Sunday 26th March 2017

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘cobalt’

Not ready for another shock

March 1st, 2017

Unlike China, the West lacks a rare minerals strategy, warns David S. Abraham

by Greg Klein

Something of an epiphany came to him in 2010 as he watched the aftermath of a minor incident in internationally disputed waters. China’s shock-and-awe response turned its near-monopoly on rare earths into a mighty geopolitical weapon, exposing the perilous nature of our dependence on seemingly obscure commodities. That inspired David S. Abraham’s 2015 book The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age. Now, as a similar confrontation threatens to flare up again, he sees the West still unprepared for further attacks on vital supply lines.

Asked whether people in power have at least gained greater awareness, his response is a firm No.

Unlike China, the West lacks a rare minerals strategy, says David S. Abraham

Speaking on the phone from Indonesia, Abraham took time to discuss the issue with ResourceClips.com. The 2010 event, of course, began with the China-Japan territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Late last year American warships entered the South China Sea, in another challenge to China’s claim to sovereignty. Yet compared with previous years, “I think we’re even more vulnerable to shock in our supply lines,” he says.

“If you look at rare earths, in 2010 there were opportunities for new supplies to come onstream quite quickly, and they’ve since failed. People look at that failure and say these places couldn’t compete, they couldn’t produce economically, so they failed.”

China, having pushed up prices exponentially by withholding rare earths, swung to the other extreme and flooded the market. That dashed the hopes of many potential non-Chinese producers yet encouraged complacency among end-users. “But the supply lines themselves really look no different than they did back then,” Abraham cautions.

Of course the problem’s hardly limited to rare earths. Just one example Abraham points to is cobalt and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Estimates of DRC supply range from 51% of the world total (2015 figures from the U.S. Geological Survey), to nearly 60% (Benchmark Mineral Intelligence), to 65% (Disruptive Discoveries Journal). That gives a disproportionate amount of supply not only to a single country, but one plagued with political instability and conflict mining.

Troubling too is the ownership.

Already a major player in the country, China stands to increase its DRC position should China Molybdenum and a Chinese private equity firm succeed in their $3.8-billion purchase of a majority interest in Tenke Fungurume, one of the world’s biggest copper-cobalt mines. With a 20% stake, the DRC state-owned company Gécamines has tried to block the sale but reportedly accepted a $100-million settlement.

What you see China doing is really consolidating up the supply line…. What they’re trying to do is build up their material capacity so other people producing batteries have to use material coming through China.—David S. Abraham

“What you see China doing is really consolidating up the supply line…. What they’re trying to do is build up their material capacity so other people producing batteries have to use material coming through China.”

The country fosters economic growth by “adding to the value chain that they can produce in their own country. It’s a strong economic argument. It’s not dissimilar to what Trump says, but he hasn’t really gone into the deep thinking that’s happening in China.”

Certainly, China’s strategic approach contrasts with the West. That’s suggested by the example of Tenke Fungurume’s would-be vendors, the American/Canadian team of Freeport-McMoRan NYSE:FCX and Lundin Mining TSX:LUN.

“For those companies, it’s about profits,” Abraham acknowledges. “The question is, what are the technology companies thinking about? Companies like Apple are trying to do a better job of understanding where their materials come from, but some of the others are less concerned.”

With the U.S. military in mind, Rep. Duncan Hunter is anticipated to propose a congressional bill that would help develop domestic supplies of rare minerals.

Abraham’s skeptical. “Most bills on critical materials have not passed and his bills usually have the least chance of passing…. That’s not to say the U.S. hasn’t given money to metallurgy and mining before, but with the exception of some dabbling in beryllium in the ’90s, I can’t recall a time where the U.S. was really investing in mines from a defence perspective.”

If decision-makers lack awareness, they’re not alone, he believes. Abraham sees little evidence that consumers understand the issues. “People talk about being concerned about where these materials come from but they really have to understand the challenging supply lines, and that’s what the book was trying to introduce people to,” he says. “It’s still a little too complex to fathom and I don’t think people think beyond ‘my phone causes conflict in Congo’ and get to the point that ‘my phone leads to geopolitical war.’”

If so, that makes The Elements of Power as timely now as it was in 2015. A paperback edition comes out in April.

In concluding the phone call, Abraham offers a maxim: “Nothing changes very fast. Then everything changes all of a sudden.”

King’s Bay flies geophysics over Labrador copper-cobalt project

February 28th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 28, 2017

Following a 12-fold expansion of the property last month, King’s Bay Gold TSXV:KBG announced a VTEM survey now airborne on the Lynx Lake copper-cobalt project in southeastern Labrador. Survey operator Geotech Ltd says its proprietary system reaches more than 800 metres in depth, featuring high spatial resolution as well as a low base frequency to pass through conductive overburden. “This system is advertised to be able to delineate potential drill hole targets from the airborne results,” King’s Bay stated. The survey’s expected to wrap up by mid-April.

King’s Bay flies geophysics over Labrador copper-cobalt project

Field work revealed gossan and
massive sulphides at Lynx Lake.

Lynx Lake’s potential came to light after the Trans-Labrador Highway opened up the region in 2008. Grab samples from the 24,000-hectare property’s east side showed non-43-101 results up to 1.39% copper, 0.94% cobalt, 0.21% nickel and 6.5 g/t silver. On the west side, non-43-101 grab samples assayed up to 1.03% copper, 0.566% cobalt, 0.1% nickel, 5 g/t silver, 0.36% chromium, 0.39% molybdenum and 0.23% vanadium.

A regional low-res magnetic survey conducted by the province and a hand-held EM device brought preliminary indications of strong conductors in the area. A 90-minute drive from the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Lynx Lake has powerlines and a highway adjacent to the property.

Two weeks earlier King’s Bay announced a 100% option on the Trump Island property in Newfoundland, where a shipment of high-grade copper-cobalt material was reportedly mined in 1863. In early February the company picked up three Quebec properties, all of which had historic, non-43-101 sampling results showing cobalt.

King’s Bay closed a $938,752 private placement in January.

See an infographic: Cobalt—A precarious supply chain.

Battery infographic series Part 5: The future of battery technology

February 23rd, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | February 23, 2017

The Battery Series presents five infographics exploring what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand and future applications.

The future of battery technology

This is the last instalment of the Battery Series. For a recap of what has been covered so far, see the evolution of battery technology, the energy problem in context, the reasons behind the surge in lithium-ion demand and the critical materials needed to make lithium-ion batteries.

There’s no doubt that the lithium-ion battery has been an important catalyst for the green revolution, but there is still much work to be done for a full switch to renewable energy.

The battery technology of the future could:

  • Make electric cars a no-brainer choice for any driver

  • Make grid-scale energy storage solutions cheap and efficient

  • Make a full switch to renewable energy more feasible

Right now, scientists see many upcoming battery innovations that promise to do this. However, the road to commercialization is long, arduous and filled with many unexpected obstacles.

The near-term: Improving the Li-ion

For the foreseeable future, the improvement of battery technology relies on modifications being made to already-existing lithium-ion technology. In fact, experts estimate that lithium-ions will continue to increase capacity by 6% to 7% annually for a number of years.

Here’s what’s driving those advances:

Efficient manufacturing

Tesla has already made significant advances in battery design and production through its Gigafactory:

  • Better engineering and manufacturing processes

  • Wider and longer cell design allows more materials packaged into each cell

  • New battery cooling system fits more cells into battery pack

Better cathodes

Most of the recent advances in lithium-ion energy density have come from manipulating the relative quantities of cobalt, aluminum, manganese and nickel in the cathodes. By 2020, 75% of batteries are expected to contain cobalt in some capacity.

For scientists, it’s about finding the materials and crystal structures that can store the maximum amount of ions. The next generation of cathodes may be born from lithium-rich layered oxide materials (LLOs) or similar approaches, such as the nickel-rich variety.

Better anodes

While most lithium-ion progress to date has come from cathode tinkering, the biggest advances might happen in the anode.

Current graphite anodes can only store one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms—but silicon anodes could store 4.4 lithium atoms for every one silicon atom. That’s a theoretical tenfold increase in capacity!

However, the problem with this is well documented. When silicon houses these lithium-ions, it ends up bloating in size up to 400%. This volume change can cause irreversible damage to the anode, making the battery unusable.

To get around this, scientists are looking at a few different solutions.

1. Encasing silicon in a graphene “cage” to prevent cracking after expansion.

2. Using silicon nanowires, which can better handle the volume change.

3. Adding silicon in tiny amounts using existing manufacturing processes—Tesla is rumoured to be doing this already.

Solid-state lithium-ion

Lastly, a final improvement that is being worked on for the lithium-ion battery is to use a solid-state setup, rather than having liquid electrolytes enabling the ion transfer. This design could increase energy density in the future, but it still has some problems to resolve first, such as ions moving too slowly through the solid electrolyte.

The long term: Beyond the lithium-ion

Here are some new innovations in the pipeline that could help enable the future of battery technology:

Lithium-air

Anode: Lithium

Cathode: Porous carbon (oxygen)

Promise: 10 times greater energy density than Li-ion

Problems: Air is not pure enough and would need to be filtered. Lithium and oxygen form peroxide films that produce a barrier, ultimately killing storage capacity. Cycle life is only 50 cycles in lab tests

Variations: Scientists also trying aluminum-air and sodium-air batteries

Lithium-sulphur

Anode: Lithium

Cathode: Sulphur, carbon

Promise: Lighter, cheaper and more powerful than Li-ion

Problems: Volume expansion up to 80%, causing mechanical stress. Unwanted reactions with electrolytes. Poor conductivity and poor stability at higher temperatures

Variations: Many different variations exist, including using graphite/graphene, and silicon in the chemistry

Vanadium flow batteries

Catholyte: Vanadium

Anolyte: Vanadium

Promise: Using vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy at scale. Can be expanded simply by using larger electrolyte tanks

Problems: Poor energy-to-volume ratio. Very heavy, must be used in stationary applications

Variations: Scientists are experimenting with other flow battery chemistries as well, such as zinc-bromine

Battery series conclusion

While the future of battery technology is very exciting, for the near and medium terms scientists are mainly focused on improving the already-commercialized lithium-ion.

What does the battery market look like 15 to 20 years from now? It’s ultimately hard to say. However, it’s likely that some of the above new technologies will help in leading the charge to a 100% renewable future.

Thanks for taking a look at the Battery Series.

See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

As cobalt prices soar, King’s Bay expands prospects with Newfoundland acquisition

February 16th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 16, 2017

A name and a commodity that are both objects of feverish attention seem to meet up in Newfoundland, where King’s Bay Gold TSXV:KBG has acquired the Trump Island copper-cobalt property. A 100% option announced February 16 expands the company’s cobalt prospects in Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec.

Back in 1863 a Cornish miner sunk a six-metre shaft to follow a zone of massive chalcopyrite. He reportedly sent a shipment of high-grade copper-cobalt ore to Wales.

King’s Bay expands cobalt prospects with Newfoundland acquisition

Grab samples collected nearby in 1999 brought historic, non-43-101 results up to 3.8% copper, 0.3% cobalt, 2.9 g/t gold and 10.9 g/t silver.

The initial King’s Bay agenda would call for additional sampling, along with mapping and a local-scale electromagnetic survey on the 200-hectare property. Successful results could bring a summer drill campaign.

Subject to approvals, King’s Bay gets Trump Island for 200,000 shares at a deemed value of $0.195 and a 2% NSR.

The boat-accessible property sits seven kilometres south of Twillingate, a town immortalized in Newfoundland’s unofficial national anthem.

In Labrador, meanwhile, King’s Bay has airborne EM planned for its Lynx Lake copper-cobalt project, where grab samples have shown non-43-101 results up to 1.39% copper, 0.94% cobalt and 0.21% nickel, as well as chromium, molybdenum and vanadium values. Last month the company expanded Lynx Lake from about 2,000 hectares to approximately 24,000 hectares.

Earlier this month King’s Bay picked up three cobalt projects in Quebec. The company closed a $938,752 private placement in January.

The acquisitions come as cobalt prices continue their meteoric rise, hitting six-year highs up to $20 a pound, reported MetalBulletin.com. That represents an approximately 50% increase since September, according to Reuters. Stating that many traders are hoarding the metal, Reuters predicted a supply deficit this year “exacerbated by an insecure supply chain. Almost 60% of the world’s cobalt lies in politically risky Democratic Republic of Congo.”

See an infographic about cobalt.

King’s Bay Gold acquires three Quebec cobalt projects

February 6th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 6, 2017

A metal facing rising prices and supply-side risk, cobalt has drawn King’s Bay Gold TSXV:KBG to three new properties in Quebec. Previous work has shown cobalt on each acquisition.

King’s Bay Gold acquires three Quebec cobalt projects

Northeast of the Hudson Bay coast, the 875-hectare Ninuk Lake project underwent surface sampling, mapping and electromagnetics by Falconbridge in 2001. Samples from massive sulphides in outcrop found historic, non-43-101 results up to 2.6% nickel, 1.8% copper and 0.27% cobalt. Falconbridge neglected to follow up due to other discoveries that year, King’s Bay stated.

A northwestern Quebec property, the 418-hectare Broadback River project revealed several large conductors through airborne surveys in 1985. Sampling by Falconbridge from 1999 to 2000 showed historic, non-43-101 results up to 0.7% nickel, 0.3% copper and 0.09% cobalt. Drilling tested the property’s northwestern area but not the southeastern conductors.

South of Quebec City, the 179-hectare Roberge project has undergone soil sampling with historic, non-43-101 results up to 1.06% cobalt.

Now compiling data from the properties, King’s Bay plans a spring program of mapping and sampling to confirm the historic results.

Last month the company closed its acquisition of the 24,000-hectare Lynx Lake copper-cobalt project in south-central Labrador, which has airborne EM planned. Grab samples from the property’s east side brought non-43-101 results up to 1.39% copper, 0.94% cobalt, 0.21% nickel and 6.5 g/t silver. Grab samples on the west side showed non-43-101 results up to 1.03% copper, 0.566% cobalt, 0.1% nickel, 5 g/t silver, 0.36% chromium, 0.39% molybdenum and 0.23% vanadium.

King’s Bay closed a $938,752 private placement in January.

See an infographic about cobalt.

Nickel One Resources signs definitive agreement to acquire Finnish PGE-polymetallic deposit

February 1st, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 1, 2017

Nickel One Resources signs definitive agreement to acquire Finnish PGE-polymetallic deposit

The 3,750-hectare LK property
benefits from $10 million of previous work.

Jurisdiction, infrastructure, two deposits and a mouthful of a name attracted Nickel One Resources TSXV:NNN to Finland and the Lantinen Koillismaa platinum group element-copper-nickel project. But the company calls it LK for short. On February 1 two parties signed a definitive agreement on a deal that’s been several months in the making.

Subject to regulatory approvals, Nickel One gets the property by taking over a subsidiary of Finore Mining CSE:FIN, which outlined resources for two potential open pits in 2013.

(Update: In a later clarification issued March 22, Nickel One stated the estimates aren’t supported by a compliant NI 43-101 technical report and “should not be relied on until they have been verified and supported by a compliant technical report.” The company expected to file a technical report within three weeks.)

The property’s Kaukua estimate shows:

  • indicated: 10.4 million tonnes averaging 0.73 g/t palladium, 0.26 g/t platinum, 0.08 g/t gold, 0.15% copper, 0.1% nickel and 65 g/t cobalt

  • inferred: 13.2 million tonnes averaging 0.63 g/t palladium, 0.22 g/t platinum, 0.06 g/t gold, 0.15% copper, 0.1% nickel and 55 g/t cobalt

Three zones of LK’s Haukiaho estimate total:

  • inferred: 23.2 million tonnes averaging 0.31 g/t palladium, 0.12 g/t platinum, 0.1 g/t gold, 0.21% copper, 0.14% nickel and 61 g/t cobalt

Companies accustomed to the Canadian north might look with envy at LK’s location, 65 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. The property has power, year-round road access, rail 40 kilometres away and a port 160 kilometres west. Nickel One describes the region as “populated by several large-scale producers and three smelters,” while the company’s management “is highly experienced in the exploration and development of ultramafic intrusion-hosted nickel-copper-PGE projects.”

Part of that experience comes from Nickel One’s Tyko property in northwestern Ontario, from where the company announced drill results last spring.

Read more about Nickel One Resources and the Lantinen Koillismaa acquisition.

Visual Capitalist: The top 10 reasons investors should look at cobalt

January 23rd, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 23, 2017

Every once in a while, a previously underappreciated metal rises to prominence. Several factors can cause this to happen: new technology, changing consumer preferences, supply constraints or skyrocketing demand can all bring an unknown metal to the forefront of discussion.

Cobalt could be the latest metal that fits this description. It’s a crucial metal to the boom in lithium-ion battery demand, but it also has an increasingly precarious supply chain that could be very volatile moving forward.

Why investors should look at cobalt

This infographic comes from eCobalt Solutions, a company focused on providing ethically produced and environmentally sound battery-grade cobalt salts. It presents the investment case for the relatively unknown metal.

The top 10 reasons investors should look at cobalt

 

With the green movement in full swing, there is compelling evidence that cobalt could be the next relatively unknown metal to rise to prominence. Here are the top 10 reasons that investors should look at cobalt:

1. Cobalt is one of the few metals used for superalloys.

Nearly 20% of all cobalt is used for superalloys—a class of high-tech metals that originally emerged to suit the high operating temperatures of jet engines. There are three main superalloy types:

  • Nickel-based: the bulk of alloys produced

  • Cobalt-based: higher melting point gives ability to absorb stress and corrosion resistance

  • Iron-based: the original superalloy, invented prior to the 1940s

Their use has extended into many other fields—and today, superalloys are used in all types of turbines, space vehicles, rocket engines, nuclear reactors, power plants and chemical equipment.

2. The green economy runs on cobalt.

There are many types of lithium-ion batteries, but the vast majority of li-ions sold today use cobalt in some capacity. In fact, by 2020 it is expected that 75% of lithium-ion batteries will contain cobalt. Why? It’s because cobalt is the most important metal for increasing the energy density of lithium-ion cathodes.

3. And green uses such as EVs are driving the upwards trajectory of cobalt demand.

By 2020, almost one-fifth of cobalt demand will stem from electric vehicles.

Total refined cobalt demand:

Year Demand % xEV batteries % Electronics batteries
2010 64,000 <1% 30%
2015 95,000 6% 36%
2020e 124,000 17% 31%

Source: CRU

“Cobalt’s demand growth profile remains one of the best among industrial metals peers. Its exposure to rechargeable batteries continues to play a crucial role.”—Macquarie

4. Getting cobalt is the hard part.

Ninety-eight percent of cobalt is produced as a byproduct of copper and nickel mines. The problem? If copper and nickel production isn’t growing, then more cobalt isn’t mined to meet demand.

5. Why not find more cobalt?

It’s easier said than done. The vast majority of the world’s cobalt lies in risky regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Country % Cobalt Supply in 2014
DRC 58%
Russia 6%
Cuba 5%
Australia 5%
Philippines 4%
Madagascar 4%
Other 19%

Source: CRU

6. And so supply can tighten.

Chemical cobalt, the kind used in batteries, is expected to fall into a growing deficit over the next few years. By 2020, CRU expects that deficit to be at least 12,000 tonnes.

7. Meanwhile, the U.S. government definitely doesn’t have any strategic stockpiles.

According to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, the government sold off cobalt all the way up to 2008. Now there are only 301 tonnes left in strategic stockpiles.

8. Cobalt was one of the best-performing metals in 2016.

Metal 2016 performance
Zinc 66%
Cobalt 47%
Nickel 17%
Aluminum 17%
Copper 17%
Silver 16%
Gold 9%
Platinum 1%
Uranium -42%

9. Cobalt prices have been rising but they are nowhere near all-time highs yet.

All-time highs for cobalt prices happened in 2008, after the DRC government placed restrictions on export of ores and concentrates. For a brief stint, cobalt prices even exceeded $50 a pound. The current price? Roughly $16 a pound.

10. Many experts predict the cobalt market to be interesting to watch in 2017.

“Just how much cobalt is in stockpiles in China is the million-dollar question. Clarity here can materially affect the cobalt price.”—Chris Berry, House Mountain Partners LLC

“The refined cobalt market will fall into a 3,000-tonne deficit this year following seven years of overcapacity and oversupply. CRU anticipates prices to increase onward into 2017.”—Edward Spencer, CRU Group

“With this growth will come further disruption to the traditional market structures that have developed in cobalt over the last 30 years. In short, a new, more secure supply chain for the modern era will need to be created, a task that includes new mines, new refineries and a more transparent supply chain.”—Andrew Miller, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

Updated: Financing, permitting, 12-fold expansion bring King’s Bay closer to Labrador copper-cobalt exploration

January 17th, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 15, 2017

Update: On January 17, King’s Bay announced the expansion of its Lynx Lake property from about 2,000 hectares to approximately 24,000 hectares “to adequately cover the geological structures and geophysical signatures of interest.”

 

With a provincial permit in hand and a $938,752 private placement that closed earlier this month, King’s Bay Gold TSXV:KBG readies for airborne EM over its Lynx Lake copper-cobalt project in south-central Labrador. The survey will precede a proposed first-ever drill program for the property.

Financing, permitting bring King’s Bay closer to Labrador copper-cobalt exploration

Previous work began after construction of the Trans-Labrador Highway in 2008, which unlocked some of the region’s geology. Grab samples from a quarry on the property’s east side showed non-43-101 results up to 1.39% copper, 0.94% cobalt, 0.21% nickel and 6.5 g/t silver. Other non-43-101 grab sample results from a west-side quarry ranged up to 1.03% copper, 0.566% cobalt, 0.1% nickel, 5 g/t silver, 0.36% chromium, 0.39% molybdenum and 0.23% vanadium.

Preliminary evidence of strong conductors in the area came from the province’s regional low-res magnetic surveys and a hand-held EM-16 device.

With highway and powerlines running adjacent to the property, Lynx Lake can be reached by a 1.5-hour drive from the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Cobalt, one of the energy metals essential to battery manufacture, presents especially troubling supply concerns due to the instability and human rights infractions of the metal’s largest producer, the Democratic Republic of Congo. See an infographic about cobalt’s precarious supply chain.

Cobalt: A precarious supply chain

January 14th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

Cobalt: A precarious supply chain

 

How does your mobile phone last for 12 hours on just one charge? It’s the power of cobalt, along with several other energy metals, that keeps your lithium-ion battery running.

The only problem? Getting the metal from the source to your electronics is not an easy feat, and this makes for an extremely precarious supply chain for manufacturers.

This infographic comes to us from LiCo Energy Metals TSXV:LIC and it focuses on where this important ingredient of green technology originates from, and the supply risks associated with its main sources.

What is cobalt?

Cobalt is a transition metal found between iron and nickel on the periodic table. It has a high melting point (1493° C) and retains its strength to a high temperature.

Similar to iron or nickel, cobalt is ferromagnetic. It can retain its magnetic properties to 1100° C, a higher temperature than any other material. Ferromagnetism is the strongest type of magnetism: it’s the only one that typically creates forces strong enough to be felt and is responsible for the magnets encountered in everyday life.

These unique properties make the metal perfect for two specialized high-tech purposes: superalloys and battery cathodes.

Superalloys

High-performance alloys drive 18% of cobalt demand. The metal’s ability to withstand intense temperatures and conditions makes it perfect for use in:

  • Turbine blades

  • Jet engines

  • Gas turbines

  • Prosthetics

  • Permanent magnets

Lithium-ion batteries

Batteries drive 49% of demand—and most of this comes from cobalt’s use in lithium-ion battery cathodes:

Type of lithium-ion cathode Cobalt in cathode Spec. energy (Wh/kg)
LFP 0% 120
LMO 0% 140
NMC 15% 200
LCO 55% 200
NCA 10% 245

The three most powerful cathode formulations for li-ion batteries all need cobalt. As a result, the metal is indispensable in many of today’s battery-powered devices:

  • Mobile phones (LCO)

  • Tesla Model S (NCA)

  • Tesla Powerwall (NMC)

  • Chevy Volt (NMC/LMO)

The Tesla Powerwall 2 uses approximately seven kilograms and a Tesla Model S (90 kWh) uses approximately 22.5 kilos of the energy metal.

The cobalt supply chain

Cobalt production has gone almost straight up to meet demand, more than doubling since the early 2000s.

But while the metal is desired, getting it is the hard part.

1. No native cobalt has ever been found.

There are four widely distributed ores that exist but almost no cobalt is mined from them as a primary source.

2. Most cobalt production is mined as a byproduct.

Mine source % cobalt production
Nickel (byproduct) 60%
Copper (byproduct) 38%
Cobalt (primary) 2%

This means it is hard to expand production when more is needed.

3. Most production occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with elevated supply risks.

Country Tonnes %
Total 122,701 100.0%
United States 524 0.4%
China 1,417 1.2%
DRC 67,975 55.4%
Rest of World 52,785 43.0%

(Source: CRU, estimated production for 2017, tonnes)

The future of cobalt supply

Companies like Tesla and Panasonic need reliable sources of the metal and right now there aren’t many failsafes.

The United States hasn’t mined cobalt in significant volumes since 1971 and the USGS reports that the U.S. only has 301 tonnes of the metal stored in stockpiles.

The reality is that the DRC produces about half of all cobalt and it also holds approximately 47% of all global reserves.

Why is this a concern for end-users?

1. The DRC is one of the poorest, most corrupt and most coercive countries on the planet.

It ranks:

  • 151st out of 159 countries in the Human Freedom Index

  • 176th out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index

  • 178th out of 184 countries in terms of GDP per capita ($455)

  • 148th out of 169 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index

2. The DRC has had more deaths from war since WWII than any other country on the planet.
Recent wars in the DRC:

  • First Congo War (1996-1997)—An invasion by Rwanda that overthrew the Mobutu regime.

  • Second Congo War (1998-2003)—The bloodiest conflict in world history since WWII, with 5.4 million deaths.

3. Human rights in mining

The DRC government estimates that 20% of all cobalt production in the country comes from artisanal miners—independent workers who dig holes and mine ore without sophisticated mines or machinery.

There are at least 100,000 artisanal cobalt miners in the DRC and UNICEF estimates that up to 40,000 children could be in the trade. Children can be as young as seven years old and they can work up to 12 hours with physically demanding work earning $2 per day.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International alleges that Apple, Samsung and Sony fail to do basic checks in making sure the metal in their supply chains did not come from child labour.

Most major companies have vowed that any such practices will not be tolerated in their supply chains.

Other sources

Where will tomorrow’s supply come from and will the role of the DRC eventually diminish? Will Tesla achieve its goal of a North American supply chain for its key metal inputs?

Mining exploration companies are already looking at regions like Ontario, Idaho, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to find tomorrow’s deposits.

Ontario: Ontario is one of the only places in the world where cobalt-primary mines have existed. This camp is near the aptly named town of Cobalt, which is located halfway between Sudbury, the world’s nickel capital, and Val-d’Or, one of the most famous gold camps in the world.

Idaho: Idaho is known as the Gem State while also being known for its silver camps in Coeur d’Alene—but it has also been a cobalt producer in the past.

B.C.: The mountains of B.C. are known for their rich gold, silver, copper, zinc and met coal deposits. But cobalt often occurs with copper and some mines in B.C. have produced cobalt in the past.

Northwest Territories: Cobalt can also be found up north, as the NWT becomes a more interesting mineral destination for companies. One hundred and sixty kilometres from Yellowknife, a gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper deposit is being developed.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

A 2016 retrospect

December 20th, 2016

Was it the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

by Greg Klein

Some say optimism was evident early in the year, as the trade shows and investor conferences began. Certainly as 2016 progressed, so did much of the market. Commodities, some of them anyway, picked up. In a lot of cases, so did valuations. The crystal ball of the industry’s predictionariat often seemed to shine a rosier tint. It must have been the first time in years that people actually stopped saying, “I think we’ve hit bottom.”

But it would have been a full-out bull market if every commodity emulated lithium.

By February Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reported the chemical’s greatest-ever price jump as both hydroxide and carbonate surpassed $10,000 a tonne, a 47% increase for the latter’s 2015 average. The Macquarie Group later cautioned that the Big Four of Albermarle NYSE:ALB, FMC Corp NYSE:FMC, SQM NYSE:SQM and Talison Lithium had been mining significantly below capacity and would ramp up production to protect market share.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

That they did, as new supply was about to come online from sources like Galaxy Resources’ Mount Cattlin mine in Western Australia, which began commissioning in November. The following month Orocobre TSX:ORL announced plans to double output from its Salar de Olaroz project in Argentina. Even Bolivia sent a token 9.3 tonnes to China, suggesting the mining world’s outlaw finally intends to develop its lithium deposits, estimated to be the world’s largest at 22% of global potential.

Disagreeing with naysayers like Macquarie and tracking at least 12 Li-ion megafactories being planned, built or expanded to gigawatt-hour capacity by 2020, Benchmark in December predicted further price increases for 2017.

Obviously there was no keeping the juniors out of this. Whether or not it’s a bubble destined to burst, explorers snapped up prospects, issuing news releases at an almost frantic flow that peaked in mid-summer. Acquisitions and early-stage activity often focused on the western U.S., South America’s Lithium Triangle and several Canadian locations too.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Whabouchi was subject of a feasibility update released in April. Calling the development project “one of the richest spodumene hard rock lithium deposits in the world, both in volume and grade,” Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX plans to ship samples from its mine and plant in Q2 2017.

A much more despairing topic was cobalt, considered by some observers to be the energy metal to watch. At press time instability menaced the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces an estimated 60% of global output. Far overshadowing supply-side concerns, however, was the threat of a humanitarian crisis triggered by president Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

But the overall buoyant market mood had a practical basis in base metals, led by zinc. In June prices bounced back from the six-year lows of late last year to become “by far the best-performing LME metal,” according to Reuters. Two months later a UBS spokesperson told the news agency refiners were becoming “panicky.”

Mine closures in the face of increasing demand for galvanized steel and, later in the year, post-U.S. election expectations of massive infrastructure programs, pushed prices 80% above the previous year. They then fell closer to 70%, but remained well within levels unprecedented over the last five years. By mid-December one steelmaker told the Wall Street Journal to expect “a demand explosion.”

Lead lagged, but just for the first half of 2016. Spot prices had sunk to about 74 cents a pound in early June, when the H2 ascension began. Reaching an early December peak of about $1.08, the highest since 2013, the metal then slipped beneath the dollar mark.

Copper lay at or near five-year lows until November, when a Trump-credited surge sent the red metal over 60% higher, to about $2.54 a pound. Some industry observers doubted it would last. But columnist Andy Home dated the rally to October, when the Donald was expected to lose. Home attributed copper’s rise to automated trading: “Think the copper market equivalent of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network that takes over the world in the Terminator films.” While other markets have experienced the same phenomenon, he maintained, it’s probably the first, but not the last time for a base metal.

Was this the comeback year for commodities—or just a tease?

Nickel’s spot price started the year around a piddling $3.70 a pound. But by early December it rose to nearly $5.25. That still compared poorly with 2014 levels well above $9 and almost $10 in 2011. Nickel’s year was characterized by Indonesia’s ban on exports of unprocessed metals and widespread mine suspensions in the Philippines, up to then the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore.

More controversial for other reasons, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte began ordering suspensions shortly after his June election. His environmental secretary Regina Lopez then exhorted miners to surpass the world’s highest environmental standards, “better than Canada, better than Australia. We must be better and I know it can be done.”

Uranium continued to present humanity with a dual benefit—a carbon-free fuel for emerging middle classes and a cautionary example for those who would predict the future. Still oblivious to optimistic forecasts, the recalcitrant metal scraped a post-Fukushima low of $18 in December before creeping to $20.25 on the 19th. The stuff fetched around $72 a pound just before the 2011 tsunami and hit $136 in 2007.