Thursday 23rd February 2017

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘democratic republic of congo’

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.

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.

Amnesty International researcher Mark Dummett warns that brand name consumer items might contain conflict cobalt

November 1st, 2016

…Read more

King’s Bay Gold to acquire never-drilled copper-cobalt property in Labrador

October 28th, 2016

by Greg Klein | October 28, 2016

An intriguing chance find has King’s Bay Gold TSXV:KBG hoping the Trans-Labrador Highway will be a road to discovery. That’s the story behind the company’s October 27 announcement of a definitive agreement to acquire the Lynx Lake copper-cobalt property in south-central Labrador.

King’s Bay Gold to acquire never-drilled copper-cobalt property in Labrador

Powerlines and the Trans-Labrador Highway
run adjacent to the Lynx Lake copper-cobalt property.

As Newfoundland was building the highway in 2008, a provincial contractor with prospecting experience noticed evidence of disseminated and massive sulphides, King’s Bay geologist/director Nick Rodway explains. Some geological sleuthing eventually drew the contractor to the property’s east side, where a quarry had been blasted for aggregate.

Grab samples assayed the following year showed non-43-101 results up to 1.39% copper, 0.94% cobalt, 0.21% nickel and 6.5 g/t silver. Regional low-res magnetic surveys undertaken by the province and preliminary work in 2014 with a hand-held EM-16 device suggest strong conductors underlying the area.

Grab samples taken on the property’s west side in 2015 brought 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.

With a team returning to Lynx Lake next week, King’s Bay intends to conduct a sampling program to bring 43-101 results, along with further EM-16 surveys. Should all go to plan, airborne geophysics could follow this winter.

Open to year-round work, highway-accessible and with adjacent powerlines, the 20-square-kilometre property sits about 100 kilometres southeast of the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Subject to approvals, the acquisition costs King’s Bay $100,000 over three years and 900,000 shares over two years. On October 27 the company also announced a private placement of up to $1 million.

The news comes amid growing concerns over future cobalt supply. Nearly 60% of global production comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country rife with political instability and conflict mining.

At the same time increased demand comes from “the energy storage revolution,” reports Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Its data shows “2015 total global supply at 100,000 tpa, of this the battery market consumed 48,000 tpa.

“With a lithium-ion battery production surge well underway—and Benchmark recently revising its megafactories tracker to now 14 that are under construction ranging from three- to 35-GWh capacity—lithium-ion battery demand for cobalt is set to exceed 100,000 tpa by 2020.”

Conflict cobalt uncertainty continues to haunt consumer industries

October 3rd, 2016

by Greg Klein | October 3, 2016

Nine months after issuing a report on cobalt produced by child labour, Amnesty International says major manufacturers still can’t guarantee conflict-free sources.

The organization’s January report focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children work in dangerous conditions up to 12 hours a day, making between $1 and $2 a day. “In 2014 approximately 40,000 children worked in mines across southern DRC, many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF,” Amnesty noted.

Conflict cobalt uncertainty continues to haunt consumer industries

DRC children sorting ore.
(Photo: Amnesty International/Afrewatch)

“Frankly companies owe it to their consumer to be transparent about their supplies and to map out their supply chains so that they know where it’s coming from,” Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett told Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters news agency. He maintains there’s no guarantee that the lithium-ion batteries in brand name consumer items, including vehicles, phones, computers and other devices, aren’t tainted with conflict cobalt.

Oddly enough, U.S. laws barring conflict minerals don’t cover cobalt. The Amnesty report stated at least half the world’s supply originates in the DRC, with about one-fifth of the national total coming from artisanal mines.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence attributes over 60% of global output to the DRC.

While several manufacturers said they were scrutinizing their sources, Dummett countered that they weren’t disclosing what efforts they made to exclude child labour from their supply chains.

Last month Industrial Minerals reported that RealLi Research analyst Mo Ke told a Beijing conference there would “probably be a shortage next year” of the commodity. “Some commentators, such as Ian Pringle, managing director of Bayrock Materials and Pacific Basin Bluestone, thinks that this is an understatement,” IM added.

Already suffering from civil and political unrest, the DRC was hit by corruption allegations last week from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An SEC lawsuit claims that a DRC partner of the Och-Ziff Capital Management Group bribed government officials with more than US$100 million over 10 years.

An anonymous source alleged the partner was Dan Gertler, Bloomberg reported. “Glencore and Gertler’s Fleurette Group are partners in the $1.8-billion Mutanda copper and cobalt mine in the African country, with Glencore owning 69% and Fleurette the remainder,” the news agency added. Gertler and Fleurette denied allegations of wrongdoing.

In May Freeport-McMoRan NYSE:FCX announced a definitive agreement to sell its stake in the DRC’s Tenke copper-cobalt mine to China Molybdenum for US$2.65 billion and a contingent consideration of up to US$120 million. But a Bloomberg dispatch from last month stated that Gécamines, the DRC’s state-owned mining company and a co-owner of Tenke, said any decision by Lundin Mining TSX:LUN to divest its 24% share of the mine could threaten the deal.

Download the Amnesty International report.

A cautious approach

September 16th, 2016

Jon Hykawy discusses lithium, cobalt and a battery-fuelled frenzy

by Greg Klein

Making its Western Hemisphere debut in Toronto from September 26 to 28, Mines and Money kicks off with a full day dedicated to battery metals. That would seem to cast a resoundingly positive vote in lithium’s boom-or-bubble debate. But while conference speaker Jon Hykawy sees an enduring case for the celebrated commodity, he counsels investors to tread carefully.

A physicist with an MBA in marketing who’s covered energy metals and industrial minerals for Byron Capital Markets, he’s been focusing much of his attention on rechargeable batteries, fuel cells and renewable energy since founding Stormcrow Capital.

He sees renewed optimism in resources generally, especially in battery materials. But he sounds wary about lithium’s most recent price increases.

Jon Hykawy discusses lithium, cobalt and a battery-fuelled frenzy

“They look to me like what I would have expected if we had major producers that weren’t yet under pressure to increase output, speculators buying and warehousing material for future sale, and some panic buying and resulting over-stocking by end-users,” Hykawy tells ResourceClips.com. “It’s the situation we had in uranium back in 2007 and 2008 and with rare earths in 2010 and 2011. That’s not to say there’s going to be a catastrophic collapse in prices because fundamental demand for lithium is growing at a pretty respectable pace. But it doesn’t mean that every junior is going to see production.”

Of course assessing juniors involves assessing their projects. That brings up the distinction between two types of deposits, brine and pegmatite.

Brines generally offer lower operating costs, he points out. But “there are only so many natural brines out there. Some natural brines are problematic, some are in bad jurisdictions. No one’s going to go into Bolivia under the current government. That eliminates one of the largest resources in the world.

“But recently we’ve had new technologies come to the fore that could enable alternative brines that hadn’t been considered viable at any reasonable economic level,” Hykawy adds. Extraction processes developed by companies like POSCO, Eramet and Tenova Bateman Technologies “can pull lithium directly out of brine,” eliminating the lengthy solar evaporation phase.

That would open up more types of brines, for example fossilized brines from oil fields, which might hold a very good grade of lithium but a huge quantity of calcium or magnesium. And it opens up different locales.—Jon Hykawy, president of Stormcrow Capital

“Some of these technologies don’t worry as much or at all about the contaminants that conventionally impact solar evaporation production,” he continues. “That would open up more types of brines, for example fossilized brines from oil fields, which might hold a very good grade of lithium but a huge quantity of calcium or magnesium. And it opens up different locales. Let’s say you’re pulling lithium out of brine from oil fields near the U.S. gulf coast. The high humidity and heavy rainfall works against solar evaporation. But if you have a direct extraction technology, you can put that lithium through the process. If it ignores contaminants, all the better.”

He credits speed as the biggest advantage of hard rock deposits. “Once you’ve got a hard rock lithium mine up and running, the time it takes to pull ore out of the ground and turn it into saleable product is measured in days. That makes hard rock mines look like far more reliable suppliers.” The advantage comes with a higher opex, however.

Then there’s the distinction between lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate. The latter results from solar evaporation of brine and served as “ a decent feedstock for the initial type of lithium-ion battery that used lithium-cobalt oxide as a cathode material.”

Better suited to more modern battery chemistries, however, is lithium hydroxide, now considered “something of a wonderkid,” Hykawy says.

It’s associated with hard rock deposits, but not limited to them. Solar evaporation of brine can produce lithium chloride in solution or carbonate as a precipitate, he explains. “You can then send the carbonate or chloride to a processing company that will turn it into lithium hydroxide.”

That makes market share comparisons for carbonate and hydroxide problematic when it’s not clear how much hydroxide originated as carbonate.

“Some technologies can produce carbonate or hydroxide directly from brine, but they’re not in commercial use yet. Over time the industry will become more flexible.”

Hydroxide fetches the higher prices. “What you’re really paying for in lithium carbonate or hydroxide are the lithium units, the actual amount of lithium chemical…. Today you’re getting a very substantial premium for lithium units in hydroxide, much more than you’d expect. That suggests to me there’s a secular shortage of hydroxide and people are willing to pay up, especially in the spot market, because they themselves don’t have the ability to buy carbonate and convert it into hydroxide.”

Looking at graphite, he’s satisfied that increasing demand can be met by existing producers and up-and-coming projects. But cobalt presents a more intriguing story.

Normally mined as a byproduct of copper or nickel, most of it comes from the conflict-plagued Democratic Republic of Congo, where production has been reduced or suspended with the decline in base metals prices.

While battery demand raises cobalt prices, steel acts as a restraint. More than half of cobalt production has gone to the troubled industry. “That’s becoming less and less a factor in cobalt prices because a growing component of cobalt, well over 40% today, now goes into batteries.”

Cobalt prices have been climbing but, Hykawy says, “if you have access to them, the cobalt sulphates that are actually used in batteries have done far better in price than the cobalt metal.”

Getting back to lithium’s boom-versus-bubble debate, Hykawy takes the latter position. “Yeah, there’s momentum to be played, but just understand the floor you’re standing on might not be as strong as you thought…. There’s a long-term, strong growth trend in lithium demand and the prospects for lithium companies. But pick your entry points and the horse you’re going to ride carefully.”

Hykawy addresses the Mines and Money Battery Metals conference at St. Andrew’s Club in Toronto on September 26.

July 18th, 2016

John Mauldin: Implications of the Turkish coup/The age of no returns GoldSeek
Nickel near eight-month high as metals gain on stimulus speculation NAI 500
Cobalt supply tightens as battery demand looms Benchmark Mineral Intelligence
Markets are telling us what the elites won’t: Life goes on after Brexit Equities.com
New stock market highs correlate to $57 trillion in printed global currency units Streetwise Reports
Canada welcomes move towards ratification of EU trade deal Industrial Minerals
Gold junior climbs on assays SmallCapPower
A classic case of failed socialism: What’s next after Brexit? Stockhouse
Limestone: Commodity overview Geology for Investors
Lithium in Las Vegas: A closer look at the lithium bull The Disruptive Discoveries Journal