Work began this week at a demonstration mining project in the town of Emily in central Minnesota.
A subsidiary of Crow Wing Power is conducting the 45-day test to see whether it's feasible to extract manganese ore through a single well using high-pressure water. Manganese is used for making steel and batteries.
Brad Moore, with Barr Engineering, a Minneapolis firm working on the project, said the experimental ore removal process has worked well so far.
"One measure of success is to see if that technique actually can remove the manganese ore in a manner that can be commercially viable," Moore said. "The second key test is to ensure that we do that in a manner that is not harmful to the environment. We did a lot of work to ensure the process would be safe."
The recovered ore is taken in trucks to a University of Minnesota facility in Coleraine for analysis.
Moore says the Emily site is nationally significant.
"In terms of a high grade manganese ore deposit, it's one of the highest in North America in terms of concentration," he said. "The other reason that's important is that we import all our manganese, and so we're trying a way to actually produce some of it here in the United States."
Moore says a commercial operation would be years away, but could potentially extract a billion pounds of manganese ore from the site. Profits would be shared with members of the Crow Wing Power electric cooperative.