Taconite mining experienced a dismal 2009, as the Iron Range’s six plants each shut down for various intervals amid the recession. But in 2010, production more than doubled, with 35 million tons of iron pellets produced. And the positive trend continued in 2011, hitting 39 million tons.
That’s due in part to new companies with new technologies entering the territory. The Mesabi Nugget plant near Hoyt Lakes creates nuggets that contain upwards of 95 percent iron. (Traditional pellets contain only 65 percent.) A Magnetation facility near Keewatin, meanwhile, uses a new technology to reclaim iron ore from waste piles at old mines, and it has a second plant in the works. Essar Steel Minnesota is also constructing a new facility on the Range. Existing mines, meanwhile, are running out of room and expanding onto nearby land. Too, new prospects exist beneath Minnesota soil: PolyMet Mining Corporation is taking steps to commence the first copper-nickel mining operation in the state, and deposits of titanium have been confirmed near Hoyt Lakes and Duluth.