Micro-distribution of heavy rare earth elements in Round Top Mountain rhyolite deposit (Hudspeth County, Texas, USA) by EPMA mapping
Abstract:Round Top Mountain, west Texas, USA, is composed almost entirely of peraluminous rhyolite, with pervasive low-grade enrichment in yttrium and heavy rare earth elements (Y+HREEs). The exposed rhyolite laccolith also contains Li, Be, U, Th, Nb, Ta, Ga, Rb, Cs, Sn, and F. The valuable Y+HREEs are hosted in yttrofluorite, which is soluble in dilute sulfuric acid. Texas Rare Earth Resources, Inc. proposes to surface mine, crush, and heap leach the massive, 109ton deposit.
The distribution of Y+HREEs, and that of other trace elements, is remarkably homogeneous at outcrop drill hole scale (Pingitore et al., FM14-V23D-4827: Uniform Distribution of Yttrium…). Here we document that Y+HREE mineralization appears pervasive through the rhyolite at a sub-millimeter scale.
We examined 15 thin sections of rhyolite fragments randomly selected from a composite sample produced by mixing several hundred kg of aliquot material recovered from >100 reverse circulation drill holes scattered across much of the mountain. A total of 16 elements (Y, Dy, Yb, F, U, Th, Nb, Sn, Zr, Rb, Ca, Na, K, Fe, Al, Si) plus back scattered electron image were mapped in WDS mode by stage raster across a 2 x 2 mm field at 516 x 516 pixel resolution on a Cameca SX-100 class EPMA.
Typical maps revealed 5-10 grains that contained Y + Dy + Yb; most also contained F and Ca, indicating yttrofluorite mineralogy. Most grains were under 10 μm in 2-D size. We view this 5-10 grain figure of merit as a minimum number of target grains since we employed a conservative approach to their identification. This finding suggests that a 1 mm cube of the rhyolite contains 250-500 target grains (assuming that the EPMA sampled to a depth of 5 μm and that sampled grains did not extend below that depth in size). Viewed from a mining processing standpoint, each particle for the anticipated heap leach, with a nominal crush size of ½ to 1 inch (13-26 mm), would contain on the order of 250,000 to 500,000 target microscopic mineral grains.
These findings confirm that the distribution of Y+HREEs in Round Top Mountain rhyolite is homogeneous through many orders of magnitude of scale, i.e., from outcrop to sub-thin section. The material thus is ideal for a heap leach operation where homogeneous feedstock is crucial to consistent and economic operation. UTEP-TRER contracts 226821112 & 16. NEP serves on TRER Board.