Monday 13th July 2020

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Posts tagged ‘california’

Visual Capitalist looks at Nevada and the Silver State’s golden side

May 14th, 2020

by Nicholas LePan | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

 

Visual Capitalist looks at Nevada and the Silver State’s golden side

 

Thanks to the world-famous silver discoveries of the 19th century that unveiled Nevada’s precious metal potential, the state today is known by many as the Silver State.

However, it’s possible that nickname may need to be updated. In the last few decades, Nevada has become a prolific gold producer, accounting for 84% of total U.S. gold production each year.

This infographic from Corvus Gold TSX:KOR showcases why Nevada may have a better case for deserving California’s nickname of the Golden State. We look at Nevada’s gold production, exploration potential and even its rich history.

A defining era for the American West

The discovery of the Comstock silver lode in 1859 sparked a silver rush of prospectors to Nevada, scrambling to stake their claims. News of the discovery spread quickly throughout the United States, drawing thousands into Nevada for one of the largest rushes since the California Gold Rush in 1849. Mining camps soon thrived and eventually became towns, a catalyst that helped turn the territory into an official state by 1864.

Interestingly, many of the early mines also produced considerable quantities of gold, indicating there was more to the state than just silver.

  • The Comstock Lode: 8.6 million troy ounces (270t) of gold until 1959

  • The Eureka district: 1.2 million troy ounces (37t) of gold

  • The Robinson copper mine: 2.7 million troy ounces (84t) of gold

The Comstock Lode is notable for not just the immense fortunes it generated but also the large role those fortunes had in the growth of Nevada and San Francisco.

In fact, there was so much gold and silver flowing into San Francisco, the U.S. Mint opened a branch in the city to safely store it all. Within the first year of its operation, the San Francisco Mint turned $4 million of gold bullion into coins for circulation.

While California gold rushes became history, Nevada mining was just beginning and would spur the development of modern industry. In 2018, California produced 140,000 troy ounces of gold, just a fraction of the 5.58 million ounces coming out of Nevada’s ground.

Nevada gold mining geology: Following the trends

There are three key geological trends from where the majority of Nevada’s gold comes from: the Cortez Trend, Carlin Trend and Walker Lane Trend.

Together these trends contributed nearly 170 million ounces of gold produced in Nevada between 1835 and 2018, making it the United States’ most productive gold jurisdiction, if not the world’s.

The bulk of production comes from the Cortez and Carlin trends, where mines extract low-grade gold from a particular type of mineral deposit, the Carlin-type gold deposit. It was the discovery and technology used for processing these “invisible” deposits that would turn Nevada into the golden powerhouse of production.

Today, the world’s largest gold mining complex, Nevada Gold Mines, is located on the Carlin Trend. The joint venture between Barrick Gold TSX:ABX and Newmont TSX:NGT comprises eight mines, along with their infrastructure and processing facilities.

Despite the prolific production of modern mines in the state, more discoveries will be needed to feed this production pipeline—and discoveries are on the decline in Nevada.

Looking to the future through the past: The Walker Lane Trend

The future for gold mining in Nevada may lie in the Walker Lane Trend. This trend is host to some of the most recent gold discoveries and has attracted the interest of major mining companies looking to conduct exploration and eventually production.

Walker Lane stands out with exceptionally high grades, growing reserves and massive discovery potential. It also played an integral role in the history of the state beginning with the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, and it seems likely to continue doing so in the future.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Clint Cox: Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

January 20th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 20, 2020

Depending which part of the supply chain’s under consideration, this one country produces anywhere from 70% to 95% of these critical minerals. China’s overwhelming rare earths dominance has long been obvious but trade tensions have once again highlighted the problem. Speaking at VRIC 2020 on January 19, Clint Cox outlined the hurdles Westerners face in the struggle to ensure security of supply.

Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

An analyst with The Anchor House who’s specialized in REs since 2006, Cox works with people throughout the supply chain including end users, government agencies, producers and junior explorers.

Last year China’s trade war threat to “weaponize” rare earths brought chills to Western end-users, who are all too familiar with the crisis of 2010. Prior to the Senkaku incident, prices had been trending downwards. Then came the monumental spike, shooting up costs of some elements 30 times.

“Our entire auto industry in North America almost shut down because of this,” Cox says. “A number of other industries almost shut down because of this.”

Naturally juniors found opportunity in crisis. Previously numbering about a dozen, ASX- and TSXV-listed rare earths explorers swelled their numbers beyond 450, a number grossly disproportionate to the availability of qualified geos. “They raised almost $6 billion in that time period,” Cox points out. “They ended up with one producing mine in Lynas Corporation and one mine in Molycorp, the Mountain Pass mine that went bankrupt.”

Mountain Pass in California has since re-opened—as a supplier to China. The world’s greatest source of rare earths deposits has, over the last two years, become a significant importer.

That’s a legacy of environmental neglect that includes an 11-square-kilometre tailings pond with about 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes of exposed radioactive muck, right next to a tributary of the Yellow River.

“China knows this,” he says. “They’re trying to fix it.”

As a result the government has been shutting down mines and looking for external sources. But on a global scale domestic production remains overwhelming.

As does the processing supply chain, led by six state-owned companies that have consolidated their operations. The Big Six benefits from China’s approach to capitalism.

They are all subsidized, every last one of them. They’re subsidized at the local level, the provincial level and the national level.—Clint Cox

“They are all subsidized, every last one of them,” Cox emphasizes. “They’re subsidized at the local level, the provincial level and the national level. This could be free power, this could be interest-free loans, it could be loans that never have to be paid back, and sometimes just flat-out cash payments. They are subsidized at every level.”

Companies in Bayan Obo, China’s most important rare earths-producing region, received about $395 million in government support over just one year. “That’s free money, that’s a subsidy, that’s tough to compete with. That’s way over what the United States is going to spend to try to solve this issue.”

A 20-year expansion plan for rare earths projects in the region finished well ahead of schedule, he notes.

Cox says China began 37 rare earths projects last year, promising some 48,000 tonnes of magnet production. “We only have a couple of hundred tonnes of magnet production in North America. And they spent close to, we gather, ten and twenty billion dollars on making rare earths facilities last year. And we’re excited about tens of millions, or maybe a hundred million dollars spent on some of the projects by the government this year.”

The country’s environmental legacy notwithstanding, China’s current handling of radioactivity presents another advantage. Freeing up the miners, the Chinese nuclear authority now takes responsibility for dealing appropriately with waste. Non-Chinese companies have to fend for themselves. Such challenges have been illustrated by Lynas, which faces opposition to the cracking and leaching plant in Malaysia that processes material from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Another Chinese advantage: The Big Six launders material from the “unofficial or black market,” coming from unsanctioned, artisanal operations of dubious environmental and workplace standards. Some of it comes from inside China, while additional sources include Myanmar and other parts of southeast Asia, South America and elsewhere.

“So a lot of material flows through this black market. They legitimize it, because once it enters one of their supply chains, one of the Big Six, they can stamp an ‘official’ stamp on it and it becomes official material.”

He adds, “In general, Western countries can’t utilize the black market like China can. That is a huge edge. Some of the black market material can cost one-third of regular material.”

The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.—Clint Cox

Supporting all this is a totalitarian regime. “That is tough to compete with.” Despite heightened Washington concern, the U.S. government agencies trying to address the problem remain uncoordinated. U.S. Congress currently has 18 bills concerning rare earths, Cox says.

Still, efforts persist to extract rare earths from sources such as mineral sands and coal. Then there are the juniors.

“The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.”

But he has a warning for would-be miners who assume they’d receive a premium for non-Chinese supply. They won’t, he cautions. They’ll have to meet Chinese prices.

Other possibilities might not be predictable. “A dark horse can always come up. You never know what might happen in the rare earths industry. A new application, a new mine, a new processing technology, any of that can transform the industry.”

Read about the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration.

New neodymium and dysprosium sources needed by 2030 to avert shortages: Adamas Intelligence

June 19th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 19, 2019

As the U.S.-China trade conflict intensifies concern about critical metals, Adamas Intelligence publishes a readable guide to rare earths—what they are, where they come from and what they’re used for.

“In just a period of decades, rare earth elements have seeped deeply into the fabric of modern technology and industry and have proven exceptionally challenging to duplicate or replace,” states the report entitled Rare Earth Elements: Small Market, Big Necessity.

New neodymium and dysprosium sources needed by 2030 to avert shortages: Adamas Intelligence

Image: Ascannio/Shutterstock.com

Of eight categories of end uses, permanent magnets and catalysts garnered over 60% of world demand for total rare earth oxides last year, according to the independent research and advisory firm.

By value, permanent magnets alone surpassed 90% of TREO consumption. “This share is poised to expand further as demand (and prices) for neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium continue to rise strongly in the years ahead.”

Looking forward a decade, Adamas forecast that “global annual demand for neodymium oxide and dysprosium oxide (or oxide equivalents) will substantially exceed global annual production by 2030, leading to the depletion of historically accumulated inventories and, ultimately, shortages of these critical magnet materials if additional sources of supply are not developed.”

Outside China, Adamas reports only 8.49 million tonnes of in-situ TREO in 17 deposits considered compliant by NI 43-101, JORC or South Africa’s SAMREC regulations. Located in 10 nations on five continents, just two are in operation: Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia and MP Materials’ Mountain Pass mine in California.

The numbers shoot way up and China takes prominence when U.S. Geological Survey data on both compliant and non-compliant deposits is considered. China’s share of the approximate world total of 120 million tonnes comes to about 38%. Another 19% each is ascribed to Brazil and Vietnam, 10% to Russia, and the rest to India, Australia, the U.S. and other countries “presumably dominated by Canada and Greenland.”

Mine production demonstrates China’s overall dominance, which is further confirmed by refining.

Adamas estimates last year’s global TREO and TREO-equivalent mining at 184,000 tonnes, with the Middle Kingdom responsible for 68% of primary production and nearly 100% of secondary production.

Last year’s global production rose 21% over 2017, which Adamas attributed to substantial production hikes in China, Myanmar and the U.S., where Mountain Pass re-opened following the bankruptcy of its former owner.

Additional primary producers were Myanmar (11%), Australia (10%), the U.S. (9%) and others (2%). Virtually all non-Chinese miners rely on China for concentrating and separating rare earths. Lynas stands out as the prominent exception.

The company has a processing facility in Malaysia, but that country has threatened to shut it down by September if Lynas doesn’t remove 450,000 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste accumulated over seven years. Malaysia’s energy and environment minister and Western Australia’s mines minster were to discuss moving the waste to WA, but the Malaysian counterpart postponed a meeting scheduled for June 20 “pending further developments,” Reuters stated. The WA state government has already stated its refusal to accept the waste.

Download the Adamas Intelligence report Rare Earth Elements: Small Market, Big Necessity.

Read more about rare earths and other critical metals.

U.S. critical minerals strategy includes Canada and other allies

June 5th, 2019

by Greg Klein | June 5, 2019

The country’s tariff tactics might present an image of Fortress America battling its adversaries, but a new critical minerals strategy advocates greater co-operation between the U.S. and its friends. The manifestation of Washington’s growing concern about securing resources and building supply chains, a federal report released June 4 announces six calls to action, 24 goals and 61 recommendations accompanied by timelines for accomplishment.

The U.S. includes Canada and other allies in its critical minerals strategy

Clearly, the Donald Trump administration recognizes the problem of relying on potentially unreliable sources, especially when they’re economic and geopolitical rivals: “If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.”

Rare earths provide an especially stark example of the problem, the report emphasizes. “The REE industry has experienced downsizing, business failure, and relocation in all phases of the supply chain, including mining, separation, metal reduction, alloying and downstream manufacturing of advanced technology products such as high performance rare earth permanent magnets.”

The report, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, follows a number of American initiatives including the formal classification of 35 critical minerals and a Secretary of Defense study released last September.

For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the U.S. imports over 50% of its supply. For 14 of them, imports account for 100% of supply, creating “a strategic vulnerability for both our economy and our military with respect to adverse foreign government actions, natural disasters, and other events that could disrupt supply.”

If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period—similar to China’s rare earths embargo in 2010—an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks throughout U.S. and foreign critical mineral supply chains.

Apart from finding new deposits, the report calls for specific measures to encourage R&D, new supply chains, additional and publicly available exploration data, land access and permitting, a workforce with appropriate skills and expertise, as well as international trade and co-operation.

On the latter topic, the report notes significant American reliance on Canada and Mexico for many essentials. “Working with them to develop their critical mineral deposits can help improve the security of U.S. supply.”

Washington’s agenda also calls for expanded collaboration with Canada, Australia, the EU, Japan and South Korea on a range of issues, from finding and developing resources to creating supply chains.

Although the U.S. began addressing the issue early in Trump’s administration, the report’s timing coincides with fears that another Chinese rare earths embargo could happen imminently. The U.S. relies on China directly for 80% of its imports, while much of the remainder comes from China indirectly. America’s sole REE mine, Mountain Pass in California, exports all its production to China.

That leaves Western Australian miner Lynas Corp as the only major producer outside China that is, as CEO/managing director Amanda Lacaze stated, “focused on rest-of-the-world markets, that is non-Chinese markets.” Although her company faces tremendous challenges meeting Malaysian government demands for its processing facility in that country, the government has made mildly conciliatory statements in advance of a June 28 meeting with Lynas.

Update: Following a June 20, 2019, meeting between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the two leaders “instructed officials to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration,” according to Reuters.

Senkaku revisited

May 29th, 2019

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

by Greg Klein | May 29, 2019

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

 

They’re vital to several categories of modern essentials including military defence. But rare earths have themselves become weapons in an escalating conflict between China and the U.S. Despite Washington’s heightened awareness of its critical minerals conundrum, the U.S., like the rest of the non-Chinese world, remains almost completely dependent on its rival-turned-enemy for the rare earths that China threatens to cut off.

Among recent hints, comments and implied threats was last week’s well-publicized visit to a Chinese RE plant by President Xi Jinping and his top trade negotiator, where the leader reportedly steeled his country’s resolve with talk of an impending “Long March.” Additionally significant and non-cryptic code came in a May 29 admonition from the state-run People’s Daily: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

Northern Minerals’ Browns Range pilot plant readies
a Western Australia project for Chinese customers.

If a full-blown trade war’s imminent, it’s not without irony. In a change of plans the U.S. has dropped rare earths from a long list of tariff-attached imports, tacitly acknowledging its dependency on China. China did the opposite, increasing its tariff from 10% to 25% on RE imports from America, a small portion of China’s supply but nevertheless an increase to the cost of its trade war weaponry.

The 17 elements comprise essential components for a host of modern necessities including phones, computers and other communications and electronic devices, electric vehicles, batteries, renewable energy and military defence.

China already mines over 70% of global supply, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Geological Survey, and that doesn’t include illegal Chinese production. The U.S. relies on China for 80% of RE compounds and metals. America imports another 11% from Estonia, France and Japan, but that stuff’s “derived from mineral concentrates and chemical intermediates produced in China and elsewhere,” the USGS added.

The risks of an all-out trade war might be demonstrated by the 2010 East China Sea conflict, where China and Japan both claim the islands of Senkaku. When a Chinese fishing boat captain felt emboldened to twice ram a Japanese naval vessel, Japan arrested him. Within days, China banned all rare earths exports to Japan, crippling its globally important but RE-dependent manufacturers. China also imposed heavy cutbacks and duties on exports to other countries.

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

A Greenland Minerals MOU would commit the
proposed Kvanefjeld mine’s total RE production to China.

Desperate for RE supply, some non-Chinese manufacturers relocated to China. Meanwhile Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. By 2013 two new mines reached production, Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass in California. The following year the World Trade Organization ordered China to drop its export restrictions on rare earths, as well as tungsten and molybdenum.

China complied with a vengeance, flooding the world with cheap RE supply. America’s WTO victory proved Pyrrhic as a burgeoning non-Chinese supply chain failed to compete. The most salient casualty was Mountain Pass, which suspended operations during 2015 bankruptcy proceedings.

The mine resumed production in early 2018 under new owner MP Materials. But with China’s Shenghe Rare Earth Company a minority shareholder, North America’s only RE producer exports its entire output to China.

Lynas, meanwhile, remains committed to serving non-Chinese markets through a non-Chinese supply chain. But skeptics might consider the company’s strategy precarious. Plans announced last week include a refinery in Texas that’s merely at the MOU stage, an AU$500-million financing commitment that appears inadequate to the company’s needs and an unconvincing proposal to meet a Malaysian ultimatum with alternative ideas.

Home to Lynas’ refining and separation facility, Malaysia insists the company remove over 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste by September or face a shutdown. The country also wants future Mount Weld material rendered non-radioactive prior to arrival. (Update: On May 30 Malaysia’s prime minister said the government will likely allow Lynas’ plant to continue operation, according to Reuters.)

China-U.S. trade tactics highlight rare earths peril and potential

At a northern Quebec rare earths deposit, Commerce
Resources’ Ashram project moves towards pre-feasibility.

An AU$1.5-billion takeover bid from deep-pocketed giant Wesfarmers might offer a made-in-Australia solution. But Lynas has so far held itself aloof.

The CEO’s commitment to non-Chinese markets, however, differs from some other Australian companies. ASX-listed Northern Minerals, self-described as “the first and only meaningful producer of dysprosium outside of China,” has committed the total production of its Western Australia Browns Range project to China, apparently at the behest of minority shareholder Huatai Mining. Last August ASX-listed Greenland Minerals signed an offtake MOU with majority shareholder Shenghe Resources, which would give China the proposed Kvanefjeld mine’s total RE production.

Technology metals expert Jack Lifton emphasizes the need for non-Chinese resources and expertise: “If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck,” he told ResourceClips.com.

Heightened awareness in Washington led to 35 minerals getting a formal “critical” classification, a prelude to last year’s Secretary of Defense study calling for government initiatives to encourage domestic supply chains. More recently, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed legislation to prod the country into action.

That approach rankles those who prefer laissez-faire solutions. Moreover government meddling in the form of trade wars can backfire, libertarians believe. As Rick Rule said last week, “If the Chinese decided to obviate their competitive advantage with some stupid political ploy, they would find themselves with a much smaller proportion of the global market.”

Many investors seem to have agreed. Following China’s May 29 rhetoric, stock prices surged for advanced-stage RE projects.

Turbulent times for Lynas

May 17th, 2019

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

by Greg Klein | Updated May 21, 2019

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

One of the world’s biggest supplies of magnet metals
undergoes separation at Lynas’ Malaysian facility. (Photo: Lynas Corp)

 

Update: On August 15 the Malaysian government granted Lynas a six-month licence extension. Read more.

 

How often does an investor presentation draw such keen interest from non-investors?

No doubt representatives from a number of governments and industries watched intensely on May 21 as Lynas CEO/managing director Amanda Lacaze accentuated her company’s “will to win.” Lynas has plans in place and funding en route to overcome what previously appeared to be an unattainable ultimatum. Far from becoming a takeover target, let alone a jurisdictional fatality, the miner expects to continue building a rare earths supply chain “focused on rest-of-the-world markets, that is non-Chinese markets.”

That was her message, and if stirring delivery could convince listeners, Lacaze made her case. But insufficient details cast a pall of uncertainty. Clearly the company can’t meet a September 2 deadline to remove over 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste from Malaysia and thereby avert a processing plant shutdown in that country which would render useless the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

One of the world’s richest rare earths deposits, Mount Weld boasts reserves expected to give over 25 additional years of production at 22,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides annually. Included is an especially bountiful distribution of the magnet metals neodymium and praseodymium. Lynas concentrates ore in WA before shipping material to Malaysia for refining and separation. But while rare earths metallurgy has stymied some other non-Chinese operations, this facility has operated successfully since 2012.

At least it did so under Malaysia’s previous government. Its first electoral defeat since the country’s 1957 independence brought to office a party long opposed to Lynas’ operation in Kuantan. Concerns about waste containing thorium and uranium brought to mind a Malaysian RE refinery operated by Mitsubishi up to 1992. The plant closed down after an increase in leukemia and birth defects that critics attributed to the operation’s waste.

Following an environmental review of Lynas’ facility late last year, the new government delivered two formidable demands: Ensure that all material brought into the country has been rendered non-radioactive. And remove seven years of accumulated radioactive tailings from the country by September 2. Failure to do so will shut down the plant, the government warned.

An enormous logistical problem notwithstanding, Lacaze and her “dream team” told investors they have solutions backed by a AU$500-million “capital envelope” from senior lender Japan Australia Rare Earths (JARE) and the Japanese trading company Sojitz Corp.

“Of course we cannot do this on the smell of an oily rag, much as we might like to,” Lacaze acknowledged.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

Lynas managing director Dato’ Mashal Ahmad at the
podium, CEO Amanda Lacaze holding the microphone
at the company’s May 21 shareholder presentation.

A new cracking and leaching plant to be built in WA would “detox” Mount Weld material. Plans to pour money into Malaysia to upgrade the company’s Kuantan facility also sounded an optimistic note. But accumulated waste remains troublesome.

As managing director Dato’ Mashal Ahmad explained, the company will counter the ultimatum by asking the government to choose one of two options: Allow Lynas to treat the waste by producing a type of fertilizer, or allow Lynas to build another waste depository in Malaysia. The company already has four years of research backing Option 1. As for Option 2, “which Lynas is prepared to do anytime,” the company has already chosen three potential sites.

To those skeptical that Malaysia would accept the proposals, Ahmad said the environmental review, which hasn’t been officially translated, pronounced the Kuantan operation safe. Politicians, not the report’s authors, issued the ultimatum, he maintained. Discussions with the government continue and another decision will come from the entire government, not individual politicians, Lacaze added. Based on what she termed “relatively constructive” public comments from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, she expressed “confidence in the outcome.”

An entirely different possibility for Lynas arose last March when Wesfarmers launched a AU$1.5-billion bid for the miner. One of Australia’s largest listed companies and a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate with interests including chemicals, energy, fertilizers and industrial products, Wesfarmers imposed a daunting condition: Kuantan must retain a valid permit for a “satisfactory period following completion of the transaction.” 

Lynas spurned the offer, provoking talk from Wesfarmers of going hostile. Undeterred, and the day before proclaiming its “will to win,” Lynas joined one of its customers, downstream rare earths processor Blue Line Corp, to announce a memorandum of understanding to build an RE separation plant in Texas. The proposed joint venture “would be the only large-scale producer of separated medium and heavy rare earth products in the world outside of China,” the companies stated.

Of course the Blue Line MOU lacks certainty, as does the strategy of presenting options in the face of a government ultimatum. $500 million isn’t all that much. To industry observers, the predicament once again emphasizes the need to create non-Chinese supply chains.

Rare earths provide a cautionary tale about supply chain weaknesses

A founding principal of Technology Metals
Research LLC and a senior fellow at the
Institute for Analysis of Global Security,
Jack Lifton has over 55 years’ experience
with technology metals.

Speaking with ResourceClips.com the week before Lynas’ May 20-21 announcements, Jack Lifton discussed the urgency of addressing critical minerals challenges.

A chemist specializing in metallurgy, a consultant, author and lecturer focusing on rare earths, lithium and other essentials that he labels “technology metals,” Lifton was one of four scientists hired by the previous Malaysian government to evaluate the Kuantan facility prior to its initial permit.

Wesfarmers “would have the money and the time” to solve Lynas’ problems, he said. “A $38-billion company can spend a year fixing problems and stay in business. If Lynas were shut down for a year, I think that would be the end of it.”

Earlier this month Wesfarmers offered AU$776 million for ASX-listed Kidman Resources, which shares a 50/50 JV with Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA (SQM) on the advanced-stage Mount Holland lithium project in Western Australia.

“Wesfarmers clearly knows all the problems with Lynas but they’re still interested in buying it,” Lifton pointed out.

The possibility of a Chinese buy-out, on the other hand, could meet opposition from either of two governments. Malaysia’s previous administration feared Chinese influence, Lifton says.

As for Australia, “I do not think that the government, as it will be constituted after this election, will allow the Chinese to buy what is basically the largest high-grade deposit of magnet rare earths on the planet,” he says. Even so, Chinese control could eliminate the Malaysian problem. “China has immense facilities and excess capacity for treating ore like that. They wouldn’t need the Malaysian plant, not at all.”

Control need not mean total ownership. Following Molycorp’s bankruptcy, California’s Mountain Pass mine quietly resumed production last year under MP Materials. With China’s Shenghe Rare Earth Company a minority shareholder, North America’s sole rare earths producer exports all its output to China.

Shenghe Resources comprises the world’s second-largest RE company by output. It holds a majority stake in ASX-listed Greenland Minerals, which describes its Kvanefjeld polymetallic deposit as having “potential to become the most significant Western world producer of rare earths.” Last August the companies signed an offtake MOU for the proposed mine’s total RE production.

Huatai Mining, a subsidiary of Chinese coal trader Shandong Taizhong Energy, holds 15.9% of ASX-listed Northern Minerals, which plans to become the “first significant dysprosium producer outside China” at the Browns Range project in Western Australia.

“Everything from Browns Range is now going to China for refining and use,” Lifton notes. “My understanding is that’s what’s going to happen in Greenland.”

Neither Greenland nor Northern can handle separation, he explains. “They can concentrate the ore, but where are the facilities to separate individual rare earths from the mixed concentrate? They are, today, overwhelmingly in China. The Chinese have an advantage in excess refining capacity.”

While Lifton thinks Malaysia would welcome Japanese ownership of Lynas, the Japanese no longer have processing abilities. They’re also burdened by Mitsubishi’s legacy.

“China does not, to the best of my knowledge, have ore as rich as Mount Weld. I don’t know of any other deposit on earth that’s so high-grade and well-distributed with magnet materials. So anyone who has processing would love to have that.”

If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck.—Jack Lifton

Such a fate is now pure speculation but should Lynas face a Sino-scenario, it would only intensify a trend well underway, he adds. “They already have the largest RE industry on the planet and they’re buying RE, cobalt and other critical assets in Greenland, Africa, Australia, South America.

“If we don’t reconstitute a total American supply chain, if the Europeans don’t do the same, for the critical materials like rare earths, cobalt, lithium, we’re going to be out of luck. The Chinese in my opinion are already self-sufficient in rare earths, lithium and cobalt. They have mines all over the world that they own and operate, they have the bulk of chemical processing. They’re going to take care of their domestic needs first, and then if they want to export, they’ll control the price, the supply, and they do control the demand because at this time about 60% of all world metals goes to China.

“In America there’s a lot of talk now about critical minerals and some people are saying we need ‘a conversation’ on the subject. So while we think about it and have conversations, the Chinese are setting themselves up for the rest of this century.”

And the mania continues

August 10th, 2018

How gold rushes helped make the modern world

by Benjamin Wilson Mountford/La Trobe University and Stephen Tuffnell/University of Oxford | posted with permission of The Conversation

How gold rushes helped make the modern world

Detail from an 1871 lithograph by Currier & Ives portraying the Californian goldfields in 1849.

 

This year is the 170th anniversary of one of the most significant events in world history: the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. On January 24, 1848, while inspecting a mill race for his employer John Sutter, James Marshall glimpsed something glimmering in the cold winter water. “Boys,” he announced, brandishing a nugget to his fellow workers, “I believe I have found a gold mine!”

Marshall had pulled the starting trigger on a global rush that set the world in motion. The impact was sudden—and dramatic. In 1848 California’s non-Indian population was around 14,000; it soared to almost 100,000 by the end of 1849, and to 300,000 by the end of 1853. Some of these people now stare back at us enigmatically through daguerreotypes and tintypes. From Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands; from South and Central America; from Australia and New Zealand; from Southeastern China; from Western and Eastern Europe, arrivals made their way to the golden state.

How gold rushes helped make the modern world

JCF Johnson’s Euchre in the Bush, circa 1867, depicts a card game
in a hut on the Victorian goldfields in the 1860s. (Oil on canvas
mounted on board, courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ballarat)

Looking back later, Mark Twain famously described those who rushed for gold as

a driving, vigorous restless population … an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men—not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves…

“The only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together,” Twain reflected, it was “not likely that the world will ever see its like again.”

Arriving at Ballarat in 1895, Twain saw first-hand the incredible economic, political and social legacies of the Australian gold rushes, which had begun in 1851 and triggered a second global scramble in pursuit of the precious yellow mineral.

“The smaller discoveries made in the colony of New South Wales three months before,” he observed, “had already started emigrants towards Australia; they had been coming as a stream.” But with the discovery of Victoria’s fabulous gold reserves, which were literally Californian in scale, “they came as a flood.”

Between Sutter’s Mill in January 1848, and the Klondike in the late 1890s, the 19th century was regularly subject to such flooding. Across Australasia, Russia, North America and Southern Africa, 19th century gold discoveries triggered great tidal waves of human, material and financial movement. New goldfields were inundated by fresh arrivals from around the globe: miners and merchants, bankers and builders, engineers and entrepreneurs, farmers and fossickers, priests and prostitutes, saints and sinners.

How gold rushes helped make the modern world

A nugget believed to be the first piece of gold
discovered in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in California.
(Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

As the force of the initial wave began to recede, many drifted back to more settled lives in the lands from which they hailed. Others found themselves marooned, and so put down roots in the golden states. Others still, having managed to ride the momentum of the gold wave further inland, toiled on new mineral fields, new farm and pastoral lands, and built settlements, towns and cities. Others again, little attracted to the idea of settling, caught the backwash out across the ocean—and simply kept rushing.

From 1851, for instance, as the golden tide swept towards NSW and Victoria, some 10,000 fortune seekers left North America and bobbed around in the wash to be deposited in Britain’s Antipodean colonies alongside fellow diggers from all over the world.

Gold and global history

The discovery of the precious metal at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848 was a turning point in global history. The rush for gold redirected the technologies of communication and transportation, and accelerated and expanded the reach of the American and British Empires.

Telegraph wires, steamships and railroads followed in their wake; minor ports became major international metropolises for goods and migrants (such as Melbourne and San Francisco) and interior towns and camps became instant cities (think Johannesburg, Denver and Boise). This development was accompanied by accelerated mobility—of goods, people, credit—and anxieties over the erosion of middle class mores around respectability and domesticity.

But gold’s new global connections also brought new forms of destruction and exclusion. The human, economic and cultural waves that swept through the gold regions could be profoundly destructive to Indigenous and other settled communities, and to the natural environment upon which their material, cultural and social lives depended. Many of the world’s environments are gold rush landscapes, violently transformed by excavation, piles of tailings and the reconfiguration of rivers.

How gold rushes helped make the modern world

The Earth, at the End of the Diggings.
(Courtesy, Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute)

As early as 1849, Punch magazine depicted the spectacle of the earth being hollowed out by gold mining. In the “jaundice regions of California,” the great London journal satirised: “The crust of the earth is already nearly gone … those who wish to pick up the crumbs must proceed at once to California.” As a result, the world appeared to be tipping off its axis.

In the U.S. and beyond, scholars, museum curators and many family historians have shown us that despite the overwhelmingly male populations of the gold regions, we cannot understand their history as simply “pale and male.” Chinese miners alone constituted more than 25% of the world’s goldseekers, and they now jostle with white miners alongside women, Indigenous and other minority communities in our understanding of the rushes—just as they did on the diggings themselves.

Rushes in the present

The gold rushes are not mere historic footnotes—they continue to influence the world in which we live today. Short-term profits have yielded long-term loss. Gold rush pollution has been just as enduring as the gold rushes’ cultural legacy. Historic pollution has had long-range impacts that environmental agencies and businesses alike continue to grapple with.

At the abandoned Berkley pit mine in Butte, Montana, the water is so saturated with heavy metals that copper can be extracted directly from it. Illegal mining in the Amazon is adding to the pressures on delicate ecosystems and fragile communities struggling to adapt to climate change.

The phenomenon of rushing is hardly alien to the modern world either—shale gas fracking is an industry of rushes. In the U.S., the industry has transformed Williston, North Dakota, a city of high rents, ad hoc urban development and an overwhelmingly young male population—quintessential features of the gold rush city.

In September last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that a new gold rush was underway in Texas: for sand, the vital ingredient in the compound of chemicals and water that is blasted underground to open energy-bearing rock. A rush of community action against fracking’s contamination of groundwater has followed.

The world of the gold rushes, then, is not a distant era of interest only to historians. For better or worse, the rushes are a foundation of many of the patterns of economic, industrial and environmental change central to our modern-day world of movement.

Benjamin Mountford and Stephen Tuffnell’s forthcoming edited collection A Global History of Gold Rushes will be published by University of California Press in October 2018. A sample of their work can also be found in the forthcoming volume Pay Dirt! New Discoveries on the Victorian Goldfields (Ballarat Heritage Services, 2018).

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, David Myers Research Fellow in History, La Trobe University and Stephen Tuffnell, Associate Professor of Modern U.S. History, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Fraser River rush revisited

August 3rd, 2018

A new book reveals how gold fever brought American warfare north of the border

by Greg Klein

Is this the price of gold—the murder of defenceless people followed by retaliatory beheadings as a private American army threatens genocidal war in the future Canada? There’s more to British Columbia’s first great gold rush than has been acknowledged and, 160 years after the fact, a newly published book casts harsh light on the Fraser River mania and its accompanying Fraser River War.

When gold fever brought American warfare north of the border

Natives mined and traded gold for about
two years prior to being overrun by newcomers.
(Photo: Royal British Columbia Museum)

That the war even happened will take many people by surprise. Downplayed or ignored in Canadian research, its significance gets special emphasis in Claiming the Land: British Columbia and the Making of a New El Dorado. The war constitutes one of a number of surprises in what author Daniel Marshall, a University of Victoria professor and descendant of 1858 arrivals from Cornwall, calls a “substantial revisionist history.”

Officially, the rush began with the sudden arrival of some 450 “dregs” of the California goldfields, unloaded by steamboat in April 1858 at the Hudson’s Bay Company fort in Victoria. But HBC officials including chief factor and Vancouver Island colonial governor James Douglas had been anticipating such an event for two years, all the while buying gold from native placer miners. That ongoing trade, of course, belies stories of a dramatic discovery that sparked the rush.

Douglas even tried to discourage such an event by posting pre-rush ads in American newspapers asserting British authority over the mainland of present-day B.C. (then under HBC jurisdiction) and warning that the natives “are decidedly dangerous and that they have forcibly expelled all the whites who have attempted to work Gold in their country.” Hedging his bets, he also ordered the company to manufacture California-style mining gear that the HBC could flog to new arrivals via roving teams of travelling salesmen.

Natives had already fended off gold miners at the aborted Queen Charlottes rush of 1851, when they expelled an HBC crew and fought off American boats. Haida Gwaii aboriginals had devised a way of extracting sub-surface gold by heating rock with fire, then cooling the expanded rock with water to break it up. They reportedly made bullets of gold, an ironic choice of ammo to use on rival miners. But on the mainland, HBC traders worked amicably with native miners, who added yellow metal to the furs and salmon that they provided the company for export.

When gold fever brought American warfare north of the border

No stronger contrast could be imagined with circumstances south of the border. All-out war raged between the U.S. Army and massed tribes of eastern Washington territory. In one battle, 1,200 natives delivered a monumental defeat to their adversaries just as the rush was gaining momentum.

As for California’s ’49ers, some of them considered “Indian fighting” an integral part of gold mining. Between 1848 and 1870, an estimated 50,000 California natives died of disease, starvation or murder. When placer mining played out and news arrived of gold on the Fraser, “much of the cultural mentality that informed the genocidal attitudes of the California mining frontier was baggage carried north with the requisite pick, pan, and shovel.”

Among those joining the rush were Chinese veterans of California, Cornish and Welsh miners with experience in a number of camps, hundreds of blacks and some “violently” republican former French soldiers encouraged to emigrate by Paris police after their country’s 1848 revolution.

But, with British military presence ending at the Fraser’s mouth, it was the white Americans—sometimes egalitarian and racist at the same time—who proved the biggest threat to colonial authority and aboriginal security.

Among them were not only Indian fighters but filibusters, Americans who had joined privately organized militias in attempted conquests of foreign territory. Some targets included Sonora, Baja California, Cuba and Nicaragua, where in the latter case a short-lived filibuster regime gained official recognition from the U.S.

Dreams of American Manifest Destiny and loose talk of 54-40 or Fight extended in time and space past the international boundary set at the 49th Parallel in 1846. With at least 30,000 newcomers, maybe many more, pouring into the yet-to-be-proclaimed colony of B.C., Americans flouted the almost non-existent British authority to establish their own California-style laws and customs.

The old Californian miners and Indian-fighters were the worst, [believing that] they could travel in small parties and clean out all the Indians in the land.—A gold rush prospector

Miners who fought their way through the dangerous overland routes from Washington territory brought the Indian Wars with them, as they took revenge on defenceless targets north of the border. As one witness recounted, “The old Californian miners and Indian-fighters were the worst, [believing that] they could travel in small parties and clean out all the Indians in the land.”

Both rumours and credible reports circulated of increasing harassment and shootings on both sides, with dozens dead and headless corpses floating downriver, nine past Fort Yale, another six at Union Bar and stories of many more. Thousands of natives were said to have united, pushing newcomers back to Yale, where hundreds of miners formed five mounted militias. “Some were for exterminating all Native peoples encountered,” Marshall writes, “while others offered to broker a peace settlement supported by a large demonstration of armed force.”

The latter sentiment prevailed, as Captain Henry Snyder of the 250-strong Pike Guards, supported by a French militia, overshadowed the much smaller Whatcom Guards, who advocated wholesale slaughter. Pushing north, Snyder’s group held a dramatic meeting with Spintlum, described as the war chief for the Fraser region. He convinced 10 other Nlaka’pamux chiefs to pursue peace. An American army, supported by a French army, and the massed aboriginal bands ended their war in the nominally British region.

Within Canadian historical study “it is usually assumed that there is no parallel incident in Canada to the kinds of Native-newcomer violence that occurred in the American mining West,” Marshall points out. “There was, however, a most notable and neglected exception.”

Read more about B.C. mining history.

Senkaku II

July 23rd, 2018

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

 

At first glance, the rare earths aspect of the U.S.-China tariffs tussle looks like small change—a proposed 10% duty on American RE imports that might cause a smallish markup on some manufactured goods and wouldn’t necessarily apply to defence uses. But all that’s part of a much bigger battle that will probably target $250 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S. China used an incomparably smaller incident in 2010 to rationalize a ruthless sequence of rare earths trade machinations. Could something like that happen again, this time with different results?

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

Hostilities began earlier this month as the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with levies on another $16 billion likely to come. China retaliated with tariffs on equal amounts of American imports.

The U.S. re-retaliated with a threatened 10% on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports in a process that would follow public consultation. The additional list includes rare earth metals along with yttrium and scandium, which are often considered REs but rate distinct categories in this case.

Last year the U.S. imported $150 million worth of 15 RE metals and compounds, up from $118 million the previous year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some 78% came directly from China, with much of the rest derived from Chinese-produced concentrates. Yttrium shows a similar story, with 71% coming directly from China and nearly all the rest from Chinese concentrates. Although lacking hard numbers for scandium, the USGS states that too comes mostly from China.

Globally, China produced over 80% of world RE supply last year, but with less than 37% of the planet’s reserves.

Rare earths plus scandium comprise two of 35 mineral categories pronounced critical to the American economy and defence by Washington last May, after Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Now the same administration wants to slap those commodities with a 10% price hike.

And at risk of provoking powerful Chinese retaliation.

Rare earths watchers will remember the 2010 confrontation around the disputed East China Sea islands of Senkaku. The Japanese navy arrested a Chinese fishing crew captain who had twice rammed his boat against the military vessel. Within days, China banned all rare earths exports to Japan, crippling its globally important but RE-dependent manufacturers. China also imposed heavy cutbacks and duties on exports to other countries.

While some Western manufacturers relocated to China, Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld project in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass project in California both reached production in 2013. The following year the U.S. claimed victory as the World Trade Organization ordered China to drop its export restrictions on rare earths, as well as tungsten and molybdenum.

China complied with a vengeance, flooding the world with cheap RE supply. America’s WTO victory proved Pyrrhic as a burgeoning non-Chinese supply chain failed to compete. The most salient casualty was Mountain Pass, which went on care and maintenance in 2015.

So does China have more rare earths machinations in mind, this time responding not to a minor territorial dispute but tariffs affecting $250 billion of Chinese exports?

Maybe, but different circumstances might bring a different outcome. Since the Senkaku-induced RE crisis, advanced-stage projects have developed potential mines outside China. Work has progressed on non-Chinese supply chains, working to eliminate that country’s near-monopoly on processing expertise. Most recently, the U.S. has begun an official critical minerals policy to encourage development of supplies and supply chains in domestic and allied sources.

Of course any future scenario remains speculative. But this time the West might be better prepared for China’s tactics. Any new export restrictions might spur development of the deposits that now exist outside China. Any Chinese attempts to dump cheap supply could face further, far more punishing tariffs. While some other industries might suffer in the shorter term, Western resource companies might welcome Senkaku II.

Electrifying the future

June 5th, 2018

Solid state’s a contender, but lithium-ion has years of growth: Simon Moores

by Greg Klein

Lithium bulls faced a bearish backlash last February, when Morgan Stanley circulated a note predicting “2018 to be the last year of the global lithium market deficit, followed by significant surpluses emerging from 2019 onwards.” More pessimism rained on lithium from a report by Wood Mackenzie. Meanwhile some prognosticators talk up the solid state battery’s inevitability. Does all that indicate an end to the Li-ion battery’s quarter-century run?

Solid state batteries will come, but Li-ion still has years of growth: Simon Moores

Not according to Simon Moores. After a dozen years of following energy minerals, the managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence maintains that enhancements in Li-ion prices, availability, capacity and use will sustain the battery and its raw materials for years to come.

He presented the case at his annual world tour appearance in Vancouver, this year held in conjunction with the Cambridge House International Mining Investment Conference.

Although lithium-ion batteries typically sold for about $280 per kilowatt hour back in 2014, he pointed out, Benchmark foresees prices dropping below $130 this year. “Selling prices are still coming down, even though raw material prices have been high.”

Li-ion’s availability keeps increasing as more megafactories begin operation. Back in 2015 three such facilities were in operation or in the planning stage. Currently Moores counts 41 scheduled for operation by 2023 and expects more to be announced. “Not all of those are going to happen,” he cautioned. But “even if you take that down by half—and that won’t be enough to supply all these EV plans—you’ve got a major raw materials problem. The raw materials industries are not fit and not suitable to supply this amount of batteries.”

As of last year, the capacity of existing plants totalled about 112 gigawatt hours. “By 2023, you’re looking at around 450 gigawatt hours of capacity.” More than half will be in China, where some non-Chinese companies are building their plants, likely to be joined by Tesla and Panasonic. The Gigafactory duo will become the world’s largest Li-ion battery producers, with a capacity of just over 250 GWh in 10 years, Moores said.

Solid state batteries will come, but Li-ion still has years of growth: Simon Moores

Simon Moores: Total Li-ion capacity could reach
“anywhere from 800 gigawatt hours to a terawatt,
but it’s huge…. We believe the battery capacity will
be there, but the raw materials will be the problem.”

By that time, total capacity could experience a “massive, 10-fold” increase: “It could be anywhere from 800 gigawatt hours to a terawatt, but it’s huge…. We believe the battery capacity will be there, but the raw materials will be the problem.”

Meanwhile Li-ion continues to beat expectations as the batteries become increasingly energy-dense. Measured in watt-hours per litre, the energy density of an 18-650 cell in 1992 stood at 200. “Then scientists said commercially we could get to about 350 watt-hours per litre—not theoretically, but in the real world. In 2002, that reached 420. Then the scientists said we could probably get to 550 watt-hours per litre in the real world. Then in 2012 we got to 600. Right now we’re at 770. But there is a limit… the limit’s 800. So the question is, where does lithium-ion go from here?”

The answer is battery packs, he noted. Using the example of Romeo Power Technology, Moores said, “It depends on the applications and types of batteries, but they can improve lithium-ion batteries by anything from 25% to 200% with pack engineering.”

Meanwhile Li-ion uses expand, especially with stationary storage: “underestimated, not talked about, it’s got to be on your radar.” Large-scale storage arrived last year at Aliso Canyon, California, after a leak shut down a natural gas-generated electricity plant. With Tesla, Samsung and others involved, “essentially they did 329 megawatt-hours in eight months.”

In December current began flowing from the 129-MWh plant that Tesla installed in South Australia, winning Elon Musk’s bet that he could complete the project in less than 100 days. Since then Musk has talked about building a one-GWh facility—“and he might do that just for the headlines,” Moores suggested.

Utility batteries are getting bigger and being installed quicker…. This is about to impact the market and no one’s even talked about it.

Those projects demonstrate that “utility batteries are getting bigger and being installed quicker…. This is about to impact the market and no one’s even talked about it.”

As for solid state batteries, they’re “about five years away from seeing something real and in place,” Moores said. “The other question is whether they’ll actually be real, truly solid state batteries. But they’re coming.”

A key difference between the two technologies involves replacing Li-ion’s graphite anode with a lithium metal anode, which of course calls for even more lithium. “That gives a 70% better energy density on paper than lithium-ion. But there is a cost to that.”

The lithium metal comes from lithium chloride, produced through electrolysis, which is “really bloody expensive.” Another important difference involves replacing Li-ion’s liquid electrolyte with a solid electrolyte. Scarce so far is publicly available info on the materials used to make it.

Discussions of solid state tend to neglect “the niche supply chain that’s needed to feed it,” Moores said. “That’s probably the most critical factor to commercialization.”

Still, he emphasized, solid state has attracted “a lot of disciplines, a lot of money, a lot of brainpower going into this industry. It’s one to watch.”

Read Simon Moores discussing Bolivia’s lithium potential.