June 2019 | Searching for critical minerals in Michigan
At the Michigan Geological Survey (MGS) and the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education (MGRRE), we are leaving no stone unturned in our search for minerals you may never have heard of, like sylvite, cesium, and manganese. Why?
Because America depends on resources like these, defined by the Department of the Interior as the 35 “critical minerals and rare earth elements.” But we are not producing enough of them. In fact, we are not producing any of some of the “rare earth elements.” We import 90% or more of these minerals and elements—mostly from China.
And America’s dependence on foreign sources has increased dramatically. In the 1990’s, America was the world’s top minerals producer and exporter. Now we are the world’s top importer, making us increasingly vulnerable to supply shortages and price volatility.
Our newest research grant, from the U S Geological Survey, focuses on finding these minerals in Michigan. Dr. William Harrison, MGRRE Director, is leading a research team comprised of John A. Yellich, director of the Michigan Geological Survey; Dr. Peter J. Voice, research scientist and geologist; Dr. Joyashish Thakurta, economic geologist; Jennifer L. Trout, data manager; and several graduate and undergraduate students. A simplified spreadsheet can be found here.
In a new NPR interview, Stateside discusses Michigan's role in mining these raw materials with Drs. William Harrison and Peter Voice. The interview begins at 18:40 or scroll down the NPR page for a shorter clip.
MGRRE faculty members and their students are conducting applied research in conjunction with industry and government partners to maximize proven technologies and develop new approaches to:
- Safely store CO2 and other greenhouse gases underground. Through our research association with the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, we are entering phase III of a project to demonstrate, through injection field tests, that Michigan’s underground geological formations can safely store large quantities of greenhouse gases.
- Identify, evaluate and protect our groundwater resources in Michigan’s largest bedrock aquifer. We are working with state personnel to research aquifer vulnerability to known surface contamination.
- Develop new approaches to increase domestic energy production and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Ten years ago, in a consortium with private industry, we developed and proved a new drilling technology to recover oil from abandoned fields. Subsequent application of this technology has produced more than 20 million barrels of oil and more than 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas in Michigan. We are now studying the origins and evolution of some of Michigan’s major oil and gas reservoirs, and we are using newly developed computer-based 3D models to predict their distribution. This will create the ability to produce energy more efficiently, in larger quantities and with less drilling. Western Michigan University is one of a limited number of institutions nationwide capable of this type of research.
- Map surface and shallow glacial deposits that can supply valuable construction materials, such as sand and gravel.
- Assess Michigan’s subsurface rocks for their ability to store and produce geothermal energy.