A couple centuries after Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide in the Bitterroot Mountains on their way to the Pacific, another development of potential national significance is stirring in the same place.
Publicly held U.S. Rare Earth Inc. will soon start exploring its holding in the area for rare earth minerals, according to the website for Montana television station KPAX.
If successful, the expedition could be a step toward freeing the U.S. from China's control of the rare earth metals that are vital to the global economy and appear in products ranging from missiles to renewable energy gear to cars and iPods.
The KPAX report says that Lonoke, Ark.-based U.S. Rare Earths' holdings extend from north of Salmon, Idaho into the western fork of the Bitterroot.
U.S. Rare Earths' website identifies over 12,000 acres of rare earth mining claims the company holds in Idaho, Montana and Colorado, including "the Lemhi Pass Property in Lemhi County, Idaho and Beaverhead County Mont.," as well as in other nearby areas.
Lewis and Clark buffs will know the 7,373-foot Lemhi Pass in the Bitterroot range of the Rockies. The intrepid explorers stepped over the Continental Divide there in 1805, a key moment in the United States' push westward to the Pacific.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether U.S. Rare Earths can produce rare earth elements from the region and help loosen the 95 percent grip that China has on the rare earth market. When I last looked, the re-opening of a rare earth mine at Mountain Pass, Calif in February had so far done little to feed rare earths domestically, as mine operator Molycorp. was shipping its haul to China.
Lewis and Clark didn't get to the Northwest coast overnight. Nor will countries free themselves in a hurry from China's rare earth dominance. But it's good to see the trails are blazing.
More rare earth pioneers on SmartPlanet:
- Toyota affiliate buys half a Canadian rare earth deposit
- Japanese manufacturers to China: We don’t need your rare earths
- Your next refrigerator could be a magnet
- China raises rare earth exports
- Solve the energy AND rare earth crisis: Join the thorium bank
- China cuts off rare earths. World War ensues. It’s Call of Duty, the video game.
- The two-timing White Knight of U.S. rare earth metals
- U.S., allies seek China’s rare earths resolution
- America’s only rare earth metals mine gears up
- Toyota breaks out of China’s rare earth shackles