Maine could have billions of rare earth elements stuck in a mountain.
According to the Portland Press Herald, Geologists have found a big concentration of rare earth elements and trace metals that are huge for U.S. defense, technology, and alternative energy industries. The problem is it's stuck in a 450-million-year-old volcanic rock on a remote mountainside in northern Maine. It's Pennington Mountain about an hour north of Presque Isle.
They still need to do a lot more research, but the early indication is that the potential value could be in the billions of dollars. The amount of material in this mountain is close to the deposits found in Australia and China! This remote mountain could be chock full of niobium and zirconium which are used in all sorts of things we love. Like night vision goggles, stealth technology, cellphones, flatscreen TVs, and solar panels. Even wind turbine generators use these.
That's where the sticky part comes in. Mining for materials like this and the environmental impact are at odds. The largest landowner in Maine has this mountain sitting on close to 1.3 million acres they own. The actual owner is Aroostook Timberlands LLC, which is a subsidiary of J.D. Irving - that's the Canadian company that owns more land in Maine than anyone else. J.D. Irving is a sister firm of Irving Oil.
Maine has very strict mining and water quality laws, which could make getting the materials out of that mountain impossible. A Newry couple is trying to get the permits needed to mine lithium, a superconductive trace metal in high demand worldwide to make rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and it's used in electric vehicles. That deposit is worth $1.5 billion.
So getting to the good stuff might never happen. Geologist Chunzeng Wang, a University of Maine at Presque Isle professor and lead author of a paper about the discovery in Economic Geology, told the Press Herald.
I’ve been a geologist for many years now and I’ve never seen anything like it before. Rare earth is misleading because they’re not rare. They can be found in many places, but in very, very small amounts. What is rare is to find a sizable amount of rare earth elements in one place.
Just because it was found doesn't mean it can be used. Because of water quality regulations and the high costs of compliance, there is only one active rare earth mine in the country in California’s Mojave Desert. So we can't jump for joy at supplying the US with these much-needed minerals, but we can still be happy to know that Maine isn't just pretty on the outside - it's also pretty on the inside.