2021-12-22 10:30:07 –
Elk Creek, Nebraska — Far below the rolling farmlands of southeastern Nebraska, there are deposits of elements that can be used to make steel and aluminum stronger. Extracting them seems to be just the kind of project that President Joe Biden claimed to reduce the US’s reliance on foreign suppliers of important minerals.
However, the mines proposed to recover minerals (niobium, scandium, titanium) instead offer case studies of the difficulty of actually launching such a project in the United States.
Challenges begin with the enormous amount of money needed to build a mine, but also include capricious customers, stricter national environmental regulations, volatile markets, and fierce international competition. As a result, despite years of effort, Nebraska mines may never be built.
Analyst David Abraham wrote a book on the mining of rare earth elements.
Undoubtedly, money is the biggest obstacle to the mining company Nio Corp’s plan to build a mine about 80 miles (130 km) south of Omaha. The company estimates that it will need about $ 1 billion, so far it hasn’t secured enough major investors, and the federal government has shown little willingness to share that cost.
The United States relies on imports of 35 substances currently designated as important minerals, such as niobium, scandium, and titanium. The United States is entirely dependent on 14 imports, with foreign producers providing more than half of the supply of the other 14 substances, especially in China.
Recently, supply has been tight and the prices of key elements used in lightweight magnets for electric vehicles and other high-tech products have skyrocketed. In 2011, a new export regulation by China caused a sudden shortage of 17 rare earth elements.
Niobium is mixed with steel to make the alloy stronger, lighter, more heat resistant and corrosion resistant. Used in bridges, oil rigs, pipelines and jet engines. Most of the US supply comes from open pit mines in Brazil. The United States has never experienced a serious shortage, but the government is fully concerned about maintaining a supply of defense stockpiles.
Scandium can make aluminum stronger and is used in some special lasers and will be more widely used if more supplies are available.Most come from China and are produced in small quantities in the Philippines, Russia, Canada and Kazakhstan.
The titanium that NioCorp wants to produce is mainly used in the production of paints. Unlike niobium and scandium, there are several mines in the United States, but more than half of titanium is imported from China and other countries.
Tests have found some of the most popular elements on Nebraska’s site, according to company officials, but it’s not yet clear if it’s enough to be commercially viable.
Even if NioCorp could come up with funding for the mine, its profitability could depend on whether the mineral was cheaper than the supply of foreign competitors.
“Knowing the existence of geologically attractive deposits does not guarantee commercial viability,” said Professor Rod Egart, deputy director of the Colorado School of Mines’ Institute for Important Materials. I am.
NioCorp has been actively exploring the site for seven years, drilling samples from a depth of 3,000 feet (900 meters) above the surface. The company raised $ 6.2 million to buy land earlier this year and has raised about $ 60 million since 2015.
Nearly half of NioCorp’s 6,400 shareholders live in Nebraska, not far from the project. This proposal has received the required major state and federal environmental permits.
However, the Nebraska project is one of dozens of important mineral projects around the world at various stages of development, competing for investors.
“As the largest shareholder of this company, I can be confident that there is nothing I want to do faster than raising funds. We are doing our best to achieve that,” he said, owning 19 million shares. We lend more than $ 2 million in our own funds to the company.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration focused on rare earth elements in its supply chain review, investigating the impact of heavy import reliance on national security. The Task Force is planned to identify US sites for production.
The new $ 1 trillion infrastructure program, which provides incentives for electric vehicles and wind power, is expected to boost demand for key minerals.
“It always helps when the public understands that the government is interested in these areas,” said Smith of Nio Corp. “But I’ve been in this business for a very long time (more than 40 years). I think it’s time for us to stop studying these issues and start something about them.”
Nebraska project finds key minerals, but can it mine them? Source link Nebraska project finds key minerals, but can it mine them?
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