Coal, Research

CORE-CM Meeting Showcases Region’s Potential as a Source of Critical Minerals

On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, the Williston Basin Carbon Ore, Rare Earths, and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) team shared its progress on the first phase of the CORE-CM Initiative. More than 30 people attended a virtual meeting over Zoom presented by principal investigator, John Kay, and lead organization, the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC). Interested registrants included industry and government professionals and researchers from universities both within and outside of the Williston Basin region (shown on the map below).

About the Williston Basin CORE-CM Initiative

Williston Basin CORE-CM is investigating the use of lignite coal resources to produce a domestic supply of the chemical elements, minerals, and nonfuel carbon-based products essential to healthcare, technology, clean energy and national security and to catalyze economic growth and job creation.

Phase 1 of the CORE-CM Initiative is an information-gathering phase. Task leads Todd Brasel, Bruce Folkedahl, Jason Laumb, Charlene Crocker (all from the EERC) and Nolan Theaker (from the University of North Dakota’s Institute of Energy Studies) presented on the themes of assessing resources, assessing the markets, and looking ahead. Several exciting developments have already occurred, especially in locating highly sought-after rare-earth elements (REEs). Williston Basin lignite coal and associated materials are showing promise as potential sources of REEs.

Why are rare-earth elements so important?

These chemically similar elements fill a variety of important functions and are found in computers, smart phones, automobiles, wind turbines, and aircraft. Although REEs are much more common than silver, it is difficult to find productive REE deposits and also difficult to separate them.

Attendees also learned that the Williston Basin’s transportation infrastructure is advantageous, with excellent road and rail networks, plus a link to the Twin Ports in Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, which connect to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway. When coupled with existing mines, industrial facilities and regional manufacturers, some of the building blocks for developing a domestic supply chain are already in place.

The end goal of Phase 1 of the CORE-CM Initiative is creating the plans that will be set into motion in the next phases. One aspect of these plans includes the development of technology innovation centers (TICs). These Williston Basin-specific public–private partnerships would develop and validate CORE-CM technologies at the laboratory scale with long-term goals. Such goals include accelerating research that will enable commercial deployment of advanced processing and production of CMs, as well as providing opportunities to train the next generation of technicians, skilled workers, and STEM professionals right here in the Williston Basin region.

As the Williston Basin CORE-CM Initiative’s work continues, the Initiative is seeking to develop new partnerships and has put out several specific requests for information from interested parties not already partnering with the initiative:

  • Geologic information and REE and CM concentration data
  • Technologies at any level of development to be evaluated
  • Resources and sites for future testing, including ores or waste streams and locations for future pilot plant demonstrations
  • Supply chain and business matters, including information on shortages businesses might be facing currently or in the future
  • Suggestions for TICs board members
  • Resources and sites for future TICs
  • Ideas on other information we can provide about the initiative

The virtual meeting was regarded as informative and interesting, and the Williston Basin’s resources, infrastructure and knowledge are combining to show much promise for the future development of a domestic supply chain of REEs and CMs. An in-person update meeting will be held on the next 6 months of progress in Bismarck on October 11, 2022. We hope to see you there.

Questions and requests for more information about the Williston Basin CORE-CM project can be e-mailed to eercinfo@undeerc.org.

Leave a Reply