What we know about NorthMet, Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine
PolyMet Mining, th...
The first ever copper-nickel mine in Minnesota could be one step closer to coming to life following the submission of a mine permit.
PolyMet Mining, the Toronto based mine development company, has submitted a Permit to Mine Application to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Mine Waste Management.
The Permit to Mine is one of several major permits required to construct and operate the NorthMet copper-nickel precious metals project located in northeastern Minnesota.
The application is the last of the major permit applications, following submission of water-related and air quality permit applications to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) and DNR during the summer.
What is the NorthMet copper-nickel precious metals project?
The NorthMet Project is part of northeastern Minnesota’s Duluth Complex, one of the world’s largest known undeveloped deposits of copper, nickel and other precious metals.
As mentioned above, it would represent the first in Minnesota to commercially extract metals from the Duluth Complex.
PolyMet has estimated that the project will produce 72 million pounds of copper, 15.4 million pounds of nickel, 720,000 pounds of cobalt and 106,000 troy ounces of precious metals on an annual basis.
Specifically, the NorthMet deposit is located in the Partridge River Intrusion of the Duluth Complex. It is a large tonnage disseminated sulphide deposit in heterogeneous troctolitic rocks associated with the 1.1billion-year-old Mid-Continent Rift.
Say that three times without failing.
The 1.1billion year-old Mid Continent Rife contains copper, nickel, cobalt. Platinum, palladium, gold and silver – a very rich deposit indeed.
The NorthMet Project contains two assets of note, obviously, the deposit itself and the former Erie processing facilities and infrastructure that together cover approximately 16,700 contiguous acres – which we can say is around 26 square miles.
Should the company receive mining permits, the mine will operate for 20 years at a mining rate of 32,000 tons of ore per day.
The mine itself will consist of three open pits, the West Pit, the East Pit and – yes of course, the Central Pit.
Ore from the mine will transported six miles west to a processing facility via rail. The facility, which was idled in 2001 and purchased by PolyMet in 2005, is designed to process 32,000 tons of ore per day.
The company, through independent research, believes that through the NorthMet Project:
- More than 600 indirect and induced jobs in goods and services and other sectors where PolyMet dollars will flow.
- $515 million annually in St. Louis County alone in wages, benefits and other spending. This amounts to more than $10 billion over the 20-year life of the mine.
- $15 million annually in state and local tax revenues, or $300 million over the life of mine.
- $45 million annually in federal tax revenue, or $900 million over the life of the mine.
- More than $2 million annually for northeastern Minnesota schools.
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British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.