Lifton on asteroid mining rare earths and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass – by Jack Lifton (Investor Intel – July 20, 2015)

Some rules don’t change. But that doesn’t mean that our poorly educated journalists have to know of them or even have to understand them, when they are described or applied. One rule, frequently swept under the rug by junior mining promoters eager to take advantage of journalistic ignorance can be stated as:

“In order for any deposit to be developed into a profitable mine the infrastructure to access it must already exist, or, if not, then its costs must be included in the feasibility study.”

Trivially this means for example no commercial mining until I can get to the deposit and either process the material to a commercial form at the site or move it to a processing site without logistics’ costs destroying the project economics.

A corollary of the above “rule” is that the cost of infrastructure must be quantified and covered before the project enters development. Now, the above rules of economics having been stated let’s get to what I am talking about today.

Mining carried out at the margins of contemporary engineering and process technology has always been a science fiction theme. This idea either directly as a driver or indirectly as a justification, in fact, has served to advance the idea of extraterrestrial exploration and as a reason to survey the sediments of the ocean’s bottom.

Neither the immense pressures of the deep ocean or the hard vacuum of outer space has thus been a barrier to the imagination, but in the real world of diesel-powered machinery using air as a source of oxidizer and of people who can only operate at all under narrow conditions of standard pressure and temperature-i.e., those that obtain on average at sea level on the surface of the earth-such mining has always faced not only the limitations of the human body but also infrastructure barriers.

Human adaptability and engineering have recently (in my lifetime) provided suits, in which, or machines, through or in which, people can operate under immense pressure or no pressure environments. However, so far, artificial intelligence (AI), AI has not progressed to the point where it can substitute at the drill point for an old man with an eye for minerals and a nose for grade. Remotely operated spectrographic equipment (sea-bed exploration) or gross long rang spectroscopy (astronomy) cannot yet even begin to substitute for hands on analysis.

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