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The hunt for critical minerals is on — in the Midwest

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Petra Böckmann
/
Heinrich Böll Foundation
Rare earth minerals are necessary for the manufacturing of national defense technology and sustainable energy applications — as well as being used to create everyday technology like smartphones.

Rare earth minerals — the commodities used to manufacture everything from smartphones to missile systems to electric vehicles — are in high demand. These critical minerals are also key to developing sustainable energy sources and bolstering infrastructure.

“In 1980, a computer chip was made up of less than 15 elements,” Missouri State Geologist Joe Gillman told St. Louis on the Air. “Today, with high-speed integrated circuits, it's 80-plus. The worldwide demand for this technology is clearly growing. When we look at the potential for the energy transition to the future electric cars, solar power — all require important elements.”

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Joe Gillman
/
Missouri Geological Survey
Using magnetometry, the Missouri Geological Survey looks into the subsurface to see where there are iron-bearing rocks and mineral rich areas.

The U.S. Geological Survey, looking to meet that demand and bolster the supply chain, is on the hunt for domestic sources of these minerals. Currently, the country relies on imports from China, Canada and Germany.

The USGS is partnering with local agencies for this search, including Gillman’s team at the Missouri Geological Survey. They use magnetometry and radiometry to search for iron-bearing rocks and mineral-rich areas in southeast Missouri and the Illinois basin. They also conduct geologic mapping in Madison County, Missouri, where cobalt and nickel have been mined in the past, and in the Joplin region, a historic lead and zinc mining district.

Gillman’s work is made possible through USGS match funding, as well as state funding from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources budget.

Joe Gillman joins St. Louis on the Air

“We're very fortunate to be working in a state that supports geoscience understanding,” Gillman said.

If critical minerals are indeed found in Missouri and surrounding areas, the discovery won’t necessarily set off a rush to mine the landscape, Gillman added. The main purpose of this work, he said, is to better connect Missourians with the resources they use on a daily basis.

“So that if we get to the point where those resources are in demand, and there is a need to mine those, that we have the best information available,” he said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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