ISHPEMING, MI — Right now, 3,200 feet below ground, explosives are blasting apart billion-year-old rock that, eventually, is going to wind up in an electric vehicle.
Broken into chunks, the rock, now called ore, takes a two-hour ride to the surface before getting trucked to a crushing mill, which separates the valuable minerals within through a flotation process that produces a clumpy gray filter cake. That concentrate is loaded onto trains and sent to Canada on its way to being smelted and refined into a sulphate used in lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars.
For nearly a decade, that’s been occurring around-the-clock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where ore from two large deposits under the Yellow Dog Plains near Marquette accounts for 100 percent of the domestic nickel supply in the United States.
Since 2014, the Eagle Mine has put America on the map for global production of a critical mineral that’s key to reducing climate-warming carbon emissions from automobiles. The mine, owned by Lundin Mining Co. of Toronto, is the only place in the U.S. where nickel, a mineral which helps increase energy storage in lithium-ion batteries and thus boost the range an electric car can drive on a single charge, is produced.