State contains 9 of the earth’s rarest minerals
Southwest Colorado contains enough rare, “critical and strategic” minerals to allow the U.S. to become less dependent on foreign imports and continue advancements in modern technology, according to a senior state geologist.
Jim Burnell, senior geologist for the Colorado Geological Survey, presented his findings recently during a forum in Montrose. He said Colorado has an abundance of rare minerals for uses in energy development, solar power, military defense, aerospace development, and auto and electrical manufacturing.
On the Western Slope alone, deposits of vanadium, selenium, zinc, iron, tellurium, gold, copper, silver and uranium all have critical uses, Burnell said. He said his findings are not meant to shape government policy, only to educate people about the state’s rare mineral resources.
“Colorado contains nine of the earth’s rarest minerals. These are essential to our way of life,” Burnell said.
He said the U.S. presently imports all of its supply of gallium, germanium and indium. These minerals are imported from China, the Middle East and Africa, despite being available in Colorado, Burnell said.
“You people are right in the middle of a high production area,” he said.
Indium is used in electronic and alternative-energy products such as solar cells and flash-memory sticks for computers.
He said China and its growing domestic demand will phase out exports of indium in the coming years. He stressed the importance of the U.S. producing a domestic supply of indium and other minerals, which would create thousands of new jobs in the process.
The U.S. imports 80 percent of the nation’s tellurium, a mineral associated with mining in the Telluride region.
Tellurium has one of the highest photovoltaic qualities found in nature and is used in solar-power products, Burnell said.
These minerals have a high value in today’s market because their manufacturing potential was not fully realized decades ago, he said.
Montrose County and the state earlier this year approved a special-use permit for the Pinon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita. Residents there are united in support of the mill, but opponents say the industry threatens to contaminate the area with hazardous waste.
The mill would be the first uranium milling facility constructed in the U.S. since 1981. It will process raw ore into a component of nuclear fuel.
Burnell said vanadium, a mineral with rich deposits in Mesa and Montrose County, is found with uranium when mined. Vanadium is used in solar energy products, military defense and construction and is in high demand, Burnell said.
“The U.S. is lagging behind in production. It’s very good economically, not only for the state but for the country,” he said.