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Inventory and Evaluation of Domestic and Global Byproduct Critical Mineral Resources

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The direct premise of this task is to assess the Nation's inventory of previously mined ore deposits for their rare metal contents by analyzing ore samples from archived ore collections, to address the looming crisis of rare-metal supply shortfall. Very little is known about the distribution of rare metals in the products of past mining operations. During the several hundred year mining history of this country, the vast majority of discovered, mined, and reclaimed deposits were exploited without consideration of rare metals-- simply because these metals were not of commercial interest, their abundances difficult to determine and in some cases, were yet to be discovered. Discoveries from a pilot study of archived ore analysis are so high that they will likely add to the Nation's rare metal inventory.

This project also aims to fingerprint the geochemical signature and rare metal contents of particular ore deposit types. In coordination with the current update of USGS deposit models, we are adding archetypal deposits to the list of deposits to be evaluated.

Contact: Poul Emsbo, 303-236-1113, pemsbo@usgs.gov

  chart showing net import reliance of nonfuel minerals in the US.

Cover photo from USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5220 shows powders of six rare earth elements oxides. Photograph by Peggy Greb, Agricultural Research Center of United States Department of Agriculture.

 

Methodology:

--Sample Acquisition and Analyses: We have leveraged the success of our pilot project to gain access to nearly 80,000 samples from several significant saple collections that will allow us to assess most major deposits mined in the US and the world. These will be analyzed using LA-ICP-MS (laser ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry) for most elements. All samples will be archived for further study.

--Metal Residence and Microanalysis: We will determine the concentration and residence of rare metals in samples with unusually high rare metal content. Residence studies are fundamental to evaluating the feasibility of metallurgical extraction and understanding the geologic/geochemical processes that enrich these elements in ore deposits.

--Geologic Reference Materials: Development of these new analytical methods has been critically dependent on collaboration with the USGS Reference Materials Program. Because of previous minimal interest in rare metals, reference materials with certified values for many of these rare metals are surprisingly rare.

--Related Topical Studies: The empirical results and data generated by this project offer an ideal platform to define new directions in rare metal research. The identification of rare metal rich deposits, associated metal residence studies, and geochemical fingerprinting of different deposit types have the potential to define avenues of study that will singificantly enhance our understanding geologic/geochemical processes leading to enrichments of these elements in mineralizing systems.

 

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