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2020 - Update on Mountain Pass

Update on Mountain Pass Mine

by Anne Stoll

In today’s (4-27) Wall Street Journal, there was another article about the so-called “Mountain Pass Mine.” I say so-called because we always called it the Moly Mine, but anyway, you know the one I mean, up the Baker Grade on I-15 on your left as you head toward Las Vegas. I’ve been interested in what goes on up there for years, as I imagine most DEers who drive by are as well.

So now it seems the Pentagon, no less, has finally caught on to the serious importance of the Mountain Pass Mine, our “only domestic source for rare-earth minerals” which are needed for electronics, lasers, magnets, wind-turbines, jet fighters, electric vehicles and high-tech weapons systems, to name a few. The problem is not so much a lack of rare earth, it’s the processing part of the system. These minerals are tricky and expensive to separate and refine (and, I might add, create something of an environmental nightmare in doing so, though this was not mentioned in the article). In the past we shipped the ore to China and let them do this dirty work, a very risky business 

for obvious reasons. Now that the Defense Department is paying attention, the mine’s owner, James Litinsky of JHL Capital Group, has applied for a grant from the government to help in developing their small processing facility, with the admirable goal of increasing their capacity to process the minerals on site. I was good with all this news until I read that “the funds are to be used for feasibility and engineering studies” (groan!). Of course such steps are necessary but the article also points out that “creating a lasting, rare-earths processing business effectively from scratch is likely to take years and a lot more money” -- as in hundreds of millions of dollars per plant, they estimate. The grant from the Pentagon could be as much as $40 million which rare-earths research firm Adamas Intelligence spokesman Ryan Castilloux calls “the government putting its toes in the water.” Yeah, tippy toes but better late than never, I guess. Stay tuned.

                                    ~ Anne