Fluorospar (Fluorite) is the state mineral of Illinois and for many years it was big business. But the last U.S. Fluorite mine was in southern Illinois and it closed in 1995, pushed out by China’s mining operations and low prices. The Re-opening of Molycorp Mine in California to mine for rare earth minerals will once again mean the U.S. has an internal supply of much needed materials like Fluorspar (Fluorite).
Rare minerals like flurospar are used in the manufacturing of thermoplastics and numerous other industries. In the 1980’s and 1990’s China flooded markets with fluorospar. This caused prices to drop below the cost of mining in the U.S. causing the 1995 closure of the last U.S. fluorospar mine in Illinois. By 2008 China shifted to exporting products like fluorocarbons and fluoropolymers instead of the raw mined mineral and, although it has restricted many of its exports, it remains the biggest player. Currently, fluorospar is primarily mined and exported from: China, Mexico, Mongolia, and South Africa.
Today, 95% of rare earth minerals are mined in China and obtaining minerals is becoming increasingly difficult. Technology that drives the Pentagon’s weapons program, the U.S. auto industry and renewable energy ambitions are all threatened by a lack of heavy rare earth minerals for which China currently enjoys the global mining monopoly.
This Is Where Molycorp Mine Is Changing Things for the U.S.
The largest construction project, Molycorp Mine, in the Unites States is about to change the overseas monopoly on rare minerals
Located in Mountain Pass, California, about an hour west of Las Vegas, the Molycorp Mine sits atop mineral deposits discovered in the late 1940’s by geologists looking for commercial-grade uranium. They found some of the world’s richest reserves of bastnasite, a mineral containing higher-than-usual concentrations of rare-earth elements like cerium, lanthanum and yttrium.
Rare-earth mining began at Mountain Pass in the early 1950s, and by the mid-1980s the mine supplied 60 percent of global demand and 100 percent of U.S. needs. But as Chinese production increased, operations at Mountain Pass dwindled and it closed in 2002.
Six years after the Mountain Pass closure, a group of private investors purchased the mine from Chevron. Molycorp is now giving the mine a $781 million overhaul, Molycorp is ramping up production at Mountain Pass, and looks set to produce 40,000 tons annually by the end of 2013. As the mine begins cranking out neodymium, lanthanum and other rare earth materials by the ton, the strategic vulnerability that’s caused so much concern should be eased. Read more in this Washington Post Article.
Heavy Equipment Manufacturers Utilizing Plastics to Lessen Downtime and Improve Efficiency
The importance of such a mine has led Heavy Equipment Manufactures to design with the need for constant production of equipment and to decrease down time of equipment. The advent of self lubricating thermoplastic bearings, which give reduction in weight and power output, have helped eliminate the need for lubricating systems and increased the overall production time of the equipment. Less weight also means less fuel needed to operate large equipment.
Other areas that mining truck manufactures look to for adding value is clean up time of trucks. Mud and dirt become caked on the wheel wells and the extra thousands of pounds creates more down time of equipment due to increased cleaning times.
When looking at the rare-earth mineral issue its easy to see how the impact of mining in the U.S. can affect industries from plastics, to large equipment, defense and much more.
Director of Business Development
ThyssenKrupp Materials NA, AIN Plastics Division
Just added – We found this program regarding rare earth mining. Watch it now: http://video.ketc.org/video/2217713569
For more articles related to rare-earth minerals or the opening of the Molycorp Mine check out these links –