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The next gold rush

Alaska’s massive mining potential, combined with the increasing global need for minerals, is triggering a new wave of investment and optimism in the state’s billion-dollar mining sector. China’s growing needs in electric vehicles and other areas of its economy point to a dazzling potential growth market  

Throughout Alaska’s history, mining has been a cornerstone of the state’s economy. From the gold rush of the 19th century up until today, Alaska’s abundance of untapped mineral deposits has been legendary. Even still, Alaska remains one of the most prospective and underexplored areas in the world, even though around 7,200 known mineral occurrences, not including coal or industrial or construction materials deposits, have already been confirmed.

In 2016, Alaska’s leading mineral export was zinc, followed by gold, silver, lead and copper, with new minerals such as cobalt, graphite and rare-earth elements also offering major potential for growth. This resource potential, combined with rising mineral prices, has put Alaska’s mining sector in a positive position, as evidenced by the $1.4 billion invested in exploration between 2010 and 2017.  

Trilogy Metals has made a success out of copper mining and is now moving into cobalt extraction. Photos: Trilogy Metals

The majority of Alaska’s extracted minerals are exported. In 2016, China was the second-largest international market for Alaska’s mining products, importing $321.7 million, or 21 percent of the total. Mining companies have also identified the Asian giant as a market closely linked with the future of Alaska’s mining sector development.

“China has a growing middle class of over 300 million and a desire to move from internal combustion engine cars to electric vehicles. All of this involves copper. As a result, there is a lot of interest in the resources Alaska is able to provide,” said Rick Nieuwenhuyse, CEO of Trilogy Metals Inc., a company that operates in Alaska’s Amber Mining District, which is home to some of the world’s richest known copper-dominant polymetallic deposits.  

“Alaska is a jurisdiction that knows resource development well and has a very stable track record in terms of permitting”

Rick Nieuwenhuyse, CEO, Trilogy Metals Inc.

Trilogy Metals, a publicly traded company, has been operating in the region since 2004 and sees a bright future in the state. Not only is the company planning to start work on its first Arctic mine in 2019, it also recently published its maiden cobalt resource estimate for 77 million pounds of cobalt – the largest in North America.

“While the Democratic Republic of Congo has 65 percent of the world’s cobalt currently, it’s not a region that has a stable rule of law… Alaska is a jurisdiction that knows resource development very well and has a very stable track record in terms of permitting. It’s probably more stable than anywhere else in the world,” said Nieuwenhuyse.

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