At least fifteen more boreholes will be drilled in Lääne-Viru County this year to obtain more information about rare earth metals in phosphate rock, regional newspaper Virumaa Teataja reported.
Both phosphate rock and rare-earth metals are classified as strategic raw materials in the EU. The risks to the security of supply of rare-earth metals, which are used extensively in green technologies, are very high because their biggest supplier on the global market is China.
The director of the Geological Survey of Estonia, Sirli Sipp Kull, said the size of the market for rare-earth metals is estimated to amount to €3 billion annually, and to five times that figure in 10 years.
The Geological Survey of Estonia will drill the holes in Lääne-Viru County this year to carry out phosphate rock surveys.
Tiit Kaasik, head of the department for geological resources at the Geological Survey of Estonia, said surveys will be conducted at seven locations in Rakvere and Viru-Nigula. Three boreholes, about 30 meters deep, will be drilled at each site.
The boreholes, except for in two cases, will be filled immediately after the end of the works. The others will be drilled to a depth of about 60 meters to serve as groundwater monitoring wells.
The locations chosen for the drilling works are situated away from households and felling sites where possible. Kaasik said most of the boreholes are to be drilled and also filled still this year.
"The two surveying points that will serve as monitoring wells might be left for next spring if we don't have enough time this year," Kaasik added.
Kalle Kirsimae, professor at the department of geology at the University of Tartu, said the work group led by him will try to find out how and why rare-earth metals are present in Estonia's phosphate rock.
"We will try and retrieve them from it [the rock], but right now there's no functioning technology to get phosphoric acid and separate metals at the same time," he told the newspaper.
Andres Trikkel, professor of physical chemistry at Tallinn University of Technology, said that his work group will be testing hydrochloric acid-based processing of phosphate rock rather than the usual treatment using sulphuric acid to understand how it works and whether it is possible to separate rare earth metals this way.
He said while the use of hydrochloric acid for the processing of phosphate rock is not new, it has never been tested on Estonian phosphate rock.
Editor: Helen Wright