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Posts tagged ‘colombia’

‘The Rare Metal Age’

December 23rd, 2015

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

by Greg Klein

Read this book and you might want to renounce technology to live in a cave—provided it’s equipped with battery rechargers. Author David S. Abraham brings out some of the paradoxes of our dependency on increasingly elusive minerals while explaining the complicated but murky background of interconnected economic, social and geopolitical forces. It might take an event comparable to OPEC’s 1973 oil embargo to jolt Western society out of its ignorance. Abraham tries to protect us from such a rude awakening with The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age.

“This book comes at a defining time when rare metals are increasingly critical for high-tech, green and military applications,” he declares. “Yet despite their prevalence, they are not understood.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

By rare metals he means rare earths, tantalum, niobium, lithium, cobalt, graphite and more. Having examined a decade’s worth of reports, he finds “more than half the elements on the periodic table are ‘critical’ to one country or another.”

Resources can be limited and the route from mine-to-market complex. As a case study he presents the electric toothbrush, comprised of roughly 35 metals and relying on “an extensive supply chain: miners like China’s Xiamen Tungsten to supply the metal; a plant in Estonia to process it; and metal traders in New York to provide the alloys to component manufacturers, who sell their wares to the toothbrush manufacturer. It is a web that spans six continents.”

That’s just one example. As the “electronification of everything” coincides with the growing aspirations of emerging economies, “the future of our high-tech goods may lie not in the limitations of our minds, but in our ability to secure the ingredients to produce them…. At no point in human history have we used more elements, in more combinations and in increasingly refined amounts. Our ingenuity will soon outpace our material supplies.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

Hardly limited to consumer luxuries, the metals are essential to uses ranging from green technology to medical instruments to the weapons systems behind a country’s national defence.

Yet sources of production can be frighteningly limited. Some 85% of the world’s niobium comes from Brazil’s Araxa mine, Abraham points out. “Relying on one country and one mine in particular is a risky proposition. A natural disaster, political changes or conflict such as we have seen in Congo can quickly create shortages.”

Then there’s the geopolitical power of countries holding scarce resources. That’s a lesson Japan learned quickly when it challenged China in a territorial dispute, only to lose access to rare earths.

In fact manufacturers from Japan and elsewhere have been relocating their operations to China to ensure supply. One academic tells Abraham that “over the next several decades, every high-tech system—from cars to solar panels—could very well be produced in China.”

Moving to another disturbing topic, Abraham looks at some conflict minerals.

In Colombia, FARC rebels, who have been fighting an insurgency against the government since 1987, produce tungsten from the depths of the Amazon jungle. In Democratic Republic of Congo, anti-government forces and rebel gangs make millions producing tungsten, tin and tantalum. In 2011, about 21% of the world’s tantalum supply came from regions in conflict and almost all of it was processed in China. On the twin Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, bands of small-scale illegal miners dig up more than a third of the world’s tin from jet-black cassiterite minerals, and unknown amounts of other minerals like xenotime and monazite, which hold rare earth elements.

Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.—David S. Abraham

Where’s that stuff going? Often into products we take for granted. Due to long, baffling supply lines, “a lot of companies have no idea whether or not they’re using conflict minerals,” MetalMiner publisher Lisa Reisman tells Abraham. The author adds, “Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.”

Abraham tackles other topics as well, including the appalling environmental practices in mining regions like China’s Jiangxi province. Our footprint is there, he says, because “nearly all of your electronics contain specks of metals from those mines.”

Here in the West, our efforts to produce cleaner energy and more energy-efficient machines call for additional metals. “Mining is not antithetical to a green economy; it’s a necessity.”

People who follow resource-related topics will certainly appreciate Abraham’s insights. But other readers might find his book an especial eye-opener. It could make a suitable Christmas gift for any high-tech consumers or green activists who not only disdain mining but deludedly think they abjure the industry.

Unless they live in caves—without battery rechargers—they’re as much a part of the Rare Metal Age as anyone else.

Who gets the multi-billion-dollar shipwreck?

December 7th, 2015

by Greg Klein | December 7, 2015

The December 5 announcement that Colombia may have located history’s greatest sunken treasure brought wide-ranging estimates of gold worth up to $17 billion. An American company called Sea Search Armada says it found the Spanish galleon back in 1981. Spain continues to claim ownership of its ships lost at sea. The United Nations, meanwhile, considers such loot to be cultural artefacts that should be preserved in museums.

Who gets the multi-billion-dollar shipwreck?

A remote-controlled submarine took photos from the wreck
at a secret location in Colombian Caribbean waters.
Photo: Colombian Ministry of Culture

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos suggested the ship was found in a different location than the Sea Search claim, according to an Associated Press story published by the CBC. The exact location remains a state secret, he said.

But a lawyer representing Sea Search told AP, “The government may have been the one to find it but this really just reconfirms what we told them in 1982.”

The company says Colombia gave Sea Search a 35% share in a deal that the government later overturned. While the country claims a court challenge was settled in its favour, “nothing could be further from the truth,” Sea Search managing director Jack Harbeston told CNN.

Meanwhile Spain watches closely. Spanish culture secretary José Maria Lasalle said his country will consider “what action to take in defence of what we consider to be our sunken wealth and in accordance with UNESCO agreements that our country signed,” the Guardian reported.

In a New York Times story about another disputed Spanish galleon christened San José, Ulrike Guérin of UNESCO’s underwater culture program said the organization wants to stop the practice of commercial salvaging, which can damage archeological sites.

“Critics say buried coins and loot should be studied and preserved in a museum, not sported around an investor’s neck,” the NYT stated.

But if the booty’s worth billions, it’s hard to imagine cultural preservation taking priority over profit. And, given the likelihood that at least some of the gold was plundered from natives in the first place, another ownership claim could be pending.

November 4th, 2015

Dr. Clay: That mud bath might actually be good for you Geology for Investors
Why Austria is repatriating gold from London GoldSeek
How Wall Street came to rule the economy Equities Canada
World’s biggest gold miners answer price slump with more output NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals

November 2nd, 2015

UBS recommends buying gold on dips GoldSeek
How Wall Street came to rule the economy Equities Canada
World’s biggest gold miners answer price slump with more output NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals

October 30th, 2015

How Wall Street came to rule the economy Equities Canada
Ted Cruz: The U.S. needs to audit the Fed GoldSeek
World’s biggest gold miners answer price slump with more output NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals

October 29th, 2015

Ted Cruz: The U.S. needs to audit the Fed GoldSeek
World’s biggest gold miners answer price slump with more output NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals
When stock traders become market cheerleaders Equities Canada

October 27th, 2015

Five things you need to sort out in five years if you run China NAI 500
Investors are eyeing gold once again GoldSeek
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals
When stock traders become market cheerleaders Equities Canada

October 26th, 2015

Investors are eyeing gold once again GoldSeek
Tesla CEO says could start China car production in two years NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals
When stock traders become market cheerleaders Equities Canada

October 22nd, 2015

Gold, silver shine again as investors add $393 million to ETFs NAI 500
China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals
The world’s 10 most competitive countries GoldSeek
When stock traders become market cheerleaders Equities Canada

October 21st, 2015

China agrees to major nuclear power investment in UK facility Stockhouse
Paul Harris preaches investor patience in Colombia Streetwise Reports
Copper seen near bottom as China soaks up supply NAI 500
Mining for cosmetics: Mineralogy and the ancient art of looking good Geology for Investors
TiO2 World Summit 2015: “Suppliers listen but they don’t hear” Industrial Minerals
The world’s 10 most competitive countries GoldSeek
When stock traders become market cheerleaders Equities Canada