Thursday, March 26, 2015

Art Imitates Life?

Let's just call River and Ranch contemporary fiction, or maybe a new Western, or maybe even a sweet romance. Whatever I call it, it is based on several realities. One reality in particular just keeps on giving. The geology of the Lemhi Pass area, contains rare earth minerals. Some would call them deposits, ores, or formations. Regardless of what to call them, rare earths really do exist and they really do have a crucial place in the real world. The iphone or Samsung Galaxy you could conceivably be reading this on right now, in fact, contains rare earth metals refined from ores that were likely mined in China. Over the next few years that could change as the mining company holding the claims on Lemhi Pass could conceivably begin activity on their claims.

What makes this unique is that much of what is on those claims are tailings piles that have already been mined from existing works. New mining is not required, rather new mining could actually be described as transporting old tailings. This is a unique circumstance, maybe even historical. I find it fascinating and well worth following.

The major challenge for US-based rare earth miners is the complete lack of US-based processing ability and facilities. Not only does China have a stranglehold on production of the raw materials, China contains virtually all of the knowledge the world has on processing and refining the raw ores into concentrated metals ready for industrial use.

The real life story of rare earth metals is fascinating, not only for the geology of it, but for the issues surrounding rare earths. How to revive a refining industry that has been dormant for decades, how to raise cash for building new facilities, even new research that is suggesting new ways to process not only rare earths from its host materials, but rare earths from each other. There are seventeen rare earth minerals and they mostly occur together. Industry needs them apart. Yet one more critical step in the workflow that only China seems to understand.

Will American ingenuity and brain power comes to the rescue? This is not a heading from a book. It is a headline that one could see in a newspaper. One more case of truth equaling the strangeness typically found in fiction!

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