Gem Hunters Found the Lithium America Needs. Maine Won’t Let Them Dig It Up – by Alana Semuels and Kate Cough (Time Magazine/Maine Monitor – July 17, 2023)

The world’s richest known lithium deposit lies deep in the woods of western Maine, in a yawning, sparkling mouth of white and brown rocks that looks like a landslide carved into the side of Plumbago Mountain. Mary Freeman and her husband Gary found the deposit five years ago while hunting for tourmaline, a striking, multi-colored gemstone found in the region.

The Freemans make their living selling lab supplies through the Florida-based company they founded 40 years ago, Awareness Technology. But their true love is digging for gemstones, which has brought them for years to Mary’s home state of Maine, the site of some of the best tourmaline hunting in the world.

Since 2003, they’ve been buying up property parcels, studying core samples and old geological maps to determine where to try digging next, then spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on blasting and equipment. The couple has dug more than a mile of tunnels in pursuit of beautiful stones, and many of their finds—like blue elbaite and rich watermelon tourmaline—have wound up on display at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum in nearby Bethel.

Now, the Freemans want to expand this pit, near the town of Newry, Maine, so they can mine spodumene, crystals that contain the lithium the U.S. needs for the clean energy transition. The timing of their discovery, in what has been named Plumbago North, is remarkable; the Freemans have stumbled across one of the only hard-rock sources of lithium in the U.S. at a time when the material is desperately needed for the clean energy transition.

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