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Utah’s Western Desert Could Hold a Decade of Indium

Utah’s Western Desert is home to the only recognized deposit of indium in the USA. This little-known metal is used in everyday devices like smartphones and solar panels.

The Utah Geological Survey recently received a Federal grant of $300,000 to investigate further whether indium in western Juab County is worth mining. Research will be done in collaboration with the mining company that owns the deposit, American Western Metals.

Without producing anywhere in the United Statessecuring a national metal supply is something officials have their eyes on.

“Indium is one of the U.S. federally designated critical minerals, which means it’s critical to our national economy and security,” said Stephanie Mills, senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey and principal investigator of the study. “But we have a supply chain that’s vulnerable, in this case, because we don’t produce any of it.”

If the deposit proves successful, scientists say it could meet the needs of the United States for the next decade.

Indium is most commonly mined as a byproduct of zinc mining. According to American West, indium is present in “abnormally high levelsin the zinc deposits at the West Desert site.

Although future indium mining in Utah is a possibility, it must first be determined how much of it exists.

“It’s all the kind of work that gets done on the road once it’s sort of established – how much metal is there in the first place?” said Mills. “You have to know there’s enough to make it worthwhile.

Decisions on whether a future mine would take the form of underground mining or a more intrusive open-pit mine would come much later in the process, Mills said. American West says it focuses on “small footprint» mine.

If mining is in the future, conservationists say everything from water rights to impacts on local wildlife to how transportation would be handled should be considered.

“It’s not the easiest place to get to, so you’d have to think about it,” said Steve Erickson, Utah coordinator and board member of the Great Basin water network. “All of these issues should be considered in this process.”

Other groups are also concerned about the human impacts of future mines.

“Whereas [mining] can support clean energy initiatives, this can only be achieved if done responsibly with high environmental and human rights standards,” said Sierra Club Utah Chapter Director Carly Ferro. “To protect the values ​​we hold dear, like clean air and water, and the landscapes we love, we must first consider a qualified recycling strategy, and then when mining is necessary, we ensure that it meets the highest standards to be carried out in a sustainable manner and protects human rights, labor rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment.”

Geological research should last the next three years.

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion