Gold-rush-era discards could fuel cellphones

Rare earth elements found in old mine 'tailings'

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Early miners digging for gold, silver and copper across the West had no idea that one day something else valuable would be hidden in the discarded piles of dirt and rocks called tailings.

Today, there's a rush to find key components for cellphones, televisions, weapons systems, wind turbines, MRI machines and the regenerative brakes in hybrid cars. And it turns out old mine leftovers just might be the answer.

Federal geologists are hunting for deposits of the elements known as rare earth supplies. And old mines are becoming increasingly important to that search as the U.S. government seeks to break the Chinese stranglehold on the materials.



Print this article Back to Top