An Arkansas company began drilling Wednesday for rare-earth minerals — the stuff on which cellphones, wind turbines and hybrid car batteries depend — on Lemhi Pass near Dillon.
U.S. Rare Earths said Wednesday that it will spend the next several months drilling core samples along 60 miles of the rugged Lemhi Pass region in Montana and Idaho.
Rare-earth minerals are key ingredients in advanced electronics like mobile devices, solar panels and next-generation batteries, as well as advanced military defense weapons.
More than 90 percent of the rare earth minerals used in electronics today is mined in China. The U.S. Department of Defense, as well as consumer electronics manufacturers, is pushing for the development of domestic rare earth minerals sources.
U.S. Rare Earths received its drilling permit this week for the Last Chance region of Lemhi pass. Dan McGroarty, Rare Earth’s president, said the company will start its 2013 drilling campaign there and then work across four other sites.
“With the permit coming through, we’ve got drill pads up and drilling under way on the Montana side,” McGroarty said. “We still have a permit pending on the Idaho side.”
Other mining companies are eyeing the Lemhi Pass region as well. The area is mineral-rich and home to some of Montana’s first hard-rock mines. More than a century of geological reports, compiled by miners searching for precious metals give companies interested in rare-earth minerals a good idea what might be found there.
Rare-earth minerals really aren’t that rare, but they are hard to find in high enough concentrations to make mining worthwhile. The minerals are usually surface mined. If U.S. Rare Earths' drilling samples reveal pay dirt, the company will follow up by drilling numerous other samples in a grid formation to determine the size of the resource.