Montana Tech Prof on Need to Ramp Up Rare Earth in US
It's time to ramp up rare earth mining in America, especially if you want electric vehicles or so-called green energy. That's what Dr. Courtney Young, a professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at Montana Tech in Butte, argued in a recent guest opinion column.
Dr. Young joined us on our statewide radio talk show "Montana Talks" where we talked about the Montana-specific opportunities that might be available when it comes to rare earth mining and more.
One rare earth deposit in Montana that has recently gotten some attention is known as Sheep Creek.
Aaron Flint: Sheep Creek, Montana in the southern Bitterroot Valley near Sula. Have you heard much about this, and is that a promising deposit? And, is there a chance we could get access to that? Will the environmental regulators try to block that one as well?
Dr. Courtney Young: Well, the environmental regulators will try to do that. There's no doubt. But if these are indeed critical materials, and we have to have them from somewhere, we just need to make sure that we do it right. So we don't pollute the waters, that area Lemhi Pass-Sheep Creek has been known for a long time, access is not easy. So roads are going to have to be built in etcetera, etcetera. It's on federal land...and so it's not necessarily a slam dunk to get in there and do it. But people get in there and drill and they keep saying we got lots of rare earths up here. There are issues up there that need to be resolved.
As Dr. Young noted in his op-ed for The Billings Gazette, "Mineral imports rose 28.3% to $261.5 billion in 2020-2021. Today, about 50% of minerals are imported, higher than any time in our history."
One of the challenges in developing rare earth opportunities in America is the Chinese government and their ability to dump resources into the markets and manipulate prices. Dr. Young shared the story of a cobalt mine in Idaho that was ready to get up and running.
Dr. Courtney Young: And they were about 90% ready to go to production, and as soon as word came out- the Chinese heard about it, they took their reserves dumped cobalt on the market, the price fell, and the mine could not open. And when you control the market like that, there's nothing you can do except throw some money at it- like they do a lot of farmers, and what have you, to keep food on the table- you know, subsidies.
Full audio with Dr. Young is towards the end of the following podcast:
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