Last month, the US Department of the Interior announced its FY2022 investments in critical minerals mapping work. The press release notes that over $74.6 million will be distributed in 30 states to invest in geoscience data collection, mapping, data preservation, and scientific interpretation of areas with potential for critical minerals, under the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI. Under Earth MRI, the USGS has partnered with the Association of American State Geologists and state geological surveys to jointly fund and conduct new geologic mapping and geochemical reconnaissance sampling and preserve existing geologic data and samples.
An excerpt from the release reads:
The focus of the Fiscal Year 2022 funding includes improving the nation’s mapping of shallow and deep geology. This will lead to better scientific understanding of critical mineral resources – including minerals still in the ground and those found in mine waste materials. By improving this science, we can better ensure our mining actions in the United States secure the minerals needed for a clean energy revolution while being conducted with strong environmental, sustainability, safety, Tribal consultation and community engagement standards so that the American people can have confidence that the minerals and materials they use are responsibly sourced and our resources are stewarded wisely.
The Energy Act of 2020 defines a ‘critical mineral’ as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S. and which has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption. The USGS recently released a new list of 50 mineral commodities critical to the U.S. economy and national security after an extensive multi-agency assessment. Many of the minerals are needed for electrical components and semi-conductors, steel making, atomic research, batteries, fiber optics, fuel cells, aerospace and automotive alloys, magnets, and lasers – among other manufactured goods. The change resulted from splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as mineral groups. In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc and removes helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium. (Read Can You Name All 17 Rare Earth Elements? if you want to know more about REEs.)
We recently wrote about critical minerals and noted that with this updated list, miners might think about updating the technology they need for rapid geochemical analysis that will enable them to increase exploration discovery success rates of critical and other minerals and metal elements – technology that can help them identify drill targets quickly, make on-site decisions about whether to stop or continue drilling, and decide where to focus on the grid.
XRF technology (also known as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy) is a non-destructive analytical technique used to determine the elemental composition of materials. Portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers work by measuring the fluorescent (or secondary) X-rays emitted from a sample when excited by a primary X-ray source. Each of the elements present in a sample produces a set of characteristic fluorescent X-rays, or “unique fingerprints”. These “fingerprints” are distinct for each element, making handheld XRF analysis an excellent tool for quantitative and qualitative measurements.
These portable mining and exploration instruments can help make a critical difference in mining exploration and processing by providing rapid, on-site qualitative screening directly in-situ or lab-quality quantitative analysis on prepared samples. This helps to bypass the costly and time-consuming process of sending samples to off-site laboratories and waiting days, or even months, for essential data to guide drilling decisions, enable high-productivity operations, and gain a competitive advantage.
The aim of this new funding is to help the US research and preserve vital scientific data, and strengthen key domestic supply chains for critical minerals.