Research & Innovation

CORE-CM: Exploring Alaska’s potential to meet national needs

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)  has selected the University of Alaska as one of 13 Carbon Ore, Rare Earth and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Centers across the country to conduct research on resource extraction, resource processing, and manufacturing of high-value, nonfuel, carbon-based products. An objective is to accelerate the development of carbon ores and critical minerals. Of the thirteen Centers DOE is funding, Alaska has the only Center that covers all the geologic basins in a state. The other 12 centers are focused on specific, well-developed basins.


Participants in Alaska’s CORE-CM program have tremendous expertise in engineering, mineralogy, geochemistry, and mining. Our CORE-CM team includes the University of Alaska’s three universities, state and federal agencies, Alaska mining companies, and other stakeholders. We are using this “window of opportunity” to develop well thought out, workable plans that make sense for Alaska and our unique environment.

Research tasks

Gallium crystals


Management and Planning

This is primarily an administrative task for coordinating the efforts of our diverse team. This task also provides for cooperating with the other CORE-CM Centers to ensure compliance with the Biden administration’s social and environmental justice guidelines. This task also includes planning for job creation and economic revitalization with particular interest in historically underserved or underrepresented workers.

Gallium crystals


Assessing Resources

A component of our CORE-CM program is to begin assembling geologic models for carbon ores associated with potential rare earth elements and critical minerals.
Alaska’s CORE-CM resources are spread across a variety of sedimentary basins, ranging from expansive foreland basins (structural basins that develop adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt), to small, extension-controlled basins (basins caused by a depressed block of land between parallel faults). Fully assessing Alaska’s entire basin inventory is not feasible; instead, the Alaska Division of Geologic and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) is thoroughly reviewing the geology of some basins that have key geologic characteristics that are frequently present in Alaska’s mineral-rich basins. These basins hold potential for CORE-CM resource development. This preliminary analysis of CORE-CM play types is being drafted for publication by DGGS.

Gallium crystals


Strategies to Reuse Waste Streams

The initial focus in this task will be to evaluate existing mining waste streams to determine what minerals and elements are in the waste streams and determine if the amounts are enough to make the waste streams a viable resource for rare earth and critical mineral production.
The initial waste streams to be assessed will come from Usibelli coal production. We will be assessing bottom and fly ash from the power plants the coal mine supplies. We will also be assessing waste streams from Red Dog and Greens Creek.

Gallium crystls


Strategies for Infrastructure

In this task, the team will build development scenarios (plans for how specific sites could be developed) for one or more basins of interest. The team will identify challenges associated with developing the minerals and elements and work toward developing solutions. Topics may include considering how relatively-self-sufficient mining and refining operations could be established where there is no existing infrastructure or where it is not likely the infrastructure will be extended. The CORE-CM team will consider the infrastructure needs of active and planned Alaskan mining operations. The plans that come out of this task will be used as planning documents for implementing an Alaska Focused Technology Innovation Center (AK-TIC) (see Task 6).

Gallium crystals


Technology Assessment

In this task, the team will generate information about technologies that are appropriate for use in different locations so that businesses and industry can make well-informed decisions with respect to environmentally sensitive development.
Technologies to be considered may include:

  • Selective mining — evaluating how we can reduce the amount of material from which REE-CM must be separated. This is extremely important because Alaskan mines and potential Alaskan mines are often in remote locations and transportation is costly.
  • Investigating processes to separate and purify REE and CM — minerals and elements are attached to rocks, coal, and other materials from which they must be separated before they can be used. Perhaps equally important is that the minerals and elements must be roughly separated before they are transported. Alaska’s frequently remote locations can significantly add to the cost of transportation and it is important to transport high-value loads. Some of these highly-technical separations processes can result in as much as 20 times the concentration of rare earth elements.
  • Exploring the viability of creating products from carbon ore – This subtask deals with manufacturing high-value, non-fuel, uses of coal. Composite materials, asphalt binders, and soil amendments are examples of non-fuel uses for coal.

Gallium crystals


Alaska Technology Innovation Center

DOE requires each of the 13 CORE-CM centers to make plans for a regional Technology Innovation Center (TIC). From those plans, DOE has announced it plans to provide funding to eight TICs to implement their plans. If funded, the mission of the Alaska TIC will be to perform research and development that will result in commercial processing technologies and production of Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals, and the production of high-value, nonfuel, coal products. The AK-TIC will develop public-private partnerships and educate the next generation workforce.
Specifically, the Alaska Technology Innovation Center will:

  • Accelerate research to enable commercial deployment of advanced processing and production of REE, CM and high-value, nonfuel, carbon/coal products in an environmentally acceptable manner.
  • Pursue public-private partnerships to develop and deploy innovative technologies that lead to a complete Alaska-based supply chain.
  • Advance opportunities for the education and training of the next generation of technicians, skilled workers and STEM professionals. The University of Alaska is already investing in the Alaska Technology Innovation Center (AK-TIC) by remodeling laboratory space, purchasing new equipment to bring new capabilities to the State, and partnering with other universities, national laboratories, industry partners, and government agencies to focus on meeting Alaska’s technology needs.

Gallium crystals


Stakeholder Outreach and Education

In this task, our CORE-CM will focus on communications and gaps in technologies and infrastructure. The project team will reach out to stakeholders from industry, government, Alaska Native Corporations, and Non-Governmental Organizations. We will be posting our work products and updates to the CORE-CM website and publicizing its content so interested parties can easily find information about our plans, review our work products, and provide feedback to the CORE-CM team. In addition, this is the first in a series of informational newsletters that will help to inform the public about CORE-CM actions.