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By A.J. Roan
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Alaska can fuel American clean energy

DOE hosts two-day workshop to discuss Alaska's leadership potential in carbon management, critical minerals production North of 60 Mining News - March 3, 2023


Last updated 3/17/2023 at 5:13am

A breathtaking photo of the Denali National Park in Alaska.

More than its physical resources, Alaska holds a wealth of breathtaking vistas, unforgettable locales, and unmatched scenery. Understanding this, mining in Alaska takes care to maintain this natural treasure.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Gathering together leaders, decision-makers, and experts toward the common goal of understanding the value of Alaska's mineral endowment and how to unlock it for America's net-zero emission goals, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management hosted a two-day workshop bringing attention to carbon management and critical minerals and how the Last Frontier will be a keystone in achieving the country's lofty ambition.

Held at Alaska Pacific University's Atwood Center Rasmuson Hall on Feb. 21 and 22, these workshops were dedicated to discussing Alaska's potential for leadership in carbon management in energy and industry, as well as a rich domestic source of the minerals critical to America's low-carbon future.

"The purpose of this workshop is to support your state's ambitions to become a world leader in critical minerals production and processing," Office of Energy and Carbon Management Assistant Secretary Brad Crabtree said during the onset of the Feb. 22 workshop. "As you know, the demand for critical minerals is increasing rapidly as the world transitions to a clean energy industrial economy."

Aware of the immense opportunity that Alaska presents in a sustainable, carbon-free, green energy future, representatives from DOE, universities, national labs, industry, Alaska Native corporations, U.S. Geological Survey, and everything in between met to acknowledge, bring awareness, and set the groundwork for first steps regarding carbon management and critical minerals in the Far North State.

"These critical minerals are in our computers, our cellphones, household appliances; they're needed for a wide range of strategic industries, aerospace, medicine, defense; they're components of clean energy technologies, batteries, electric vehicles, solar panels – also very vital to our national defense and the equipment and technologies for our military," said Crabtree. "All of these things are essential to meeting our climate goals, achieving economy-wide decarbonization, ensuring domestic and global energy security, and not least again, our own national security."

While relatively short, these two discussions were spent on such things as developing a carbon management hub in Alaska and decarbonizing the current grid system while expanding energy access; policy and regulations; as well as hearing from the perspective of Alaskan Natives and their ongoing duty of safeguarding their ancestral lands, while still being open to increased economic and community development.

After expressing options and ideas regarding carbon management on the first day, the second day discussed the challenges surrounding the development of critical minerals production and processing, as well as actions that the state and federal governments can do to facilitate those activities.

On both days, a panel was held to highlight the perspective of Alaska's First People.

Due to conversations such as this, Alaskans will be better able to align their thoughts and ideas to ensure that everyone is on the same page or at least the same book. This is critically important because it helps make certain that Alaskans are able to appropriately capitalize on the bountiful endowment their home provides and, more importantly, brings awareness on how to safeguard this unique and beautiful place and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for current and future generations.

CORE-CM Initiative

Owing to the potential of what Alaska can do for nearly every facet of most Americans' daily lives, DOE has quickly recognized that the 49th state offers unequaled potential to supply the minerals critical to the nation's energy goals without the reliance on imports that puts the nation at risk.

"With critical minerals production and processing, Alaska has the potential to chart a course that adds value to your state while helping our nation, again, meet our energy and climate goals," the FECM Assistant Secretary said. "That's going to mean taking strategic advantage of a whole host of new funding opportunities and incentives in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, and to leverage the anticipated private sector investments that will help us move towards a more economically prosperous and environmentally-sound future."

Holding the purse strings to roughly $62 billion of federal clean energy funding made available by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, DOE has already implemented initiatives and studies in Alaska to galvanize the process by figuring out where to even start in the state – given the enormity of it.

Recognizing the paradigm shift relatively early, although probably not to the degree it's considered now, DOE announced at the end of 2020 roughly $122 million in funding toward the assessment of states' coal, rare earths, and critical minerals endowment through the Carbon Ore, Rare Earth, and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Initiative for U.S. basins.

Under the CORE-CM Initiative, 13 projects were awarded $19 million to perform regional assessments of critical minerals and rare earth element capacity across Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, Alaska, and various other basins.

Fitting the criteria to receive a portion of this funding, DOE – along with eight research groups (University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering; Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys; University of Alaska Anchorage; Green Leaf Carbon Technologies; JWP Consulting LLP; Technology Holding LLP; ESP Research Inc .; and Ahtna Inc.) and four industry partners (Ucore Rare Metals Inc .; CVMR Inc .; Graphite One Inc .; and Usibelli Coal Mine) – has been conducting this study to essentially reduce the nation's dependence on imported rare earths and critical minerals.

This ongoing project is made possible due to funding by DOE and the CORE-CM Initiative.

"Thanks to [the] Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we're undertaking airborne magnetic and radiometric surveys in the Yukon-Tanana Upland and the Kuskokwim River regions; those are underway right now," said Crabtree in regards to other actions DOE is undertaking to support assessment of Alaska. "These regions have the potential to show large amounts of antimony, gold, rare earths, tin, tungsten, and other critical minerals."

Included in the potential of Alaska are things that have already been mined. Given the long history with mining the state has, there is vast untapped potential in revisiting old mine workings to recover minerals that are critical today but held little value to the prospectors of old – at the same time, opening up the opportunity for land reclamation and rehabilitation.

"It so happens that the Fossil Energy and Carbon Management portfolio is focused on waste streams, so I want to emphasize that that's not the only need, but that's an area of opportunity that we've been leaning on at the Department of Energy," added Crabtree.

To better help connect Alaska with the opportunities it needs to truly capture its value, DOE also recently established the Arctic Energy Office, which is unique among DOE offices as it is geographically based and presently the only one of its kind.

Securing access to the funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act can perhaps be best sought through the new northern office.

The 49th State has 49

A primary challenge for realizing Alaska's rich mineral potential is shifting the perspective of the state. While Alaska's considerable resource wealth seems obvious, Alaska lawmakers have had some doubts from their colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that many of her fellow policymakers in Washington, D.C., believe that the talk of Alaska's enormous critical minerals potential is hyperbole.

"Because Alaska is always the biggest, we always have more, we always have the tallest or the deepest, the widest or the bluest, and the fact of the matter is that we do," she said during the opening of the Alaska Minerals summit in 2022.

For Alaskans, it isn't a matter of being boastful; it's just the truth.

From zinc and germanium produced at the Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska to cobalt-enriched copper deposits in the Ambler Mining District to America's largest graphite deposit on the Seward Peninsula, to the Bokan Mountain rare earths project on the Southeast Alaska Panhandle, and the thousands of deposits and prospects found between, America's 49th state hosts 49 of the 50 minerals and metals deemed critical to the U.S.

"Last fall, the United States Geological Survey compiled its latest list of critical minerals, which now includes 50 metals, minerals, and materials," said Crabtree. "I would also note, that when reviewing this list, you really can't come to any conclusion other than the United States is very fortunate to have our 49th state because you have, interestingly enough, 49 of the 50 critical minerals and materials that are on our national list."

The 49 critical minerals found in Alaska were first reported in the 49 critical minerals in the 49th State article published in the November 4, 2022 edition of North of 60 Mining News.

From antimony historically mined near the Interior Alaska city of Fairbanks to long-forgotten deposits of tin discovered and abandoned during World War II near Nome, America's 49th State – historically considered a "folly" – is a past and potential future source of the minerals and metals that would ensure prosperity in an environmentally conscious way.

"Global demand for critical minerals is expected to skyrocket over the next several decades, and specific commodities you're going to see particular jumps – lithium and graphite are a couple examples, but there are more. The average electric car battery, for example, has about 10 pounds of lithium, 100 lb of graphite, 60 lb of nickel, and 20 lb of manganese," continued the assistant secretary.

"A little more than a decade ago, there were 130,000 electric vehicles sold worldwide; last year, there were 7 million sold, and that number may reach 45 million by 2040. These numbers alone tell us why Alaska is so important in this picture, for our economy and our national security, not just from a climate standpoint."

A map of the known critical mineral occurrences throughout Alaska.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources

A World Bank report published in 2020 estimated that the annual demand for battery materials such as graphite, lithium and cobalt could increase by roughly 500% over the coming three decades. While this projection is generalized and considered vastly conservative by lithium-ion battery insiders, it provides some insights into the need to develop these resources, ideally in our own backyard.

It is a fact that America is rich in minerals and metals, and Alaska even more so, with the U.S. Geological Survey calling Alaska a "geological storehouse of minerals critical to the United States."

As a storehouse of the resources required for a future powered by renewable energy, Alaska is positioned to lay the foundation for the clean energy future – a future where America's Last Frontier is the engine for prosperity across the state and nation.

Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management Assistant Secretary Brad CrabtreeA breathtaking photo of the Denali National Park in Alaska.A map of the known critical mineral occurrences throughout Alaska.


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