Priceless Find German Geologists Stumble Across Huge Precious Metal Deposit
Geologists have found deposits of the rare metal molybdenum in the Erzgebirge mountain range in eastern Germany. The valuable find has triggered a gold rush mentality in the economically depressed area.
Normally someone who wants to strike a vein of gold or locate deposits of some other valuable metal has to leave the comforts of their office or home, perhaps with a pickax or large drill in hand. But now two geologists from the eastern German state of Saxony have demonstrated there are easier ways to strike pay dirt.
According to their research, about 7 million tones of ore with an unusually high concentration of the valuable metal molybdenum are waiting to be extracted from the ground near Sadisdorf, a village of 411 residents in the Erzgebirge mountain range in eastern Germany. The two geologists have already forged plans to begin mining operations within five to 10 years.
Although the general public may be unfamiliar with molybdenum, much modern technology would not work without the awkwardly named mineral. Without this precious ingredient, bird strikes would cause jet engines to explode. And oil pipelines are only capable of withstanding large amounts of pressure because molybdenum provides them with the necessary elasticity.
The world's main producers today are the United States, China, Chile and Peru. The surprising find in the eastern Erzgebirge -- the name translates as Ore Mountains -- could make the German market less dependent on imports in the future. This helps to explain the euphoria with which Tinco Exploration, a Canadian company, greeted the recent discovery. "The project in Saxony is our hottest commodity," says Tinco exploration manager Rainer Lehne, referring to the unexpected discovery of the molybdenum deposit.
In 2007, Tinco obtained a permit to conduct test digs for the metals tin and tungsten on the grounds of the Sadisdorf copper mine, which was shut down in 1953. Late last year, however, the Canadian investor appeared to have abandoned the project. As a result of the financial crisis, it had "become very difficult to pursue exploration projects," the Vancouver-based company said at the time.
Map: The Erzgebirge
The two mining veterans had gathered documents from 11 different archives to prepare to drill for tungsten. In the process, they stumbled upon the results of five test drills conducted in 1984 and 1988, when the area was still part of communist East Germany.
The only problem was that the two different drilling teams apparently had no knowledge of each another. Only by combining the test data from both exploratory drills were the geologists able to discover the treasure hidden in the ground in the former ore mining region. Schilka and Kühn were the first to put together the pieces of the puzzle. "Our predecessors simply overlooked it at the time," Schilka says. "But, then again, they weren't looking for molybdenum."
Molybdenum has been mined in Sadisdorf before, during World War I, when it was produced -- albeit in small amounts -- for a short time and used to make cannon for the Kaiser's army.
Ore containing molybdenum: The geologists stumbled upon the deposit after studying old archives.
Since the local press first reported the story, a gold rush mentality has taken hold in the economically undeveloped region. For the time being, however, geologist Kühn is the only one putting in more hours as a result. "After an article like this," he complains, "I'll have 50 job applications on my desk the next day."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan