On Special Assignment

Nov 1, 2012 4:39 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Rare earth demand comes to the Bitterroot

SALMON, ID- The growing demand for personal electronics, and even military hardware, could mean big business for the mountains of Montana and Idaho, as the market for rare earth elements explodes.

Rare earth elements are extracted from minerals found only in specific areas of the world, and the Bitterroot could have some of the most extensive deposits, thanks to the geological forces that shaped the region.

The rare earths are classified as "heavy metals" and can be used in smart phones, hard drives, electric cars, windmills and other "green tech" products. The problem is, China controls 95% of the current production, raising U.S. concerns over security and supply.

U.S. Rare Earth, Inc. has been given a permit to explore the extent of its holdings north of Salmon, part of a wide band of rare earth deposits stretching north into the West Fork of the Bitterroot.

"Modern, sophisticated weapons platforms are heavily dependent on rare earths. And strategically, it is a concern that China would be a supplier for rare earth metals that would be working their way into the defense, the U.S. and national defense security supply chain. Over time that's a geopolitical problem, not just an economic problem," U.S. Rare Earth President Dan McGroarty explained.

Dennis Bragg has a more in-depth look at the new market for "rare earths" and why our rocks have such unique properties during Thursday's 10:00 News on Montana's News Station.

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