Native corporation invests in graphite mining project on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula

By Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon - September 8, 2023
The Graphite Creek Deposit about 37 miles north of Nome on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, is revealed at Graphite Creek in this undated photo. Small-scale mining in this area occurred in the early 20th century. The Bering Straits Native Corp. is investing $2 million, and with an option for another $8 million, in a project by Vancouver-based Graphite One to develop a modern mine here. Graphite is considered a critical mineral, and the Graphite Creek deposit is the largest identified in the United States. (Photo by George Case/U.S. Geological Survey)

An Alaska Native corporation said Tuesday it is investing in a project that could result in the first graphite production in the United States in decades.

Bering Straits Native Corp., the corporation for the Inupiat and Yup’ik people of the Bering Strait region, will put $2 million into the Graphite One project being explored about 35 miles north of Nome.

The BSNC board last week approved the $2 million investment as part of an agreement that holds an option for another $8 million investment in the future, a corporate statement said. The money is intended to help Vancouver-based Graphite One Inc. complete a feasibility study and pre-development work, the statement said.

The investment agreement approved by BSNC also sets the stage for an advisory board to help share information with area residents and use the corporation’s expertise, the statement said.

“This is not just an investment in Graphite One, it is a long-term investment in our region. We at BSNC have watched for years as Graphite One has worked to advance the Graphite Creek project and become a friendly neighbor in the region,” Dan Graham, BSNC’s interim president, said in the statement. “Graphite One has told us of its intent to develop an environmentally responsible project and provide an exciting economic opportunity for the region that hopefully will play a crucial role in the nation’s transition to a clean energy future. This is at the heart of our Board’s unanimous support of the project.”

The Graphite One mine site and work camp, located about 37 miles north of Nome, is seen from the air in this undated photo. (Photo provided by Graphite One Inc.)
 The Graphite One mine site and work camp, located about 37 miles north of Nome, is seen from the air in this undated photo. (Photo provided by Graphite One Inc.) 

Graphite is considered a critical mineral. Though it is commonly associated with pencils, it is also used in high-temperature lubricants, brushes for electrical motors, friction materials and battery and fuel cells, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Currently, none is mined in the U.S. and the biggest source of supply is China, according to the USGS. But the biggest known deposit in the nation is the one on Western Alaska’s Seward Peninsula that Graphite One is trying to commercialize.

The project is seen by the federal government as so promising that the Department of Defense in July awarded a $37.5 million grant to the company to boost its development. The grant is intended to help Graphite One complete its final feasibility study.

Small amounts of graphite were mined at the site in the past, in the early 20th century, but the Graphite One project would be substantially larger. A report issued last year described a project generating over 75,000 metric tons over 26 years. But company officials since then have indicated that for the investment to pencil out might require a bigger mine.

Work continues at the site, Anthony Huston, Graphite One’s president, said by email.

“We just added a fourth drill rig to the site to ensure we get all our planned work completed this year. We have 60 people working onsite and hope to continue working hard for the next five weeks if the weather allows,” he said.

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