Tuesday 17th September 2019

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘graphite’

A Capitol idea

May 7th, 2019

This U.S. bipartisan bill aims to reduce America’s critical minerals dependency

 

This won’t be the first time Washington has seen such a proposal. Announced last week, the American Mineral Security Act encourages the development of domestic resources and supply chains to produce minerals considered essential to the country’s well-being. But the chief backer, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, acknowledges having introduced similar standalone legislation previously, as well as addressing the topic in a previous energy bill.

A U.S. bipartisan bill would reduce America’s critical minerals dependency

This time, however, the proposal takes place amid growing concern. In late 2017, following a U.S. Geological Survey report that provided the first comprehensive review of the subject since 1973, President Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” In early 2018 the U.S. Department of the Interior formally classified 35 minerals as critical. A September 2018 report responded to the presidential order, urging programs to address supply chain challenges that leave the U.S. relying heavily on countries like Russia and especially China.

Even so, Murkowski and the other three senators think Washington needs a little push.

“I greatly appreciate the administration’s actions to address this issue but congress needs to complement them with legislation,” she said. “Our bill takes steps that are long overdue to reverse our damaging foreign dependence and position ourselves to compete in growth industries like electric vehicles and energy storage.”

The senators referred to USGS data from 2018 showing 48 minerals for which their country imported at least 50% of supply. Foreign dependency accounted for 100% of 18 of them, including rare earths, graphite and indium.  

Focusing on energy minerals, Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence lauded the bipartisan group for addressing “a global battery arms race that is intensifying.

“Lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel are the key enablers of the lithium-ion battery and, in turn, the lithium-ion battery is the key enabler of the energy storage revolution. Globally they are facing a wall of demand, especially from electric vehicles. Yet the U.S. has been a bystander in building a domestic supply chain capacity.

“Right now, the U.S. produces 1% of global lithium supply and only 7% of refined lithium chemical supply, while China produces 51%. For cobalt, the U.S. has zero mining capacity and zero chemicals capacity whilst China controls 80% of this [at] second stage.

These supply chains are the oil pipelines of tomorrow. The lithium-ion battery is to the 21st century what the oil barrel was to the 20th century.—Simon Moores
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

“Graphite is the most extreme example with no flake graphite mining and anode production compared to China’s 51% and 100% of the world’s total, respectively. And it’s a similar story with nickel—under 1% mined in the U.S. and zero capacity for nickel sulfate.

“These supply chains are the oil pipelines of tomorrow,” Moores emphasized. “The lithium-ion battery is to the 21st century what the oil barrel was to the 20th century.”

Looking at another critical mineral, the White House has until mid-July to respond to a U.S. Department of Commerce report on the effects of uranium imports to American national security. According to the USGS, the fuel provides 20% of the country’s electricity but the U.S. relies on imports for over 95% of supply.

A recent book by Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges points to rare earths as the “poster child for U.S. critical mineral vulnerability.” In Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence, the authors say REs remain “essential for military and civilian use, for the production of high-performance permanent magnets, GPS guidance systems, satellite imaging and night vision equipment, cellphones, iPads, flat screens, MRIs and electric toothbrushes, sunglasses, and a myriad of other technology products. Since they offer that extra boost to so many new technologies, these rare earth metals rival energy in importance to our 21st century lifestyle.”

Among the proposed act’s provisions are:

  • an updated list of critical minerals every three years

  • nationwide resource assessments for every critical mineral

  • “practical, common-sense” reforms to reduce permitting delays

  • R&D into recycling, replacing and processing critical minerals

  • a study of the country’s minerals workforce by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation

The senators made their announcement at Benchmark Minerals Summit 2019, a private event for industry and U.S. government representatives. In a February presentation to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chaired by Murkowski, Moores issued a “red alert on the lithium-ion battery supply chain and the raw materials of lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.”

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals here and here.

Infographic: Climate Smart Mining and minerals for climate action

March 14th, 2019

sponsored by the World Bank | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | March 14, 2019

Climate Smart Mining Minerals for climate action

 

Countries are taking steps to decarbonize their economies by using wind, solar and battery technologies, with an end goal of reducing carbon-emitting fossil fuels from the energy mix.

But this global energy transition also has a trade-off: to cut emissions, more minerals are needed.

Therefore, in order for the transition to renewables to be meaningful and to achieve significant reductions in the Earth’s carbon footprint, mining will have to better mitigate its own environmental and social impacts.

Advocates for renewable technology are not walking blindly into a new energy paradigm without understanding these impacts. A policy and regulatory framework can help governments meet their targets, and mitigate and manage the impacts of the next wave of mineral demand to help the communities most affected by mining.

This infographic comes from the World Bank and it highlights this energy transition, how it will create demand for minerals and also the Climate Smart Mining building blocks.

Renewable power and mineral demand

In 2017, the World Bank published The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, which concluded that to build a lower carbon future there will be a substantial increase in demand for several key minerals and metals to manufacture clean energy technologies.

Wind
Wind power technology has drastically improved its energy output. By 2025, a 300-metre-tall wind turbine could produce about 13 to 15 MW, enough to power a small town. With increased size and energy output comes increased material demand.

A single 3 MW turbine requires:

  • 4.7 tons of copper

  • 335 tons of steel

  • 1,200 tons of concrete

  • 2 tons of rare earth elements

  • 3 tons of aluminum

Solar
In 2017 global renewable capacity was 178 GW, of which 54.5% was solar photo-voltaic technology (PV). By 2023, it’s expected that this capacity will increase to one terawatt with PV accounting for 57.5% of the mix. PV cells require polymers, aluminum, silicon, glass, silver and tin.

Batteries
Everything from your home, your vehicle and your everyday devices will require battery technology to keep them powered and your life on the move.

Lithium, cobalt and nickel are at the centre of battery technology that will see the greatest explosion in demand in the coming energy transition.

Top five minerals for energy technologies

Add it all up, and these new sources of demand will translate into a need for more minerals:

 

  2017 production 2050 demand from energy technology Percentage change (%)
Lithium 43 KT 415 KT 965%
Cobalt 110 KT 644 KT 585%
Graphite 1200 KT 4590 KT 383%
Indium 0.72 KT 1.73 KT 241%
Vanadium 80 KT 138 KT 173%

 

Minimizing mining’s impact with Climate Smart Mining

The World Bank’s Climate Smart Mining (CSM) supports the sustainable extraction and processing of minerals and metals to secure supply for clean energy technologies, while also minimizing the environmental and climate footprints throughout the value chain.

The World Bank has established four building blocks for Climate Smart Mining:

  • Climate change mitigation

  • Climate change adaptation

  • Reducing material impacts

  • Creating market opportunities

Given the foresight into the pending energy revolution, a coordinated global effort early on could give nations a greater chance to mitigate the impacts of mining, avoid haphazard mineral development and contribute to the improvement of living standards in mineral-rich countries.

The World Bank works closely with the United Nations to ensure that Climate Smart Mining policies will support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

A sustainable future

The potential is there for a low carbon economy, but it’s going to require a concerted global effort and sound policies to help guide responsible mineral development.

The mining industry can deliver the minerals for climate action.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Visual Capitalist: The bull case for energy metals going into 2019

January 10th, 2019

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 10, 2019

 

The rapid emergence of the world’s renewable energy sector is helping set the stage for a commodity boom.

While oil has traditionally been the most interesting commodity to investors in the past, the green energy sector is reliant on the unique electrical and physical properties of many different metals to work optimally.

To build more renewable capacity and to store that energy efficiently, we will need to increase the available supply for these specific raw materials, or face higher costs for each material.

Metal bull cases

Ahead of Cambridge House’s annual Vancouver Resource Investment Conference on January 20 and 21, 2019, we thought it would be prudent to highlight the “bull case” for relevant metals as we start the year.

It’s important to recognize that the commodity market is often cyclical and dependent on a multitude of factors, and that these cases are not meant to be predictive in any sense.

In other words, the facts and arguments illustrated sum up what we think investors may see as the most compelling stories for these metals—but what actually happens in the market, especially in the short term, may be different.

Overarching trends

While we highlight 12 minerals ranging from copper to lithium, most of the raw materials in the infographic fit into four overarching, big-picture stories that will drive the future of green energy:

Solar and wind
The world hit 1 TW of wind and solar generation capacity in 2018. The second TW will be up and running by 2023, and will cost 46% less than the first.

Electric vehicles
Ownership of electric vehicles will increase 40 times in the next 13 years, reaching 125 million vehicles in 2030.

Energy storage
The global market for energy storage is rapidly growing, and will leap from $194 billion to $296 billion between 2017 and 2024.

Nuclear
150 nuclear reactors with a total gross capacity of about 160,000 MW are on order or planned, and about 300 more are proposed—mostly in Asia.

Which of these stories has the most potential as a catalyst for driving the entire sector?

Based on these narratives, and the individual bull cases above, which metal has the most individual potential?

Visit Visual Capitalist at Booth #1228 at #VRIC19.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Click here for free VRIC registration up to January 11.

Read more about the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference.

Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence points out increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries from large-scale stationary storage

July 16th, 2018

…Read more

Visual Capitalist: Elon Musk’s vision for the future of Tesla

April 26th, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | April 26, 2018

Tesla is currently stuck in “production hell” with Model 3 delays, as Elon Musk describes it.

But Winston Churchill had a great quote about facing what seems like insurmountable adversity: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This is certainly a maxim that Musk and Tesla will need to live by in order to realize the company’s longstanding mission, which is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

This giant infographic comes to us from Global Energy Metals TSXV:GEMC and it is the final part of our three-part Rise of Tesla series, which is a definitive source for everything you ever wanted to know about the company.

Part 3 shows Musk’s future vision and what it holds for the company once it can get past current production issues.

See Part 1. See Part 2.

 

Visual Capitalist: Elon Musk’s vision for the future of Tesla=

 

To understand Tesla’s ambitions for the future, you need to know two things:

1. Tesla’s mission statement: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Tesla can accomplish this by making electric vehicles, batteries and energy solutions—and by finding ways to seamlessly integrate them.

2. Tesla’s strategy: “The competitive strength of Tesla long-term is not going to be the car, it’s going to be the factory.”

Tesla aims to productize the factory so that vehicle assembly can be automated at a revolutionary pace. In other words, Tesla wants to perfect the making of the “machine that builds the machine.” It wants to use these factories to pump out EVs at a pace never before seen. It aims to change the world.

The future of Tesla

If Musk has his way and everything goes according to plan, this is how the future of Tesla will unfold. Note: Keep in mind that Tesla sometimes overpromises and that the following is an extrapolation of Tesla’s vision and announced plans as of spring 2018.

A sustainable energy powerhouse

Tesla’s goal is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy—but simply making a few electric cars is not going to be enough to put a dent into this. That’s why the future of Tesla will be defined by bigger and bolder moves:

The Tesla Semi: Tesla has unveiled the Tesla Semi, which can go 0 to 60 mph with 80,000 pounds (36 tonnes) in just 20 seconds. Fully electric and with a 200-kWh battery pack, Musk says, it would be “economic suicide” for trucking companies to continue driving diesel trucks.

Mass transit: Musk said in his Master Plan, Part Deux blog post that he wants to design “high passenger-density urban transport.” It’s anticipated that this will come in the form of an autonomous minibus, built off the Model X concept.

A new energy paradigm: Tesla is not just building cars—it’s democratizing green energy by creating a self-dependent ecosystem of products. This way, homeowners can ensure their appliances and cars are running off of green energy, and even sell it back to the grid if they like.

As Tesla works on this sustainable future, the company isn’t afraid to show off its battery tech in the interim. The company even built the world’s largest lithium-ion battery farm (100 MW) in South Australia, to win a bet, in fewer than 100 days.

Other new models

Musk says that Tesla plans to “address all major segments” of the auto market.

Model Y: This will be a crossover vehicle built on the Model 3 platform, expected to go into production in 2019. It will round out the “S3XY” product line of Tesla’s first four post-Roadster vehicles.

Pickup truck: This will be Tesla’s priority after the Model Y and Musk says he is “dying to build it.” Musk says it’ll be the same size as a Ford F-150 or bigger to account for a “game-changing” feature he wants to add, but has not yet revealed.

Ultra low-cost model: Tesla has also announced that it will need a model cheaper than the Model 3 in the near future. This would allow Tesla to compete against a much wider segment of the auto market, and the future of Tesla hinges on its success.

Multiple Gigafactories

Tesla already has two: Gigafactory I in Reno, Nevada (batteries) and Gigafactory II in Buffalo, New York (solar panels).

The Gigafactory I started battery cell production in 2017. It will eventually produce enough batteries to power 500,000 cars per year. Meanwhile, the second factory is operated by Tesla’s SolarCity subsidiary, producing photovoltaic modules for solar panels and solar shingles for Tesla’s solar roof product.

Tesla said in 2017 that there will be “probably four” more battery Gigafactories in locations that would “address a global market,” including one in Europe. This makes sense, since the need for lithium-ion batteries to power these EVs is exploding. An important component of Tesla’s future will also be sourcing the raw materials needed for these Gigafactories, such as cobalt, lithium, graphite and nickel.

The Chinese market

The good news: Tesla already owns about 81% of the market for imported plug-in EVs in China.

The bad news: That’s only about 2.5% of the total Chinese EV market, when accounting for domestically made EVs.

China is the largest auto market in the world—and make no mistake about it, Tesla wants to own a large chunk of it. In 2017, China accounted for 24.7 million passenger vehicle sales, amounting to 31% of the global auto market.

Automation and the sharing economy

Finally, Tesla wants its vehicles to be fully autonomous and to have shared fleets that drive around to transport people.

Autonomous: Tesla aims to develop a self-driving capability that is 10 times safer than manual via massive fleet learning.

Shared: Most cars are used only by their owners and only for 5% of each day. With self-driving cars, a car can reach its true potential utility by being shared between multiple users.

Conclusion

The future of Tesla is ambitious and the company’s strategy is even considered naïve by some. But if Musk and Tesla are able to perfect building the “machine that builds the machine,” all bets will be off.

That concludes our three-part Rise of Tesla series. Don’t forget to see Part 1 (Origin story) and Part 2 (Rapid Growth). Special thanks to Global Energy Metals for making this series possible.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Can’t live without them

March 23rd, 2018

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies for crucial commodities

by Greg Klein

A rare earths supply chain outside China? It exists in the United States and Alex King has proof on his desk in the form of neodymium-iron-boron magnets, an all-American achievement from mine to finished product. But the Critical Materials Institute director says it’s up to manufacturers to take this pilot project to an industry-wide scale. Meanwhile the CMI looks back on its first five years of successful research while preparing future projects to help supply the stuff of modern life.

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies and strategies for crucial commodities

Alex King: “There’s a lot of steps in rebuilding that supply chain.
Our role as researchers is to demonstrate it can be done.
We’ve done that.” (Photo: Colorado School of Mines)

The CMI’s genesis came in the wake of crisis. China’s 2010 ban on rare earths exports to Japan abruptly destroyed non-Chinese supply chains. As other countries began developing their own deposits, China changed tactics to flood the market with relatively cheap output.

Since then the country has held the rest of the world dependent, producing upwards of 90% of global production for these metals considered essential to energy, defence and the overall economy.

That scenario prompted U.S. Congress to create the CMI in 2013, as one of four Department of Energy innovation hubs. Involving four national laboratories, seven universities, about a dozen corporations and roughly 350 researchers, the interdisciplinary group gets US$25 million a year and “a considerable amount of freedom” to pursue its mandate, King says.

The CMI channels all that into four areas. One is to develop technologies that help make new mines viable. The second, “in direct conflict with the first,” is to find alternative materials. Efficient use of commodities comprises the third focus, through improvements in manufacturing, recycling and re-use.

“Those three areas are supported by a fourth, which is a kind of cross-cutting research focus extending across a wide range of areas including quantum physics, chemistry, environmental impact studies and, last but certainly not least, economics—what’s the economic impact of the work we do, what’s its potential, where are the economically most impactful areas for our researchers to address,” King relates.

With 30 to 35 individual projects underway at any time, CMI successes include the Nd-Fe-B batteries. They began with ore from Mountain Pass, the California mine whose 2015 shutdown set back Western rare earths aspirations.

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies and strategies for crucial commodities

Nevertheless “that ore was separated into individual rare earth oxides in a pilot scale facility in Idaho National Lab,” explains King. “The separated rare earth oxides were reduced to master alloys at a company called Infinium in the Boston area. The master alloys were brought to the Ames Lab here at Iowa State University and fabricated into magnets. So all the skills are here in the U.S. We know how to do it. I have the magnets on my desk as proof.”

But, he asks, “can we do that on an industrial scale? That depends on companies picking up and taking ownership of some of these processes.”

In part, that would require the manufacturers who use the magnets to leave Asia. “Whether it’s an electric motor, a hard disk drive, the speakers in your phone or whatever, all that’s done in Asia,” King points out. “And that means it is most advantageous to make the magnets in Asia.”

America does have existing potential domestic demand, however. The U.S. remains a world leader in manufacturing loudspeakers and is a significant builder of industrial motors. Those two sectors might welcome a reliable rare earths supply chain.

“There’s a lot of steps in rebuilding that supply chain. Our role as researchers is to demonstrate it can be done. We’ve done that.”

Among other accomplishments over its first five years, the CMI found alternatives to both europium and terbium in efficient lighting, developed a number of improvements in the viability of rare earths mining and created much more efficient RE separation.

“We also developed a new use for cerium, which is an over-produced rare earth that is a burden on mining,” King says. “We have an aluminum-cerium alloy that is now in production and has actually entered the commercial marketplace and is being sold. Generating use for cerium should generate additional cash flow for some of the traditional forms of rare earths mining.”

Getting back to magnets, “we also invented a way of making them that is much more efficient, greatly reduces sensitive materials like neodymium and dysprosium, and makes electric devices like motors and generators much more efficient.”

All these materials have multiple uses. It’s not like they don’t have interest in the Pentagon and other places.—Alex King

Future projects will focus less on rare earths but more on lithium. The CMI will also tackle several others from the draft list of 35 critical minerals the U.S. released in February: cobalt, manganese, gallium, indium, tellurium, platinum group metals, vanadium and graphite. “These are the ones where we feel we can make the most impact.”

While the emphasis remains on energy minerals, “all these materials have multiple uses. It’s not like they don’t have interest in the Pentagon and other places.”

But the list is hardly permanent, while the challenges will continue. “We’ve learned a huge amount over the last five years about how the market responds when a material becomes critical,” he recalls. “And that knowledge is incredibly valuable because we anticipate there will be increasing incidences of materials going critical. Technology’s moving so fast and demand is shifting so fast that supply will have a hard time keeping up. That will cause short-term supply shortfalls or even excesses. What we need to do is capture the wisdom that has been won in the rare earths crisis and recovery, and be ready to apply that as other materials go critical in the future.”

Alex King speaks at Argus Specialty Metals Week, held in Henderson, Nevada, from April 16 to 18. For a 15% discount on registration, enter code RARE2018.

Visual Capitalist and VRIC 2018 look at the raw materials that fuel the green revolution

January 10th, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 10, 2018

 

Records for renewable energy consumption were smashed around the world in 2017.

Looking at national and state grids, progress has been extremely impressive. In Costa Rica, for example, renewable energy supplied five million people with all of their electricity needs for a stretch of 300 consecutive days. Meanwhile, the UK broke 13 green energy records in 2017 alone, and California’s largest grid operator announced it got 67.2% of its energy from renewables (excluding hydro) on May 13, 2017.

The corporate front also looks promising and Google has led the way by buying 536 MW of wind power to offset 100% of the company’s electricity usage. This makes the tech giant the biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy on the planet.

But while these examples are plentiful, this progress is only the tip of the iceberg—and green energy still represents a small but rapidly growing segment. For a full green shift to occur, we’ll need 10 times what we’re currently sourcing from renewables.

To do this, we will need to procure massive amounts of natural resources—they just won’t be the fossil fuels that we’re used to.

Green metals required

Today’s infographic comes from Cambridge House as a part of the lead-up to its flagship conference, the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2018.

A major theme of the conference is sustainable energy—and the math indeed makes it clear that to fully transition to a green economy, we’ll need vast amounts of metals like copper, silicon, aluminum, lithium, cobalt, rare earths and silver.

These metals and minerals are needed to generate, store and distribute green energy. Without them, the reality is that technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, nuclear reactors and electric vehicles are simply not possible.

First principles

How do you get a Tesla to drive over 300 miles (480 kilometres) on just one charge?

Here’s what you need: a lightweight body, a powerful electric motor, a cutting-edge battery that can store energy efficiently and a lot of engineering prowess.

Putting the engineering aside, all of these things need special metals to work. For the lightweight body, aluminum is being substituted for steel. For the electric motor, Tesla is using AC induction motors (Models S and X) that require large amounts of copper and aluminum. Meanwhile, Chevy Bolts and soon Tesla will use permanent magnet motors (in the Model 3) that use rare earths like neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium.

The batteries, as we’ve shown in our five-part Battery Series, are a whole other supply chain challenge. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs need lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and many other metals or minerals to function. Each Tesla battery, by the way, weighs about 1,200 pounds (540 kilograms) and makes up 25% of the total mass of the car.

While EVs are a topic we’ve studied in depth, the same principles apply for solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, grid-scale energy storage solutions or anything else we need to secure a sustainable future. Solar panels need silicon and silver, while wind turbines need rare earths, steel and aluminum.

Even nuclear, which is the safest energy type by deaths per TWh and generates barely any emissions, needs uranium in order to generate power.

The pace of progress

The green revolution is happening at breakneck speed—and new records will continue to be set each year.

Over $200 billion was invested into renewables in 2016 and more net renewable capacity was added than coal and gas put together:

Power Type Net Global Capacity Added (2016)
Renewable (excl. large hydro) 138 GW
Coal 54 GW
Gas 37 GW
Large hydro 15 GW
Nuclear 10 GW
Other flexible capacity 5 GW

The numbers suggest that this is only the start of the green revolution.

However, to fully work our way off of fossil fuels, we will need to procure large amounts of the metals that make sustainable energy possible.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

The Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2018 takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre West from January 21 to 22. Click here for more details and free registration.

Copper crusader

December 29th, 2017

Gianni Kovacevic sees even greater price potential for the conductive commodity

by Greg Klein

Evangelist he may be, but Gianni Kovacevic’s hardly a voice crying in the wilderness. His favourite metal displayed stellar performance last year, reaching more peaks than valleys as it climbed from about $2.50 to nearly $3.30 a pound. But Kovacevic believes copper has a long way to go yet. That will be a function of necessity as the metal shows “the strongest demand growth of any of the major commodities.” Especially persuasive in his optimism, Kovacevic brings his message to the 2018 Vancouver Resource Investment Conference on January 21 and 22.

Gianni Kovacevic sees even greater price potential for the conductive commodity

Increasing copper demand will unlock
lower-grade resources, says Kovacevic.

As a researcher, commentator and investor who’s also the CEO/chairperson of CopperBank Resources CSE:CBK, co-founder of CO2 Master Solutions Partnership and author of My Electrician Drives a Porsche, he brings new approaches that link topics of energy demand, commodity supply and environmental stewardship.

Kovacevic sees a new paradigm driving copper’s future. “The invisible hand in commodities during the last cycle was China,” he says. “Its economic growth just came out of nowhere. This time the invisible hand is this pervasive use of copper in everything that’s electrified. That means even the smallest village in Africa, which per capita has negligible copper consumption, is becoming a line item. When you create, transfer and utilize greener and cleaner energy, it takes more copper by a power of magnitude. For example to establish a megawatt of windpower it takes five times more copper than it does a megawatt of conventional thermal-generated energy.”

Then there’s the battery-powered revolution and the attention it’s brought to lithium, cobalt and graphite. Saying “I like anything in electric metals,” Kovacevic stresses the importance of nickel as well. Still, “copper wins because the interconnectivity will always be copper and copper plays a role in each battery as well.”

That leads to a supply problem that can have only one solution. “I believe we’re going to have to make uneconomic deposits economic. And there’s only one way to do that—with a higher copper price.”

With no foreseeable hope of a copper mining “renaissance” comparable to the effect that fracking brought to oil and gas, the metal will simply require more money. “We’ve got the old legacy mines,” Kovacevic points out. “We’ve spent a lot of money on exploration in the last cycle and didn’t find a lot. What we do have is lower-grade resources. They are simply not economic at a low copper price.”

Gianni Kovacevic sees even greater price potential for the conductive commodity

Kovacevic: Electrical generation, storage and
connectivity put copper at the top of energy metals.

Apart from diminishing grades, the business of putting new mines into operation is “taking longer with water, electricity and permitting issues, and it’s getting into funkier places,” he continues. “The Elliott Wave [technical/fundamental analysis] on copper is $7.50 a pound. I find that very interesting. All the buy-out action in the copper space happened for the most part between 2006 and 2012. The mean price for copper during that time was about $3.50 a pound. The all-time high was about $4.50 for a short while, but the mean was $3.50.”

Copper’s 2017 performance makes that figure look viable again. Kovacevic, however, cites analysis from BHP Billiton NYSE:BHP stating that 75% of future projects will require more than $3.50. “Could we see a scenario in which the copper price goes past the old all-time high and stays there for a while? And will the buy-outs in the next wave, if they occur, be higher on average than those in the previous 2006-to-2012 cycle? I believe the answer will be yes. But if you look at the average grade that went through the top 15 copper producers’ mills in 2010, it was 1.2% copper. In 2016 it was 0.72% copper. So if you were mining 30 million tonnes a year, now you have to mine 40 or 45 million tonnes for the same metal yield. And without higher copper prices, that doesn’t make much of a business case.

“So the first question is, are we going to need more copper in the next five, 10, 15 years? The answer in my opinion is yes. In fact it has the strongest demand growth of any of the major commodities. And where will that copper come from? Well, it’s going to come from a mix of places but we’ll have to make these projects economic. That should bode well for people who have invested in the copper junior space.”

Addressing the topic of how investors might look at the energy revolution in 2018 and beyond, Kovacevic speaks at the 2018 Vancouver Resource Investment Conference, to be held at the Vancouver Convention Centre West from January 21 to 22. Click here for more details and free registration.

Critical attention

December 21st, 2017

The U.S. embarks on a national strategy of greater self-reliance for critical minerals

by Greg Klein

A geopolitical absurdity on par with some aspects of Dr. Strangelove and Catch 22 can’t be reduced simply through an executive order from the U.S. president. But an executive order from the U.S. president doesn’t hurt. On December 20 Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” The move came one day after the U.S. Geological Survey released the first comprehensive update on the subject since 1973, taking a thorough look—nearly 900-pages thorough—at commodities vital to our neighbour’s, and ultimately the West’s, well-being.

U.S. president Trump calls for a national strategy to reduce foreign dependence on critical minerals

The U.S. 5th Security Forces Squadron takes part in a
September exercise at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
(Photo: Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)

The study, Critical Mineral Resources of the United States, details 23 commodities deemed crucial due to their possibility of supply disruption with serious consequences. Many of them come primarily from China. Others originate in unstable countries or countries with a dangerous near-monopoly. For several minerals, the U.S. imports its entire supply.

They’re necessary for medicine, clean energy, transportation and electronics but maybe most worrisome, for national security. That last point prompted comments from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose jurisdiction includes the USGS. He formerly spent 23 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer.

“I commend the team of scientists at USGS for the extensive work put into the report, but the findings are shocking,” he stated. “The fact that previous administrations allowed the United States to become reliant on foreign nations, including our competitors and adversaries, for minerals that are so strategically important to our security and economy is deeply troubling. As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the very real national security risk of relying on foreign nations for what the military needs to keep our soldiers and our homeland safe.”

Trump acknowledged a number of domestic roadblocks to production “despite the presence of significant deposits of some of these minerals across the United States.” Among the challenges, he lists “a lack of comprehensive, machine-readable data concerning topographical, geological and geophysical surveys; permitting delays; and the potential for protracted litigation regarding permits that are issued.”

[Trump’s order also calls for] options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners.

Trump ordered a national strategy to be outlined within six months. Topics will include recycling and reprocessing critical minerals, finding alternatives, making improved geoscientific data available to the private sector, providing greater land access to potential resources, streamlining reviews and, not to leave out America’s friends, “options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners.”

Apart from economic benefits, such measures would “enhance the technological superiority and readiness of our armed forces, which are among the nation’s most significant consumers of critical minerals.”

In fact the USGS report finds several significant uses for most of the periodic table’s 92 naturally occurring elements. A single computer chip requires well over half of the table. Industrialization, technological progress and rising standards of living have helped bring about an all-time high in minerals demand that’s expected to keep increasing, according to the study.

“For instance, in the 1970s rare earth elements had few uses outside of some specialty fields, and were produced mostly in the United States. Today, rare earth elements are integral to nearly all high-end electronics and are produced almost entirely in China.”

The USGS tracks 88 minerals regularly but also works with the country’s Defense Logistics Agency on a watch list of about 160 minerals crucial to national security. This week’s USGS study deems the critical 23 as follows:

  • antimony
  • barite
  • beryllium
  • cobalt
  • fluorite or fluorspar
  • gallium
  • germanium
  • graphite
  • hafnium
  • indium
  • lithium
  • manganese
  • niobium
  • platinum group elements
  • rare earth elements
  • rhenium
  • selenium
  • tantalum
  • tellurium
  • tin
  • titanium
  • vanadium
  • zirconium

A January 2017 USGS report listed 20 minerals for which the U.S. imports 100% of its supply. Several of the above critical minerals were included: fluorspar, gallium, graphite, indium, manganese, niobium, rare earths, tantalum and vanadium.

This comprehensive work follows related USGS reports released in April, including a breakdown of smartphone ingredients to illustrate the range of countries and often precarious supply chains that supply those materials. That report quoted Larry Meinert of the USGS saying, “With minerals being sourced from all over the world, the possibility of supply disruption is more critical than ever.”

As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the very real national security risk of relying on foreign nations for what the military needs to keep our soldiers and our homeland safe.—Ryan Zinke,
U.S. Secretary of the Interior

David S. Abraham has been a prominent advocate of a rare minerals strategy for Western countries. But in an e-mail to the Washington Post, the author of The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age warned that Trump’s action could trigger a partisan battle. He told the Post that Republicans tend to use the issue to loosen mining restrictions while Democrats focus on “building up human capacity to develop supply chains rather than the resources themselves.”

Excessive and redundant permitting procedures came under criticism in a Hill op-ed published a few days earlier. Jeff Green, a Washington D.C.-based defence lobbyist and advocate of increased American self-reliance for critical commodities, argued that streamlining would comprise “a positive first step toward strengthening our economy and our military for years to come.”

In a bill presented to U.S. Congress last March, Rep. Duncan Hunter proposed incentives for developing domestic resources and supply chains for critical minerals. His METALS Act (Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security) has been in committee since.

Speaking to ResourceClips.com at the time, Abraham doubted the success of Hunter’s bill, while Green spoke of “a totally different dynamic” in the current administration, showing willingness to “invest in America to protect our national security and grow our manufacturing base.”

Update: Read about Jeff Green’s response to the U.S. national strategy.

“Shocking” USGS report details 23 minerals critical to America’s economy and security

December 19th, 2017

This story has been expanded and moved here.