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Critical minerals in New Mexico explored in new paper

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© 2020 Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration

Additional geologic and mineral exploration work is needed to fully understand the potential for critical mineral and rare earth element production in New Mexico, Bureau Principal Senior Economic Geologist Dr. Virginia McLemore wrote in Mining Engineering.

Critical minerals are mineral resources essential to the U.S. economy whose supply chain may be disrupted. They can be exclusively imported, making supply chains vulnerable to natural disasters, labor strife, trade disputes, resource nationalism, or armed conflict. Critical minerals are components in alternative energy technologies, such as solar panels, electric cars, and rechargeable batteries.

The only critical mineral currently produced in New Mexico is potash, used in fertilizer and in the chemical industry. New Mexico has the resources to produce one or more additional critical minerals in the future.

Rare earth elements (REEs) include the 15 lanthanide elements (atomic numbers 57-71), yttrium (atomic number 39), and scandium (atomic number 21), and often co-occur in mineral deposits. REEs exist in New Mexico but are challenging to mine because they are often not concentrated in large enough quantities to make mining economically feasible.

The likelihood of critical mineral and REE production in New Mexico depends on the geology of deposits, global-scale economic forces, and environmental considerations during the mining process. If economic conditions favor critical mineral and REE production, additional geologic mapping, geophysical, and geochemical studies would be needed to define exploration drilling.

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