Volcanic-related Beryllium Deposits of the US: Geologic Setting, Genesis, and the Potential for Post-Extraction Recovery of By-Product Critical Minerals

Science Center Objects

Project objectives are: 1) to fully establish a comprehensive and robust geologic and geochemical framework for the occurrence of volcanic-related beryllium (Be) deposits; 2) further our understanding of the fundamental ore processes that lead to formation of volcanogenic beryllium (Be)-boron (B)-lithium (Li)-phosphorus (P) group deposits, by investigating processes favorable for enhanced concentration of beryllium, lithium and fluorine; and 3) to investigate the occurrence, concentration, and distribution of potential by-product critical minerals (Li, F, REE) in mine waste.

Science Issue and Relevance

Fluorite-bertrandite-opal ore

Fluorite-bertrandite-opal ore sampled at the Spor Mountian mine, Utah, Monitor pit.

(Credit: Nora Foley, USGS. Public domain.)

Beryllium (Be), lithium (Li), fluorine (F), and rare earth elements (REE) are critical mineral commodities because of their economic and strategic importance, limited global geologic distribution of economic resources, and expected increases in demand. The U.S. is currently the world’s leading producer of beryllium metals, alloys, and ceramics. Beryllium is produced from Spor Mountain, a super-large volcanic-hosted bertrandite deposit in Utah and imported beryl. Mining and mill operations have adapted to declining/fluctuating grades by blending imported beryl to extend the mine’s domestic reserves. Establishing the geologic processes leading to the formation of volcanic-related Be mineral resources is needed to provide reliable data for Be mineral resource assessments and characterizing on-site mine wastes with a focus on the potential for post-extraction reprocessing of ore for Li, F, and rare earth elements (REE).

Methodology to Address Issue

Project objectives are:

  1. to fully establish a comprehensive and robust geologic and geochemical framework for the occurrence of volcanic-related beryllium (Be) deposits;
  2. further our understanding of the fundamental ore processes that lead to formation of volcanogenic beryllium (Be)-boron (B)-lithium (Li)-phosphorus (P) group deposits, by investigating processes favorable for enhanced concentration of beryllium, lithium and fluorine; and
  3. to investigate the occurrence, concentration, and distribution of potential by-product critical minerals (Li, F, REE) in mine waste.
lizard on rock

Desert wildlife includes scorpions, rattlesnakes, pronghorn, and lots of lizards, The Dell, Utah.

(Credit: Stephen Snyder, USGS. Public domain.)

Project Tasks

Genetic, Assessment and Reprocessing Model Studies of Volcanic-related Be (Li, F) Resources: Li, F, and REE are concentrated in waste that has been stored on-site at Spor Mountain Mine in Utah since the mine opened in the 1960's. Selective extraction studies of mill waste products are underway to investigate a potential for co-production of Be, Li, F, and REE from low-grade deposits of this type.

Geologic Framework Studies of Be-B-Li-P-enriched Igneous Systems: conduct age dating studies to establish a comprehensive and robust geologic and geochemical framework for the geologic setting of volcanic-related beryllium deposits in the western U.S. 

Compilation and Analysis of Existing Datasets for U.S. Volcanic-related Be Resources (mines, deposits, occurrences): compilation of geophysics, remote rensing, mineralogy, and locational data for domestic beryllium resources.

scientist standing geologic outcrop

Volcanic rocks that make up a vent structure of Spor Mountain Rhyolite sampled for age and chemistry; located north of the Spor Mountain beryllium mine, Utah.

(Credit: Nora Foley, USGS. Public domain.)

scientist in the field, UT

Smaller beryllium occurrences and fluorite mines in the region are also being sampled at Spor Mountain proper, in The Dell and to the west. Photo is taken in The Dell, Utah.

(Credit: Stephen Snyder, USGS. Public domain.)

 

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