USGS multimillion-dollar science investments strengthen domestic supply chains for critical minerals
RESTON, Va. — The U.S. Geological Survey is investing millions of dollars in strengthening domestic supply chains for mineral resources critical to every economic sector and every member of society. The flagship effort within these investments is a nationwide mapping effort for critical minerals, which has been expanded and accelerated by funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The USGS is improving our understanding of these resources, both in the ground and in mine waste, across the nation through its Earth Resource Mapping Initiative, known as Earth MRI. In fiscal year 2023 alone, the USGS distributed more than $51 million across 35 states and Puerto Rico to fund geoscience data collection and mapping in partnership with state geological surveys, data preservation programs, and scientific interpretation to identify areas of the country with potential for critical minerals.
“Investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda are already helping us better understand our domestic critical mineral resources, a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that power everything from household appliances and electronics to low-carbon energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines,” said USGS Director Dave Applegate.
Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law accounts for about \$40 million of the overall \$51 million. This funding is part of the broader \$510.7 million investment in the USGS from the infrastructure law to support scientific innovation.
“Five years into Earth MRI we’ve covered an area equivalent to Montana and Texas combined with airborne geophysical data surveys,” said Darcy McPhee, USGS program manager for Earth MRI. “We have also uncovered promising mineral formations in northern Maine, including rare earth elements, niobium and zirconium, which are important for electronics, defense, and manufacturing applications.”
Under Earth MRI, the USGS has partnered with state geological surveys to jointly fund and conduct new geologic mapping and geochemical reconnaissance sampling and to preserve existing geologic data and samples.
One priority area of research is mine waste and its potential for critical minerals. The USGS has invested more than $2 million in cooperative agreements with 14 states to better map the locations of mine waste, add new information to the National Mine Waste Inventory, and measure the potential for critical minerals that might exist in that mine waste.
Another priority area of research involves a partnership with NASA to collect cutting-edge, high-altitude hyperspectral information across the southwestern United States. Hyperspectral imaging is a means of collecting and analyzing data across the electromagnetic spectrum for each pixel in a digital image. This powerful tool enables us to identify the mineral composition of surface rocks, including mine wastes, and are also useful for understanding geological acid mine drainage, debris flows, agriculture, wildfires, biodiversity, and many other fields. So far, the USGS has provided $4 million to NASA to conduct surveys, with plans to continue the partnership.
These investments will give decision-makers and resource managers better tools and information to help manage the Nation’s critical mineral resources – including minerals still in the ground and those found in mine waste. Several USGS programs are involved in these efforts, including:
The Mineral Resources Program and the state geological surveys are conducting geochemical reconnaissance surveys to provide initial information on under-studied geologic settings, thus helping plan and prioritize future years’ data collection and mapping. The Mineral Resources Program is also designing airborne geophysical surveys that are being flown by private sector airborne geophysical survey contractors in areas with critical mineral potential. This information allows scientists to identify likely locations of rocks and geologic structures (such as faults) associated with critical minerals, geothermal energy resources, groundwater and potential earthquake hazards in the region. Analyzing mine waste for its critical mineral potential is also a priority.
Through the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, geologic and geochemical mapping will be conducted by state geological surveys. The new maps will refine our understanding of the geologic framework of mineral areas of interest. In addition to helping identify mineral potential, these maps also support decisions about the use of land, water, energy and minerals, and the potential impact of geologic hazards on communities.
The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program partners with Earth MRI to support data preservation. The increased funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will support preservation of physical samples that would be costly or difficult to replace.
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