Nevada’s mining industry is most closely associated with the large-scale commodities found in the exchange markets – gold, silver and copper. This is for good reason as those metals create the majority of mining opportunities throughout the state. After all, Nevada is known as the Silver State and accounts for approximately 79 percent of the annual U.S. gold production.
However, new projects and the potential for new discoveries have ushered a period of exciting diversification within the industry. Metals such as lithium and molybdenum will soon be mined at much greater extents through emerging projects and exploration for other minerals has created a growing list of possibilities. In a new series titled “The Diversification of Nevada Mining,” this blog will explore a few of these new projects and possibilities. The series starts with a look into the world of rare earths minerals and the potential for these high-demand materials to be mined in Nevada.
Rare earth is a term used to define 17 unique minerals – the 15 lanthanides, scandium and yttrium. While called rare, these minerals can be found in fairly large quantities throughout the world. The demand for these minerals has drastically increased in recent years as the advances of modern technology have been bolstered through the use of rare earths. Rare earths are used in a variety of high-tech products including computers, high-definition screens, smart phones, hybrid car batteries and wind turbines.
Many believe there is great potential for rare earths to be mined in the United States. However, the domestic mining industry has to compete with a juggernaut in the form of China when it comes to rare earths output. The United States currently has only one rare earths mine, Molycorp located in Mountain Pass, Calif., in operation. China currently dominates the global production of rare earths, accounting for 97 percent of the world total. In 2009, China began imposing strict restrictions on its rare earths output. That move drew criticism from a number of countries and world organizations. In fact, President Obama recently filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization citing China’s restrictions on rare earths exports.
So where does Nevada fit into the rare earths picture? Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine is located just miles from the Nevada-California border, south of Las Vegas. For this reason, many exploration companies believe rare earths must exist in large concentrations in Southern Nevada. As with any mineral exploration, the process can be long and expensive, but that has not deterred several companies from searching for rare earths in Southern Nevada.
Should these companies discover mineable rare earths in Nevada, the state would only strengthen its position as a major, global producer of high-demand minerals. The potential for discovery alone is enough to excite industry experts, and the search for rare earths in Nevada is one we should all watch in the coming years.