Federal Gov’t calls on N.D. lignite to answer domestic supply shortage of critical minerals

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ND's 800-year lignite supply could be the answer to a domestic supply shortage that threatens national security

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $1.5 million to the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) to support the production of rare earth elements and critical minerals vital to the manufacturing of batteries, magnets, and other components important to clean energy.

The United States is facing persistent shortages in domestic supply and is forced to rely on imported materials, predominately from China. The lack of domestic supply leaves clean energy technology production at greater risk of disruption.

Last week North Dakota U.S. Senator John Hoeven said, “This grant will support the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center’s efforts to continue advancing the production of rare-earth elements, critical minerals and other carbon products from North Dakota lignite coal.”

Twenty years ago the U.S. did have a consistent domestic supply of rare-earth elements and critical minerals. EERC Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, John Harju, explained the geopolitical importance of revamping the supply.

“One of the huge concerns that the Federal Government has is the real dominance of China in the global supply of these critical minerals and we’re comfortable that our lignite resources may have substantial quantities and concentrations, but rather China saw this as a strategic opportunity to corner a market place,” explained Harju.

EERC recently completed research evaluating the potential to make high-value graphene-based solid carbon products from North Dakota lignite. Graphene from ND lignite could open new markets in non-energy sectors such as electronics, optical devices, lightweight farming tools, and military equipment,


Standing Rock (“SAGE”) Renewable Energy Power Authority is Standing Rock’s first public power authority. SAGE is currently campaigning to build a 60 turbine 235 Mega Watt utility wind farm called Anpetu Wi or (morning light), but one of the projects’ major hurdles is transmission line availability.

North Dakota is split between Midcontinent Indepenent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP). Standing Rock (“SAGE”) Renewable Energy Power Authority General Manager Joseph McNeil Junior explained that right now Standing Rock only has SPP transmission lines, and the South Dakota part of the tribal nation has no transmission lines whatsoever.

North Dakota Transmission Authority Director John Weeda told KX News it costs about a million dollars per mile to construct new transmission infrastructure in North Dakota. However, McNeil says the limited availability of transmission lines constrains the predictability of bringing new energy projects to market.

“So we do need more transmission. Whether it’s through Standing Rock or adjacent to Standing Rock to make projects like ours feasible. But, not just us. I mean there’s the rest of Grant County and on the South Dakota side. There are so many counties there that have this great wind resource,” explained McNeil.

SAGE has an application to connect their power to the SPP system and expects to get results back by 2023 or 2024. Anpetu Wi wind farm will be the single largest revenue source for Standing Rock and will reinvest into future projects such as solar, micro-grids, and home energy installation for the people of Standing Rock.


Even though the 67th North Dakota Legislature has adjourned, one thing they will still be working on yet this year is redisctricting. North Dakota Farm Burea will be tracking the process to ensure rural districts are preserved.

Every ten years after the Census, North Dakota legislators re-portion districts based on an approximately 16,000 person population per district, and re-draw the legislative district lines accordingly.

The population growth seen in eastern and western parts of the state will impact the district lines, causing concern that rural districts will merge with metropolitan areas, changing laws & representation for new districts.

“For us, we’re certainly concerned with protecting the interests of rural North Dakota, and we think that the folks that are on the committee, a lot of them are trusted friends, and we expect that all of it will be fair and equitable. We’ll just have to see how it all shakes out with the populations and we really don’t know those numbers until later in the Summer,” explained NDFB Director of Public Policy Pete Hanebutt.

The 2020 Census shows the state’s rate of growth was the fourth-highest in the nation, with an increased total headcount of 106,503 residents, bringing North Dakota’s total population to 779,094.

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