategically – in the middle.