Vanadium: US can’t do without; Alaska can produce it.

This week Australian mining company Northern Cobalt Ltd. applied for permission to explore a drilling site for the rare earth metal vanadium in Southeast Alaska. In 2018, vanadium was identified by the Department of the Interior as one of 35 critical mineral commodities to ensure economic and national security of the US.  This special issue of AKHeadlamp takes a moment to walk through why a vanadium mine would be beneficial not only to the state, but also to the nation.

Australia company seeks exploratory drilling OK in Alaska
Associated Press, July 9, 2019

An Australia mining company is seeking permission to start exploratory drilling for the rare element vanadium in southeast Alaska. Northern Cobalt Ltd. has applied to the U.S. Forest Service for the proposed project on Snettisham Inlet, CoastAlaska reported. The site is in the Tongass National Forest about 35 miles southeast of Juneau.
There are no active federal mining claims at the site. Exploratory drilling for iron ore was conducted at the location in 2012, but those claims were abandoned amid a collapse in iron prices.

Vanadium: The metal we can’t do without and don’t produce
Richard Mills, Mining.com, October 24, 2017

About 85 percent of the world’s vanadium comes from three source countries: South Africa, China and Russia. Vanadium is typically found within magnetite iron ore deposits, and is usually mined as a byproduct and not as a primary mineral. Vanadium is often agglomerated with titanium, which must be separated out as an impurity during processing. The higher the titanium content in the ore, the harder it is to remove the vanadium. The end product is vanadium pentoxide, which can be used for the applications cited above or to make ferrovanadium for use in steel.
With vanadium demand set to soar, it is a valid question as to where new vanadium supply will come from. There are currently no North American reserves, a situation that is and should be deeply alarming to politicians on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Our take: While not brief, this article really gives context into why vanadium is a commodity of necessity. Because its uses (like other rare earths) are more complex than the metals we are familiar with (think: copper, iron, gold, aluminum), they are not widely spoken about. However, we interact with vanadium daily in our vehicles, batteries, renewable energy pursuits and aeronautical applications. Also, it’s named after the Norse goddess Vanadis – which is pretty cool.

China Wrestles with the Toxic Aftermath of Rare Earth Mining
Michael Standaert (with help from Zhong Yunfan), Yale E360, July 2, 2019

Globally, rare earths are not, in fact, that rare, but they are expensive to extract if done in ways that cause less harm to the environment. The mining industry in southern Jiangxi Province was largely unregulated until recently, with illegal mining operations proliferating.

Our take: Alaska’s rigorous environmental standards mean that rare earth mining would not be lawless and the cleanup efforts, while likely not needed based on the regulatory systems in place, would not fall on a hodgepodge of agencies. If, as a society, we would like to control environmental pollution, then we should undertake resource development in places where we care about our nature.

Pentagon seeks funds to reduce U.S. reliance on China’s rare earth metals
Phil Stewart & Andrea Shalal, Reuters Business News, May 29, 2019

The U.S. Defense Department is seeking new federal funds to bolster domestic production of rare earth minerals and reduce dependence on China, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid mounting concern in Washington about Beijing’s role as a supplier.
Between 2004 and 2017, China accounted for 80% of U.S. rare earth imports. Few alternative suppliers have been able to compete with China, which is home to 37% of global rare earths reserves.
“The department continues to work closely with the president, Congress and U.S. industry to improve U.S. competitiveness in the mineral market,” Andrews told Reuters.

Our take: The demand for rare earth metals is no longer a secret. More production in the US means less reliance on unstable trade with foreign nations—especially poignant based on our current trade war with China.