Gary Freeman standing besides a large crystal of spodumene. Photo by Mary Freeman. Penobscot Bay Pilot News
Roskin Gem News Report

The Billion Dollar Spodumene Deposit They Cannot Mine!

Gary Roskin
Roskin Gem News Report

For gem & mineral collectors, Plumbago Mountain in Newry, Maine is famous for its gem tourmaline deposits. At Plumbago, the “Big Find” of 1972 (1972-1974) uncovered thousands of carats of incredible quality gems and mineral specimens. (See GIA’s Gems & Gemology – The Big Find)

Plumbago Mountain is in an historical gem & mineral prospecting region. It is roughly 20 miles from Mount Mica and other important Maine Tourmaline mines. If you are familiar with the area, you will know that spodumene has also been found at Plumbago, in a pegmatite located on the north side of the mountain. This spodumene deposit is important to the story.

A rare 5.40 ct Newry spodumene, John J. Bradshaw collection.

So, Plumbago Mountain is in the news again, not for its gem deposits, but for its mineral deposits. Plumbago Mountain is where they have discovered an enormous deposit of lithium… in the spodumene.

Spodumene, a pyroxene mineral, is composed of lithium in the form of LiAl(SiO3)2. Lithium is found in various gem materials, such as kunzite spodumene and elbaite tourmalines. Notably, spodumene, in its non-gemmy form, serves as a commercially significant reservoir of lithium.

Think of it this way… It’s elemental. The lithium in the Plumbago deposit does not exist in its metallic state in the mountain, but instead is tied up in the molecular structure of the spodumene.

(The lithium is in the non-gemmy spodumene. See the image up top with Gary Freeman standing next to a large – a very large crystal of spodumene.)

How Huge is HUGE?
Reportedly, this Plumbago lithium find is the largest lithium deposit in the world…. yes, you read that right… largest in the world!

And now there’s a new exhibit at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum in Bethel, Maine called, “Batteries & Beyond: Why Lithium Matters.” The exhibit is supposed to be educational, but they know what’s going on just up the road in Newry.

Museum Exhibit on Lithium

The museum’s lithium exhibit will no doubt start the conversation about mining lithium in Maine, and how a huge deposit like this could change the small town of Newry… and probably everything around it for hundreds of miles.

So what’s the problem? What are the pros and cons? What does Maine lose if they do not allow the mining of lithium in Newry? Does it really matter that much to the world if that lithium remains in the ground? Conversations around these questions are what the museum hopes to conger up. In the meantime, what’s happening?

Maine Mineral & Gem Museum Curator Myles Felch stands Dec. 7 by his new lithium exhibit on the first floor of the museum. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Curator Myles Felch (seen above) has created a lithium exhibit as a place for the community to gather and understand the importance of lithium. He hopes it will help visitors, “get up to speed so they can understand this much larger [lithium] supply chain that we are all a part of.”

Maine Mineral & Gem Museum

And then there’s Mary and Gary Freeman

Mary and Gary Freeman own the land (and mineral rights), and have been “prospecting” for gems and minerals there for decades. And now they have discovered that gigantic lithium deposit. But can they mine it?

A “mining” operation there would be considered a “metallic mineral mine” under state regulations. As we noted above, Mary and Gary have been “prospecting” (not “mining”) for gems, even if that means digging down into a pegmatite. “Mining” for metals is completely different in terms of state regulations. This means that the spodumene lithium deposit would be treated more like a copper or silver mine. And that makes it complicated. Or maybe more accurately stated, that makes it almost impossible to “mine” in the state of Maine.

Maine’s Metallic Mineral Mining Act, adopted in 2017, is considered one of the strictest mining laws in the country.

How Much Money Are We Talking About?
According to local resources, the potential value of the spodumene lithium find in Newry is “staggering.” Apparently, the deposit is thought to contain 11 million tons of ore. This would be valued at roughly $1.5 Billion! This deposit is estimated to have a higher percentage of lithium by weight than any other known in the world! Even more amazing to mineralogists, there are lithium bearing crystals of spodumene measuring up to 36 feet in length, some of the largest ever found! (Again, see the image up top, with Freeman standing next to a spodumene crystal.)

Tap here for the full back story in the Penobscot Bay Pilot news: State complicates couple’s hopes to mine $1.5 billion lithium deposit on their property

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum exhibit opened Nov. 4 in the Discovery Gallery which is free and open to the public. It will likely be exhibited for the next three years.

Pieces of kunzite, a variety of the lithium-bearing crystals found in Newry, for sale at the Rock & Art Shop in Bar Harbor. Photo by Kate Cough.
Roskin Gem News Report
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