Saturday, June 15, 2024

NC lawmakers discuss ban Russia/China ownership of quartz mines

North Carolina lawmakers are discussing a House bill to ban adversary countries from taking ownership in North Carolina quartz mines or land containing “commercially valuable amounts of high purity quartz.”

“All the high purity quartz in the world is available in only one area of North Carolina,” Deputy President Pro Tem Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said at a hearing this week. He warned that there have been “multiple instance of trespassing by foreign nationals in the last year at the mines.”

The state senator was referring to mines near Spruce Pine that are owned by Belgium’s Sibelco and Norway’s The Quartz Corp. Both produce quartz that is increasingly valuable as a material used in semiconductor manufacturing. Hise’s district includes Spruce Pine.

Sibelco is investing $700 million on two N.C. mines, reflecting soaring demand for quartz with project completion slated for next year, the London’s Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The ban is part of the revised version of House Bill 385, which cleared the Senate’s Agriculture committee on Wednesday.

Why act now? “Adverse interests would love to get their hands on North Carolina quartz,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, a bill sponsor.

A recent book, “Material World,” highlighted the mines’ importance to the production of advanced computer chips. Quartz is pure enough that manufacturers can use it to make crucibles used in what’s called the Czochralski method. They hold silicon as it’s being heated and drawn into the crystals used in chip-making.

Given that the purity of those crystals is vital to the workings of the chips eventually made from them, it’s similarly vital that vessel holding the hot silicon doesn’t impart any impurities to it.

Hence the need for high-purity quartz. And “it is nigh on impossible to find” any as pure as Spruce Pine’s elsewhere in the world, author Ed Conway, economics editor of Britain’s Sky News, said in “Material World.”

“If you have any electronic device, you’re welcome,” Hise summarized.

The bill tracks the U.S. Department of Commerce definition of adversary countries, which legislators staffers say means China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

It also says ownership interests include options on the land, and even partial ownership of a mining operation. Any transfer of land in violation of the ban would be void.

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