Metal Tech News - February 1, 2023
If "grade is king," then US Critical Materials Corp.'s Sheep Creek in Montana wears the crown when it comes to rare earth projects in the United States.
The mining sector mantra "grade is king" alludes to the idea that a mine capable of producing one kilogram of rare earths for every 11 tons of ore dug up will be more profitable and have a smaller environmental footprint than a mine that must move more than 500 tons of ore for the same kilogram of this suite of critical elements.
Recent testing by Activation Labs, a Canadian analytical laboratory renowned for its rare earth analysis, of 52 surface samples collected at Sheep Creek returned an average grade of 9% total rare earth oxides, with individual samples containing as much as 21.7% TREO.
"We have confirmed that Sheep Creek is the highest-grade rare-earth deposit in the United States, with a multibillion-dollar resource value," said Jim Hedrick, president of US Critical Materials and former rare earth commodity specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
In fact, the Sheep Creek samples collected so far are higher grade than most global rare earth deposits, which tend to run from 0.1% to 4% TREO.
In January, Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB announced the discovery of a deposit with more than 1 million metric tons of rare earths. While this makes Per Geijer the largest deposit of rare earths ever discovered in Europe, the average grade of the rare earths is only 0.18% in a more than 500-million-metric-ton deposit also enriched with iron and phosphorous.
By way of comparison, Sheep Creek is roughly 50 times higher grade, which translates to 50 times more rare earths per scoop of ore dug up and a much smaller mining footprint per kilogram of rare earths produced.
Sheep Creek also happens to be highly enriched in neodymium and praseodymium, a pair of rare earths that are used in the powerful magnets that go into electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, and countless other high-tech devices and consumer goods. Samples with as much as 2.4% combined neodymium and praseodymium have been identified, according to the recent assays from Activation Labs.
The same rocks that host high rare earth grades are also enriched with niobium, scandium, and yttrium – all considered critical to the economic well-being and national security of the U.S.
In total, the Sheep Creek property hosts 12 of the most essential critical minerals for the world's transition to a low-carbon economy where EVs are charged with renewable energy.
US Critical Materials says its goal is to quickly advance Sheep Creek in order to "supply consumers, industry, and the U.S. government with the critical minerals required to meet technology, manufacturing, and defense needs, with the overall objective of addressing the necessity to obtain rare earth materials from 'friendly' sources as defined by the Inflation Reduction Act."
Toward this objective, the company is working with a major national laboratory to develop highly efficient, environmentally safe processes for domestically refining the rare earths found at Sheep Creek.
The establishment of domestic refining and separation of rare earths is a crucial part of breaking America's dependence on imports, primarily from China, for its supply of this group of critical elements.
US Critical Materials believes the unique aspects of the high-grade deposits at Sheep Creek will enable it to make the critical mineral resources identified on this southwest Montana property available for production and delivery on an expedited basis.