Alaska remains potential source for critical rare earth elements Posted Wednesday, August 01, – Many in Washington, D. It was the last producing rare earths mine in the country. Lisa Murkowski remarked during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing she held July 17 on domestic mineral security that China has leveraged its dominance in rare earth production in the past and could do it again at a time when the country is in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with the U.
In December President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing federal agencies to prioritize strategies to reduce U. The entire rare earths group made the list along with other more common metals such as aluminum, tungsten, cobalt and others. Rare earths are essential in the production of cell phones, hard drives, automobile catalytic converters and medical and military technologies. USGS Alaska Research Geologist Doug Kreiner said in an interview that rare earths are so vital to modern-day products because there are no known substitutes.
Heavy rare earths — such as europium, terbium, and ytterbium with a greater atomic weight — are used in products that rely on high-temperature magnets. More common lighter rare earths are used in a plethora of applications including LED displays, according to Kreiner. And demand for them will continue to grow as the world moves towards more hybrid and electric vehicles with high-performance lithium-ion batteries that also contain rare earths, he said.
Rare earths in Last Frontier As seems to be the case with most mineral commodities, Alaska holds its own rare earth resources. The prospect on southern Prince of Wales Island is approximately 40 percent heavy rare earths, according to Ucore, which are the hardest to come by. Overall, it holds roughly 5 million tons of ore with rare earth concentrations of 0. Ucore also holds rights to the Ruby rare earths prospect just north of the Yukon River in the Interior region along the Dalton Highway.
The Ruby batholith is in the Ray Mountains, which has large sheets of loose sediments up to feet thick that contain rare earths. Heavy minerals are more concentrated in lower terrain between the Ray Mountains and the Fort Hamlin Hills to the east, according to Ucore.
There are other potential rare earth belts extending from near Nome on the southern Seward Peninsula north and east to the southern flank of the Brooks Range as well as in the Porcupine River drainage of Northeast Alaska, Kreiner said. Ucore has shifted its focus to developing a rare earths separation plant that the company plans to locate in Ketchikan.
The company initially plans to start processing 1, to 2, tons of ore concentrate per year — eventually ramping up to double the processing quantities. MacGillivray said the concentrate would likely be re-leached in Ketchikan before being subjected to molecular recognition separation technology at the facility.