Michigan has minerals America needs

Contact: Jeanne Baron

The Trump Administration's list of 35 mineral and mineral groups deemed critical to the nation includes several that are located in Michigan, although more research needs to be done to better characterize their locations, quantity and quality.

Magnesium, platinum and potash are just some of the critical minerals found in the state that Western Michigan University is using a grant from the U.S. Geological Survey to investigate.

The Critical list

Invaluable data is hidden in the hundreds of thousands of rock cores like these that WMU archives.

Thirty-three minerals and two mineral material groups appear on the list.

Minerals: aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, potash, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium and zirconium.

Platinum group metals: iridium, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, and ruthenium.

Rare earth elements group: cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium and yttrium. While some organizations count 17 elements in this group, USGS counts 15. It excludes promethium, and separates outs scandium.

Learn more about Trump's executive order and the nation's critical and non-critical mineral commodities by reviewing the report, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2019.

Michigan's geological makeup

The Michigan Geological Survey, part of WMU's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, notes that the state has two geologically distinctive areas.

One area, the western Upper Peninsula, has igneous and metamorphic rocks that host well-known, abundant and varied metallic mineral resources, including copper, iron, nickel, platinum group minerals, manganese and cobalt. The region also has some graphite resources and deposits of a phosphate mineral that contains certain rare earth minerals. Researchers have documented the presence of uranium, as well.

Meanwhile, geologic formations in the Lower Peninsula and eastern Upper Peninsula consist of sedimentary deposits that host non-metallic mineral resources, including a large deposit of potash, and lesser amounts of natural brine minerals, helium, magnesium, lithium, manganese, strontium and cesium.

Michigan's minerals

Dr. Peter Voice, a member of the USGS grant team, is an expert on mining in Michigan.

Together, Michigan's two peninsulas hold significant promise for boosting critical minerals production in the United States, says Dr. Peter J. Voice, a WMU research scientist and an expert on the state's mining history. For example:

  • Preliminary mapping suggests that a large deposit of potash may occur in up to 22 lower Michigan counties and cover more than 8 million acres. Commercial quantities of this essential fertilizer component may exist in eight of those counties and encompass about 3 million acres.
  • Magnesium compounds have been extracted from magnesium chloride-rich sandstone brines located in the central part of the Lower Peninsula. At present, one brine company is doing that in Manistee. Historically, the entire domestic supply of metallic magnesium from 1927 into the late 1930's was produced by the Dow Chemical Co. from Midland-area brine. Magnesium metal is commonly combined with other metals to make alloys that can withstand high temperatures. These alloys are used in oven and furnace liners and many aerospace applications.
  • Nearly all cell phones and computers use platinum group minerals. Deposits of these minerals are associated with copper- and nickel-containing sulfide ore bodies in the Upper Peninsula. The Eagle mine in Marquette County already produces copper, nickel, and some platinum and palladium. A separate sulfide ore body unaffiliated with the mine has been identified in Houghton and Ontonagon counties.

For more information, contact Peter Voice in WMU's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at peter.voice@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5488. Information about the U.S. Geological Survey grant is available from Dr. William B. Harrison III, the grant's principal investigator, at william.harrison_iii@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8691.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.

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