Space race: Luxembourg aims to be leader in asteroid mining
The government of Luxembourg, a small European country bordered by Belgium, France and Germany, announced ea...
Space mining is no longer science fiction.
The government of Luxembourg, a small European country bordered by Belgium, France and Germany, announced earlier this week it will financially back commercial asteroid mining in an effort "to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources."
“Things are moving in the United States and it was high time there was an initiative in Europe, and I am glad the first initiative is coming from Luxembourg,” said newly appoint advisor for the project, Jean-Jacques Dordain. “It will give no excuse for European investors to go to California.”
Luxembourg has a long-standing reputation in the space industry and has played a major role in the development of satellite communications, including setting up one of the world’s largest satellite services company, SES.
The space mining industry is already attracting $2 billion a year in private investment, according to Deep Space Industries (DSI), a California-based asteroid mining firm that has praised the Luxembourg government for embracing the future. Left over from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, asteroids are estimated to contain base metals like iron ore, nickel and cobalt, as well as amounts of precious metals.
It’s believed the government is willing to fund as much as 45 percent of research and development projects in the area.
Etienne Schneider, the country’s vice-Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy said Luxembourg’s aim was “to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats.”
While extracting natural resources of asteroids and other space objects has long been a dream for investors and others, there are a few critical issues. For one, there is no collected proof-of-concept asteroid sample. There are also legal issues because asteroids are governed by the Outer Space Treaty, which states space and space objects don’t belong to any individual nation.
• Related: [INFOGRAPHIC] Moon mining: How it could work
"Anybody who wants to go to an asteroid now and extract a resource is facing a large legal open question," said Joanne Gabrynowicz, a director at the International Institute of Space Law.
A legal and regulatory framework on the future ownership of minerals extracted from objects in space is currently being developed by the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy.
While the jury is still out about asteroid mining, the possibility could become a reality sooner than we think (hope).
DRC selects Fortescue to develop giant hydro project
Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) government said on Tuesday Fortescue Metals Group would develop the Grand Inga hydroelectric power project, including a 4,800-megawatt dam that has already been committed to Chinese and Spanish developers.
Fortescue to develop dams for world's largest hydroelectric project
Australia's Fortescue confirmed it was in talks with Congo to develop a series of dams that could become the world's largest hydroelectric project, but it said no formal binding agreement had been concluded.
Fortescue's involvement is the latest twist in Congo's decades-long quest to expand Inga, whose two existing dams - completed in 1972 and 1982 - have a combined installed capacity of nearly 1,800 MW.
The proposed expansion of six more dams would bring capacity to over 40,000 MW, roughly double the size of China's Three Gorges dam, currently the world's largest. Total development costs have been estimated at up to $80bn.
In 2018, a Chinese consortium that includes China Three Gorges Corporation and a Spanish consortium that includes AEE Power signed a deal with Congo's government to develop the third dam, known as Inga 3.
Ground has yet to be broken on Inga 3 because of questions over its financial viability. Alexy Kayembe De Bampende, President Felix Tshisekedi's top infrastructure advisor, said the project would now be led by Fortescue.
"Fortescue will be the sole operator for the entire Grand Inga (3 to 8). Chinese & co are welcome to join Fortescue," he told Reuters."There has been discussion between Chinese (Three Gorges) & AEE and (Fortescue) since last year to work together."
Three Gorges and AEE Power did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
DRC's Grand Inga green energy project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs
In a memorandum of understanding signed between Fortescue and Congo in September 2020, Fortescue "acknowledges the existing potential rights held on Inga 3 by third parties".
"In the event that, for any reason, such rights to develop Inga 3 become available, the government of the DRC undertakes to secure for Fortescue Future Industries an exclusive first option to develop Inga 3," it said.
A senior official at the government's Agency for the Development and Promotion of Grand Inga (ADPI), speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ADPI had not been involved in the talks with Fortescue.
Fortescue chairman Andrew Forrest met Congo President Felix Tshisekedi on Sunday to discuss the project. Forrest said Fortescue would use the energy from Inga to produce hydrogen to export around the world.
"The capital cost of this will be many many tens of billions of dollars and direct and indirect employment will be in the hundreds of thousands," he told reporters.
Fortescue has said it plans to fund the majority of its green energy projects off its balance sheet, investing about $1bn a year of its own money.
Fortescue's statement was made in response to an article in the Australian Financial Review.
Meanwhile, Fortescue has teamed up with Hatch, Anglo American and BHP, to form a Green Hydrogen Consortium focused on ways of using green hydrogen to accelerate decarbonisation within their operations globally.