We've all had that moment as kids, and adults, wandering among Montana's mountains. You are exploring near our historic mining districts and ghost towns, and you look down and see something glinting in the sun.

Excited, you pick up samples, only to have Grandpa tell you when you get back to camp that what you have is "fool's gold". Common pyrite and worthless. Certainly not your share of the mineral riches that are legendary in Montana, although larger, unique samples can be worth a few hundred dollars.

Now, researchers may have stumbled across a discovery that could flip that scenario upside down. More importantly, it could solve the cost and environmental impact of having the latest cell phone.

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It's all about lithium

The global demand for lithium is soaring to support battery technology, whether for small consumer devices, or electric cars and trucks. That's had some looking at the Northern Rockies for lithium deposits, which companies say could be worth billions.

The problem is, that lithium extraction is a messy affair, raising all kinds of environmental issues.

Is pyrite the solution to the problem?

Now, researchers at the IsoBioGeM Lab at West Virginia University, say they've run across a totally unexpected finding. A presentation set for the European Geosciences General Assembly this week has found evidence of pyrite at old mine sites containing high quantities of lithium.

A press release explains that Shailee Bhattacharya, a sedimentary geochemist and doctoral student working with Professor Shikha Sharma sampled 15 different sites in the Appalachian Basin and found "plenty of lithium in pyrite materials in shale." Bhattacharya says that's "unheard of."

The initial study suggests there might be a higher potential for lithium recovery from "organic shale", but a lot more research is needed.

RELATED: Top Tips for Enjoying Bannack Days at Montana's Historic Ghost Town

Where to find your own pyrite samples in Montana

Pyrite is very common across Montana, so the report raises interesting questions we'll be watching.

In the meantime, if you'd like to poke around for pyrite, old mining locations are a good starting point. Libby Creek, the Helena area including Last Chance Gulch, the legendary Alder Gulch around Virginia City, gravels along the Missouri and its many tributaries, and the hills around Grasshopper Creek and Bannock are just a few spots if you're curious. Just be sure to respect private property and any park history rules.

If nothing else, find a sample and use a copy of this story to make your point with Grandpa.

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