By Shane Lasley
Metal Tech News 

Critical Earth MRI scan of Nevada, Oregon

Metal Tech News - November 18, 2022


Last updated 11/22/2022 at 10:36am

Helicopter carrying a large oval antenna over a desert region in Nevada.

Brett Robinson, Xcalibur Multiphysics

A helicopter towing a geophysical device that collects data that helps geologists identify potential critical minerals deposits by imaging the characteristics of rocks below the Earth's surface.

USGS to carry out Earth MRI scan of lithium-rich areas of western states.

Building upon its successful scans of the United States for potential sources of minerals critical to everything from smartphones and kitchen gadgets to the electric vehicles and wind turbines powering the renewable energy future, the U.S. Geological Survey announced it is investing $1.45 million for Earth Mapping Resources Initiative programs in Nevada and Oregon.

Under the cleverly named Earth MRI program, USGS partners with state geologists to scan for critical minerals across the U.S. Much like the name implies, these investigations begin with the USGS flying airborne magnetic and radiometric geophysical surveys that provide geologists with a picture of the rock formations and mineralization hidden beneath the surface.

This subsurface Earth MRI scan, coupled with boots-on-the-ground investigation of the surface geology, is a potent critical minerals exploration combination that recently turned up a surprising and potentially significant rare earth elements discovery in northern Maine.

More information on the Maine discovery can be read at Rare Earth MRI discovery in Maine in the November 14, 2022, edition of Metal Tech News.

"Combining airborne geophysics with geologic mapping makes for a powerful toolkit in resource mapping and assessment," said Paul Bedrosian, one of the research scientists leading the USGS geophysical surveys.

Now the USGS will use this critical minerals discovery toolkit to scan 12,500 square miles of Nevada and Oregon for 19 minerals critical to America's high-tech and clean energy future.

MRI of Nevada, Oregon

Much of the newest Earth MRI program will focus on the Great Basin area of western Nevada, the top mineral-producing state in the U.S.

To provide geoscientists with an MRI-like image of geological features hidden below the surface, USGS will fly airborne electromagnetic and magnetic surveys over areas of the Great Basin prospective for the lithium that is in high demand for EV batteries; beryllium used in aerospace alloys and consumer electronics; tungsten used in alloys that hold up to extreme temperatures and wear; and a wealth of other minerals critical to the U.S.

The electromagnetic surveys to be flown over the Great Basin will detect subtle differences in the electroconductivity of rocks, which provides geoscientists with an image of faults and other geological features deep below Earth's surface. The magnetic surveys will detect magnetic minerals in the buried rocks, which provide clues to the makeup of these rocks.

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When combined with mapping and sampling of the outcropping rocks and other geological features identified on the surface, the geophysical surveys will provide geologists with a good idea of where they should focus their search for critical minerals in the Great Basin.

"This project provides an important investment in geologic mapping and geophysical surveys that will enhance our understanding of critical minerals in Nevada and the broader Great Basin region," said Jim Faulds, a geologist and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. "The geologic mapping defines the geologic conditions at the Earth's surface while the geophysical surveys allow us to peer into the subsurface."

In addition to flying the Earth MRI program's trademark airborne geophysical surveys, the USGS is providing the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology with a grant to carry out geologic mapping for critical minerals within the McDermitt Caldera, which is the remnants of an ancient volcano in northern Nevada and southeastern Oregon that hosts some of the richest lithium deposits in the U.S.

This geologic mapping initiative, which is being managed through the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, will provide USGS geologists with a great understanding of critical mineral resources within this region known for its potential to be an important domestic source of the namesake ingredient of the lithium-ion batteries powering the EV revolution.

19 critical minerals

Overall, the areas of Nevada and Oregon being scanned under the newest Earth MRI program have the potential to provide the U.S. with a domestic supply of 19 minerals and metals critical to the U.S.

Here is a list of those critical mineral commodities:

ALUMINUM – Due to its superior strength-to-weight ratio, aluminum is used in everything from beer cans to lighter vehicles. This metal is also a potential alternative to lithium for batteries.

ANTIMONY – Antimony alloys are used in lead acid batteries and low-friction metals. Liquid metal batteries for storage of wind and solar energy are an emerging demand driver for this metal.

ARSENIC – Used in wood preservatives and pesticides, as well as in semiconductors for military hardware, solar panels, smartphones, integrated circuits, and optoelectronic devices.

BARIUM – Barium is a heavy mineral used as a weighting agent in drilling mud for oil and gas exploration, heavy cement, paints, plastics, rubber, and even playing cards.

BERYLLIUM – Beryllium alloys for high-speed aircraft, missiles, spacecraft, satellites, military hardware, automotive electronics, telecommunications infrastructure, and semiconductors.

BISMUTH – Low-melting alloys for sprinkler systems, along with medical and atomic research, are the primary uses for bismuth. It is also a potential semiconductor for green hydrogen production.

COBALT– It is estimated that more than 1.8 million metric tons of cobalt per year will be needed for lithium-ion batteries by 2035, which is 10.5 times more cobalt than was mined globally in 2021.

FLUORSPAR – Fluorspar is used in refrigerants, fluoropolymers, and other chemicals. It is also used to manufacture aluminum, cement, enamels, glass, welding rod coatings, and steel.

GALLIUM – This low melting point metal serves as a primary ingredient in semiconductors used in next-generation smartphones, telecommunication networks, solar cells, and medical devices.

GERMANIUM – As an intrinsic semiconductor with superior optical qualities, germanium is a powerful ingredient in fiber optics, night vision devices, solar panels, and computer transistors.

GRAPHITE – Graphite is the single largest ingredient in EV batteries. It is estimated that by 2030 lithium-ion batteries will require five times more graphite than was mined globally during 2021.

INDIUM – Indium-tin oxide is used as a transparent conducting film applied to virtually every flat-panel display. Indium is also used for solders that bond glass and other non-metallic materials.

LITHIUM – This lightest of all metals is experiencing exponential growth in demand due to its use in the batteries powering EVs and storing intermittent renewable energy from wind and solar.

PLATINUM GROUP METALS – A set of six metals – ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum – used in catalysts that reduce toxic emissions and hydrogen fuel cells.

RARE EARTHS – A group of 15 elements with a wide range of high-tech and industrial uses. Magnets for EV motors and wind turbines are the largest demand driver for rare earths.

TANTALUM – The primary uses for tantalum are in capacitors and high-power resistors for the electronics sector. This chemically inert metal is also used in lab equipment and camera lenses.

TELLURIUM – Among the rarest of stable elements on the periodic table, tellurium is experiencing rapidly increasing demand due to its use in thin-film solar panels.

TIN – MIT researchers ranked tin as the metal most likely to be impacted by new technologies due to its widespread use in solders for EVs, advanced robotics, renewable energy, and computers.

TUNGSTEN – Tungsten and its alloys are used in applications where resistance to high temperatures and extreme wear are important, including tungsten carbide for drill bits and other industrial applications.

Map of McDermitt Caldera and lithium deposits in Nevada and Oregon.

Jindalee Resources Ltd.

Covering a 30-mile-long area of southeastern Oregon and northwestern Nevada, the McDermitt caldera hosts some of the richest lithium deposits in the U.S.

VANADIUM – Best known for its use in durable steels for auto parts and tools, as well as lightweight alloys for aerospace, vanadium is increasingly being used in batteries for storing wind and solar energy.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

With more than 15 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 907-726-1095


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