rare earths

Critical mineral resources of the United States

The U.S. Geological Survey has just published a new assessment of mineral resources vital to our modern economy: Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply, Professional Paper 1802

Edited by:Klaus J. Schulz , John H. DeYoung Jr. , Robert R. Seal II , and Dwight C. Bradley

You can download the entire book (148 Mb) and/or individual chapters here:



The book consists of two introductory chapters and 20 chapters which each discuss the geology, mineralogy, and occurrence of specific mineral commodities. Note that the U.S. is entirely dependent on imports for 20 critical minerals (see page 6 of this publication for a chart:https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2017/mcs2017.pdf )

The following map from PP1802 shows where the U.S. gets minerals for which we are at least 50 percent dependent on imports.


The first chapter in PP1802 justifies the need for this report as follows:

The global demand for mineral commodities is at an all time high and is expected to continue to increase, and the development of new technologies and products has led to the use of a greater number of mineral commodities in increasing quantities to the point that, today, essentially all naturally occurring elements have several significant industrial uses. Although most mineral commodities are present in sufficient amounts in the earth to provide adequate supplies for many years to come, their availability can be affected by such factors as social constraints, politics, laws, environmental regulations, land-use restrictions, economics, and infrastructure.

This volume presents updated reviews of 23 mineral commodities and commodity groups viewed as critical to a broad range of existing and emerging technologies, renewable energy, and national security. The commodities or commodity groups included are antimony, barite, beryllium, cobalt, fluorine, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, indium, lithium, manganese, niobium, platinum-group elements, rare-earth elements, rhenium, selenium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, vanadium, and zirconium. All these commodities have been listed as critical and (or) strategic in one or more of the recent studies based on assessed likelihood of supply interruption and the possible cost of such a disruption to the assessor. For some of the minerals, current production is limited to only one or a few countries. For many, the United States currently has no mine production or any significant identified resources and is largely dependent on imports to meet its needs. As a result, the emphasis in this volume is on the global distribution and availability of each mineral commodity. The environmental issues related to production of each mineral commodity, including current mitigation and remediation approaches to deal with these challenges, are also addressed.

See also:

American non-fuel mineral production 2016

This article notes: The value of all non-fuel minerals produced from U.S. mines was $74.6 billion, a slight increase over production in 2015. “ Domestic raw materials and domestically recycled materials were used to process mineral materials worth $675 billion. These mineral materials were, in turn, consumed by downstream industries with an estimated value of $2.78 trillion in 2016.” Nevada was ranked first with a total mineral production value of $7.65 billion, mainly from gold. Arizona came in second in total production with a value of $5.56 billion and first in U.S. copper production.


Deep sea mud provides potential source of rare-earth minerals

Research and drilling by Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology claims to have found deposits of rare earth minerals in deep sea muds in the Pacific, much of it in international waters surrounding Hawaii.

According to Reuters, the Japanese agency found “the minerals in sea mud extracted from depths of 3,500 to 6,000 meters (11,500-20,000 ft) below the ocean surface at 78 locations.” “One-third of the sites yielded rich contents of rare earths and the metal yttrium.” The deposits, in international waters in an area stretching east and west of Hawaii, as well as east of Tahiti in French Polynesia, are estimated to contain 80- to 100 billion tons of rare earth elements which could be extracted by simple acid leaching.

A letter in the British journal Nature Geoscience gives a little more detail:

World demand for rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium—which are crucial for novel electronic equipment and green-energy technologies—is increasing rapidly. Several types of seafloor sediment harbor high concentrations of these elements. However, seafloor sediments have not been regarded as a rare-earth element and yttrium resource, because data on the spatial distribution of these deposits are insufficient. Here, we report measurements of the elemental composition of over 2,000 seafloor sediments, sampled at depth intervals of around one meter, at 78 sites that cover a large part of the Pacific Ocean. We show that deep-sea mud contains high concentrations of rare-earth elements and yttrium at numerous sites throughout the eastern South and central North Pacific. We estimate that an area of just one square kilometer, surrounding one of the sampling sites, could provide one-fifth of the current annual world consumption of these elements. Uptake of rare-earth elements and yttrium by mineral phases such as hydrothermal iron-oxyhydroxides and phillipsite seems to be responsible for their high concentration. We show that rare-earth elements and yttrium are readily recovered from the mud by simple acid leaching, and suggest that deep-sea mud constitutes a highly promising huge resource for these elements.

It remains to be seen if these very deep resources can actually be economically recovered.

See also:

China Controls Rare Earth Elements Supply

Rare Earths Resources in the US

Sierrita Mine is only U.S. source of Rhenium


Rare Earth Resources in the US

Last month I wrote about how China controls about 97% of the rare earth market. Some uses of rare earth elements include liquid-crystal displays on computer monitors and televisions, fiber optic cables, magnets, glass polishing, DVD and USB drives in the computer, catalytic converters, and petroleum cracking catalysts, batteries (the Prius uses 10 pounds of lanthanum), fluorescent lights, missiles, jet engines, and satellites. In other words, these elements are critical to our high-technology world.

The United States has rare earth resources, but except for Mountain Pass, California, these resources are not being exploited.

The United States Geological Survey has just published an assessment of U.S. resources. The report, Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5220 (4.2Mb), maybe be downloaded free. For an introduction and links to sections of the report, go here.

The report includes an overview of the geology and mineralogy of rare earth element deposits and gives a description of each domestic prospect.

The USGS estimates that domestic reserves and inferred resources are about 1.5 million tons which is large compared to the peak domestic consumption (in 2007) of 10,200 tons.

If you are interested in this subject, take a look.


Research Review #2: The Blue Mystery, toads, and rare earth metals

From time to time I will summarize new science research from recently published, or about-to-be published papers. Usually, notice of the research comes in the form of press releases from universities that are made available to the media. Although the Arizona Daily Star sometimes prints science stories, their selection of stories seems to be confined to reprints of AP articles. So here are some of the stories I didn’t see in the Star.

The Blue Mystery


Most Egyptian pottery is undecorated, but during the New Kingdom, the period when Egypt was at the zenith of its power, a variety of pottery was elegantly decorated in a distinctive pale blue.

Most blue comes from copper, but “Copper-based pigments must be applied in thick layers and were added after firing, so they tended to flake off when an object was handled. Instead of copper, the colorant used on most of the blue painted pottery is cobalt, which was fired onto the pots.” Where did the cobalt mineral come from? “Generic Geologist” Jennifer Smith finds the source. See: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/20426.aspx


New alloys key to efficient energy and lighting


A recent advance by Arizona State University researchers in developing nanowires could lead to more efficient photovoltaic cells for generating energy from sunlight, and to better light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that could replace less energy-efficient incandescent light bulbs.


Mastery of Rare-earth Elements Vital to America’s Security

Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, today cautioned members of a Congressional panel that “rare-earth research in the USA on mineral extraction, rare-earth separation, processing of the oxides into metallic alloys and other useful forms, substitution, and recycling is virtually zero.” Rare-earth elements are critical components in the great majority of America’s high-tech commercial and military products. Yet the United States and other nations have ceded much of this alloying knowledge to China.


Glaciers Melting, not so fast

The melting of glaciers is well documented, but when looking at the rate at which they have been retreating, a team of international researchers steps back and says not so fast. Previous studies have largely overestimated mass loss from Alaskan glaciers over the past 40-plus years, according to Erik Schiefer, a Northern Arizona University geographer who coauthored a paper in the February issue of Nature Geoscience that recalculates glacier melt in Alaska. http://www4.nau.edu/insidenau/releases/2010/glacier.html

Were short warm periods typical for transitions between interglacial and glacial epochs?

Researchers evaluate climate fluctuations from 115,000 years ago

At the end of the last interglacial epoch, around 115,000 years ago, there were significant climate fluctuations. In Central and Eastern Europe, the slow transition from the Eemian Interglacial to the Weichselian Glacial was marked by a growing instability in vegetation trends with possibly at least two warming events. This is the finding of German and Russian climate researchers who have evaluated geochemical and pollen analyses of lake sediments in Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Russia. Writing in Quaternary International, scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Saxon Academy of Sciences (SAW) in Leipzig and the Russian Academy of Sciences say that a short warming event at the very end of the last interglacial period marked the final transition to the ice age.


Ancient Corals Hold New Hope for Reefs

Fossil corals, up to half a million years old, are providing fresh hope that coral reefs may be able to withstand the huge stresses imposed on them by today’s human activity.

Reef ecosystems were able to persist through massive environmental changes imposed by sharply falling sea levels during previous ice ages, an international scientific team has found. This provides new hope for their capacity to endure the increasing human impacts forecast for the 21st century. http://www.coralcoe.org.au/news_stories/lowsea.html

El Niño and a pathogen killed Costa Rican toad, study finds

Challenges evidence that global warming was the cause


Scientists broadly agree that global warming may threaten the survival of many plant and animal species; but global warming did not kill the Monteverde golden toad, an often cited example of climate-triggered extinction, says a new study. The toad vanished from Costa Rica’s Pacific coastal-mountain cloud forest in the late 1980s, the apparent victim of a pathogen outbreak that has wiped out dozens of other amphibians in the Americas. Many researchers have linked outbreaks of the deadly chytrid fungus to climate change, but the new study asserts that the weather patterns, at Monteverde at least, were not out of the ordinary.

The role that climate change played in the toad’s demise has been fiercely debated in recent years. The new paper, in the March 1 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to weigh in. In the study, researchers used old-growth trees from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to reconstruct moisture levels in that region over the last century. They expected to see global warming manifested in the form of a long-term warming or drying trend, but instead discovered that the forest’s dry spells closely tracked El Niño, the periodic and natural warming of waters off South America that brings drought to some places and added rainfall and snow to others. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-03/teia-ena030110.php