Wednesday 22nd January 2020

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Posts tagged ‘tin’

Kris Lane examines a great mine’s legacy in Potosí: The Silver City that Changed the World

January 15th, 2020

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Kris Lane examines a great mine’s history in Potosí: The Silver City that Changed the World

January 13th, 2020

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Potosí’s legacy

December 5th, 2019

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

by Greg Klein

Far overshadowed by the political violence plaguing Bolivia over the last several weeks was a slightly earlier series of protests in the country’s Potosí department. Arguing that a proposed lithium project offered insufficient local benefits, residents convinced then-president Evo Morales to cancel a partnership between the state-owned mining firm and a German company that intended to open up the country’s vast but unmined lithium resources.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

In the heart of the Andes, 4,000 metres above sea level,
the city of Potosí sits beneath the infamous Cerro Rico.
(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Other events overtook the dispute, sending Morales into exile and the country towards an uncertain future that could bring elections, military coup or civil war. Yet Potosí serves as a stark example of Bolivia’s plight: a mineral-rich land that’s one of South America’s poorest countries. That’s one of the contradictions related in Kris Lane’s recent book Potosí: The Silver City that Changed the World.

Unlike so many other New World mineral rushes, the 1545 discovery held enduring global importance. More typically, and probably more dramatically, it was “rife with paradox from the start, a site of human depravity and ingenuity, oppression and opportunity, piety and profligacy, race mixture and ethnic retrenchment,” Lane recounts. “The list could go on.”

Looming over a boom town both squalid and magnificent was the great mountain of silver, Cerro Rico. For their first century of operation its mines and mills churned out nearly half the world’s silver, and then about 20% up to 1825.

The red mountain of Potosí is still producing silver, tin, zinc, lead, and other metals, and it never seems to have stopped doing so despite many cycles since its discovery in 1545. Current estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 tons of silver produced to date, and geologists estimate that the Cerro Rico, easily the world’s richest silver deposit, contains an equivalent amount dispersed in low-grade, refractory ores that would require sophisticated processing.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

This huge supply came online just as Europe was suffering a “bullion famine,” Lane writes. More than gold, silver served as the world’s exchange medium. Globalization can be dated to 1571, when Spain launched trans-Pacific trade and Chinese demand for silver “reset the clock of the world’s commercial economy just as Potosí was hitting its stride.”

Yet Spain served as little more than a transfer point for its share. With longstanding armed conflicts on a number of fronts, “the king’s fifth went to fund wars, which is to say it went to pay interest on debts to Charles V’s and Philip II’s foreign creditors in southern Germany, northern Italy, and Flanders.”

As for the rest, “once taxed, most private silver went to rich merchants who had advanced funds to Potosí’s mine owners. They then settled their accounts with distant factors, moving massive mule-loads and shiploads of silver across mountains, plains, and oceans. Global commerce was the wholesale merchants’ forte, and most such merchants were junior factors linked to larger wholesalers in Lima, Seville, Lisbon, and elsewhere. Some had ties to Mexico City and later to Manila, Macao, and Goa; still others were tied to major European trading hubs such as Antwerp, Genoa, and Lyons.”

But wealth wasn’t unknown near the source. Known for its “opulence and decadence, its piety and violence,” the boom town “was one of the most populous urban conglomerations on the planet, possibly the first great factory town of the modern world…. By the time its population topped 120,000 in the early seventeenth century, the Imperial Villa of Potosí had become a global phenomenon.”

It was also a “violent, vice-ridden, and otherwise criminally prolific” contender for the world’s most notorious Sin City.

By comparison the much-later Anglo-Saxon boom towns seem small time, only partly for their ephemeral nature. But the men (and later women) who moiled for Potosí silver weren’t the adventurous free spirits of gold rush legend. Slaves and, to a greater extent, conscripted Andean natives endured the inhumane conditions “perhaps exceeded only by work in the mercury mines of Huancavelica, located at a similarly punishing altitude in Peru.”

Native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.

At the same time some natives, like some foreigners, achieved affluence as merchants, contractors or traders in bootleg ore boosted by the conscripts. Andean innovation helped keep the mines going, for example by smelting with indigenous wind furnaces after European technology failed, and using a native method of cupellation.

“Put another way, native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.”

A “noisy, crushing, twenty-four-hour polluting killer, a monster that ate men and poisoned women and children” needed some rationale for its existence. Spain’s excuse was the money-burning responsibility of defending the faith. Still “the steady beat of Potosí’s mills and the clink of its newly minted coins hammered away at the Spanish conscience. Priests, headmen, and villagers, even some local elites denounced the mita [forced native labour] as immoral. As one priest put it, even if the king’s demand for treasure was righteous, [the] Potosí and Huancavelica mitas were effectively killing New World converts in the name of financing the struggle against Old World heresy. God’s imagination could not possibly be so limited.”

More practical matters stained the empire’s reputation too, as the 1649 Potosí mint debasement scandal unfolded. World markets recoiled and Spain’s war efforts suffered as money lenders and suppliers refused the once-prized Spanish coins. “Indeed, the great mint fraud showed that when Potosí sneezed, the world caught a cold.”

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

Potosí miners, seen here in 2017, work at
surface with Cerro Rico in the background.
(Photo: SL-Photography/Shutterstock.com)

With the 1825 arrival of Simón Bolívar, “the Liberator symbolically proclaimed South American freedom from atop the Cerro Rico. Yet British investors were close on his heels.”

Foreign owners brought new investment and infrastructure. But “the turn from silver to tin starting in the 1890s revolutionized Bolivian mining and also made revolutionaries of many miners. The fiercely militant political sensibility of the Potosí miner so evident today was largely forged in the struggles of the first half of the twentieth century.”

Those clashes bring to mind events of recent weeks, in which dozens have been killed by police and military.

Lane’s narrative continues to Morales’ “seeming ambivalence” toward miners and Potosí’s transformation into a “thriving metropolis” that hopes tourism will offset mineral depletion. Meanwhile underpaid, often under-age, miners continue to toil in woefully unhealthy conditions.

The breadth of Lane’s work is tremendous. He covers Potosí’s history from global, colonial, economic and social perspectives, outlines different practices of mining and metallurgy, recites contemporary accounts and provides quick character studies of the people involved. All that gives the book wide-ranging Christmas gift potential. It also offers considerable context as the geologically bountiful country once again experiences troubled times.

Periodic table: New version warns of elements that are endangered

January 25th, 2019

by David Cole-Hamilton, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of St Andrews | posted with permission of The Conversation | January 25, 2019

Periodic table New version warns of elements that are endangered

Period pains. (Image: European Chemical Society)

 

It is amazing to think that everything around us is made up from just 90 building blocks—the naturally occurring chemical elements. Dmitri Mendeleev put the 63 known during his time into order and published his first version of what we now recognize as the periodic table in 1869. In that year, the American Civil War was just over, Germany was about to be unified, Tolstoy published War and Peace and the Suez Canal was opened.

There are now 118 known elements but only 90 that occur in nature. The rest are mostly super-heavy substances that have been created in laboratories in recent decades through nuclear reactions and rapidly decay into one or more of the natural elements.

Where each of these natural elements sits in the periodic table allows us to know immediately a great deal about how it will behave. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of this amazing resource, UNESCO has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table.

Periodic table New version warns of elements that are endangered

Dmitri Mendeleev.
(Artwork: Marusya Chaika)

As part of the celebrations, the European Chemical Society has published a completely new version of the periodic table. (See main image.) It is designed to give an eye-catching message about sustainable development. Based on an original idea in the 1970s from the American chemist William Sheehan, the table has been completely redrawn so that the area occupied by each element represents its abundance on a log scale.

Red for danger

Each area of the new table has been colour-coded to indicate its vulnerability. In most cases, elements are not lost but, as we use them, they become dissipated and much less easy to recover. Red indicates that dissipation will make the elements much less readily available in 100 years or less—that’s helium (He), silver (Ag), tellurium (Te), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), strontium (Sr), yttrium (Y), zinc (Zn), indium (In), arsenic (As), hafnium (Hf) and tantalum (Ta).

To give just a couple of examples, helium is used to cool the magnets in MRI scanners and to dilute oxygen for deep-sea diving. Vital rods in nuclear reactors use hafnium. Strontium salts are added to fireworks and flares to produce vivid red colours. Yttrium is a component of camera lenses to make them shock- and heat-resistant. It is also used in lasers and alloys. Gallium, meanwhile, is used to make very high-quality mirrors, light-emitting diodes and solar cells.

Meanwhile, the orange and yellow areas on the new periodic table anticipate problems caused by increased use of these elements. Green means that plenty is available—including the likes of oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), aluminium (Al) and calcium (Ca).

Four elements—tin (Sn), tantalum (Ta), tungsten (W) and gold (Au)—are coloured in black because they often come from conflict minerals; that is, from mines where wars are fought over their ownership. They can all be more ethically sourced, so it’s intended as a reminder that manufacturers must carefully trace their origin to be sure that people did not die in order to provide the minerals in question.

Smartphone shortages

Out of the 90 elements, 31 carry a smartphone symbol reflecting the fact that they are all contained in these devices. This includes all four of the elements from conflict minerals and another six with projected useful lifetimes of less than 100 years.

Let us consider indium (In), for instance, which is coloured red on the table. Every touch screen contains a transparent conducting layer of indium tin oxide. There is quite a lot of indium, but it is already highly dispersed. It is a byproduct of zinc manufacture, but there is only enough from that source for about 20 years. Then the price will start to rise quickly unless we do something to preserve current stocks.

The three main possibilities are: replace, recycle or use less. Huge efforts are being made to find alternative materials based on Earth-abundant elements. Reclaiming indium from used screens is possible and being attempted. But when we look at the periodic table and the very precious nature of so many of the elements, can we possibly justify changing our phone every two or so years?

At present over one million phones are traded every month in the UK alone, as well as 10 million in Europe and 12 million in the U.S.

At present over one million phones are traded every month in the UK alone, as well as 10 million in Europe and 12 million in the U.S. When we trade in our smartphones, many of them go to the developing world initially for reuse. Most end up in landfill sites or undergo attempts to extract a few of the elements under appalling conditions. The other elements remain in acidic brews. Along with the very many that lie around in drawers, this is how the elements in mobile phones become dissipated.

The number of phones we trade in could be greatly reduced and lower the demand on limited resources such as indium. In this context, the recent Apple profit warning, partly due to customers replacing their iPhones slightly less frequently, was at least a sign of improvement.

But as the new version of the periodic table underlines, we must do all we can to conserve and recycle the 90 precious building blocks that make up our wonderfully diverse world. If we don’t start taking these problems more seriously, many of the objects and technologies that we now take for granted may become relics of a more abundant age a few generations from now—or available only to richer people.

David Cole-Hamilton is affiliated with the UK Liberal Democratic Party. He is vice-president of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS). He is past-president of the Royal Society of Chemistry Dalton Division covering Inorganic Chemistry. He is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Education Committee, RSE Learned Societies Group on STEM Education, RSE European Strategy Group and chairs the sub-group on Research, Innovation and Tertiary Education. He is a trustee of the Wilkinson Charitable Foundation.

Posted with permission of The Conversation.

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From Visual Capitalist:

The Conversation

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.

DRC on the brink

January 3rd, 2019

The Congo’s increasing instability heightens critical minerals concern

by Greg Klein

Update: In what’s been called the DRC’s first peaceful transfer of power since 1960, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president on January 24. That follows a controversial election in which two parts of the country had voting delayed until March and supporters of candidate Martin Fayulu accused the electoral commission of rigging the results in favour of Tshisekedi, who they say struck a pact with outgoing president Joseph Kabila. Catholic church observers had earlier disputed the outcome and Fayulu asked the Constitutional Court to order a recount. “The court, made up of nine judges, is considered by the opposition to be friendly to Kabila, and Fayulu has said he is not confident that it will rule in his favour,” Al Jazeera reported.

 

This is the place that inspired the term “crimes against humanity.” As a timely new book points out, American writer George Washington Williams coined that phrase in 1890 after witnessing the cruel rapaciousness of Belgian King Leopold II’s rubber plantations in the country now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. After rubber, the land and its people were exploited for ivory, copper, uranium, diamonds, oil, ivory, timber, gold and—of increasing concern for Westerners remote from the humanitarian plight—cobalt, tin, tungsten and tantalum. Controversy over recent elections now threatens the DRC with even greater unrest, possibly full-scale war.

The Congo’s increasing instability heightens critical minerals concern

The country of 85 million people typically changes governments through coup, rebellion or sham elections. Outgoing president Joseph Kabila ruled unconstitutionally since December 2016, when his mandate ended. He belatedly scheduled an election for 2017, then postponed it to last December 23 before pushing that date back a week. The December 30 vote took place under chaotic conditions and with about 1.25 million voters excluded until March, a decision rationalized by the Ebola epidemic in the northeast and violence in a western city.

The epidemic marks the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, the DRC’s tenth since 1976 and the country’s second this year. Although the government delayed regional voting on short notice, the health ministry officially recognized the current epidemic on August 1.

Responsible for hundreds of deaths so far, this outbreak takes place amid violence targeting aid workers as well as the local population. Like other parts of the country, the region has dozens of military groups fighting government forces for control, and each other over ethnic rivalries and natural resources. The resources are often mined with forced labour to fund more bloodshed.

With no say from two areas that reportedly support the opposition, a new president could take office by January 18. Already, incumbent and opposition parties have both claimed victory.

The Congo’s increasing instability heightens critical minerals concern

Voting in two regions has been delayed
until after the new president takes office.
(Map: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency)

Kabila chose Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as his successor candidate but didn’t rule out a future bid to regain the president’s office himself.

Election controversy contributed to additional violent protests in a month that had already experienced over a hundred deaths through ethnic warfare as well as battles between police and protesters. Yet that casualty toll isn’t high by DRC standards.

Published just weeks before the election, Congo Stories by John Prendergast and Fidel Bafilemba relates a harrowing story of a country the size of Western Europe that’s fabulously rich in minerals but desperately poor thanks to home-grown kleptocracies and foreign opportunists. Forced labour, war and atrocities provide a deeply disturbing backdrop to the story of conflict minerals.

According to 2017 numbers from the U.S. Geological Survey, the DRC supplied about 58% of global cobalt, 34.5% of tin and 28.5% of tantalum. The U.S. has labelled all three as critical metals. Tin and tantalum, along with tungsten and gold, are currently the DRC’s chief conflict metals, Prendergast and Bafilemba note. In addition to Congo tantalum, the world got 30% of its supply from DRC neighbour Rwanda, another source of conflict minerals.

Prendergast and Bafilemba outline the horror of the 1990s Rwandan Tutsi-Hutu bloodshed pouring into the Congo, making the country the flashpoint of two African wars that involved up to 10 nations and 30 local militias. During that time armies turned “mass rape, child soldier recruitment, and village burnings into routine practice.”

For soldiers controlling vast swatches of mineral-rich turf, rising prices for gold and the 3Ts (tantalum, tungsten and tin) provided an opportunity “too lucrative to ignore.” Brutal mining and export operations drew in “war criminals, militias, smugglers, merchants, military officers, and government officials,” Prendergast and Bafilemba write. “Beyond the war zones, the networks involved mining corporations, front companies, traffickers, banks, arms dealers, and others in the international system that benefit from theft and money laundering.”

DRC leaders did well too. “Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Congo from 1965 to 1997, is seen as the ‘inventor of the modern kleptocracy, or government by theft,’” Prendergast and Bafilemba state. “At the time of our writing in mid-2018, President Joseph Kabila is perfecting the kleptocratic arts.”

The Congo’s increasing instability heightens critical minerals concern

Westerners might be even more disturbed to learn of other beneficiaries: Consumers “who are usually completely unaware that our purchases of cell phones, computers, jewelry, video games, cameras, cars, and so many other products are helping fuel violence halfway around the world, not comprehending or appreciating the fact that our standard of living and modern conveniences are in some ways made possible and less expensive by the suffering of others.”

Not all DRC mines, even the artisanal operations, are considered conflict sources. But increasing instability could threaten legitimate supply, even the operations of major companies.

The example of Glencore subsidiary Katanga Mining TSX:KAT, furthermore, shows at least one major failing to rise above the country’s endemic problems. In mid-December Katanga and its officers agreed to pay the Ontario Securities Commission a settlement, penalties and costs totalling $36.25 million for a number of infractions between 2012 and 2017.

Katanga admitted to overstating copper production and inventories, and also failing to disclose the material risk of DRC corruption. That included “the nature and extent of Katanga’s reliance on individuals and entities associated with Dan Gertler, Gertler’s close relationship with Joseph Kabila, the president of the DRC, and allegations of Gertler’s possible involvement in corrupt activities in the DRC.”

In December 2017 the U.S. government imposed sanctions on Gertler, a member of a prominent Israeli diamond merchant family, describing him as a “billionaire who has amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals” in the DRC.

“As a result, between 2010 and 2012 alone, the DRC reportedly lost over $1.36 billion in revenues from the underpricing of mining assets that were sold to offshore companies linked to Gertler.”

Just one day before imposing sanctions, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Approaches to be considered include amassing more geoscientific data, developing alternatives to critical minerals, recycling and reprocessing, as well as “options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners.”

Unofficial DRC election results could arrive by January 6. Official standings are due January 15, with the new president scheduled to take office three days later. Should the Congo see a peaceful change of government, that would be the DRC’s first such event since the country gained independence in 1960.

 

January 7 update: The DRC’s electoral commission asked for patience as interim voting results, expected on January 6, were delayed. Internet and text-messaging services as well as two TV outlets remain out of service, having been shut down since the December 30 election ostensibly to prevent the spread of false results. On January 4 the U.S. sent 80 troops into nearby Gabon in readiness to move into the DRC should post-election violence threaten American diplomatic personnel and property. The United Nations reported that violence in the western DRC city of Yumbi over the last month has driven about 16,000 refugees across the border into the Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville.

Updated: DRC’s increasing instability heightens critical minerals concern

December 31st, 2018

This story has been updated, expanded and moved here.

Infographic: A new bull market in base metals?

July 11th, 2018

by Nicholas LePan | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | July 11, 2018

Base metals are the most fundamental minerals produced for the modern economy and metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, lead and aluminum are the key components that support sustained economic growth.

During periods of economic expansion, these are the first materials to support a bustling economy, reducing inventory at metal warehouses and eventually their source, mines.

A base metals boom?

This infographic comes to us from Tartisan Nickel CSE:TN and it takes a look at the surging demand for base metals for use in renewable energy and EVs, and whether this could translate into a sustained bull market for base metals.

The base metals boom: Start of a new bull market?

 

Over the last three years, prices of base metals have risen on the back of a growing economy and the anticipation of usage in new technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, green energy and electric vehicles:

Cobalt: +232%
Zinc: +64%
Nickel: +59%
Copper: +45%
Lead: +34%
Tin: +36%
Aluminum: +42%

As goes the success and development of nations, so goes the production and consumption of base metals.

Why higher prices?

Development outside of the Western world has been the main driver of the base metals boom and it will likely continue to push prices higher in the future.

China has been the primary consumer of metals due to the country’s rapid economic expansion—and with recent efforts to improve environmental standards, the country is simultaneously eliminating supplies of low-quality and environmentally toxic metal production. India and Africa will also be emerging sources of base metal demand for the coming decades.

But this is not solely a story of developing nations, as there are some key developments that will include the developed world in the next wave of demand for base metals.

New sources of demand

Future demand for base metals will be driven by the onset of a more connected and sustainable world through the adoption of electronic devices and vehicles. This will require a turnover of established infrastructure and the obsolescence of traditional sources of energy, placing pressure on current sources of base metals.

The transformation will be global and will test the limits of current mineral supply.

Renewable energy technology

The power grids around the world will adapt to include renewable sources such as wind, solar and other technologies. According to the World Energy Outlook (IEA 2017), it is expected that between 2017 and 2040, a total of 160 GW of global power net additions will come from renewables each year.

Renewables will capture two-thirds of global investment in power plants to 2040 as they become, for many countries, the cheapest source of new power generation. Renewables rely heavily on base metals for their construction and would not exist without them.

Electric vehicles

Gasoline cars will be fossils. According to the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles on the road around the world will hit 125 million by 2030. By this time, China will account for 39% of the global EV market.

Dwindling supply

Currently, warehouse levels in the London Metals Exchange are sitting at five-year lows, with tin leading the pack with a decline of 400%.

According to the Commodity Markets Outlook (World Bank, April 2018), supply could be curtailed by slower ramp-up of new capacity, tighter environmental constraints, sanctions against commodity producers and rising costs. If new supply does not come into the market, this could also drive prices for base metals higher.

New supply?

There is only one source to replenish supply and fulfill future demand, and that is with mining.

New mines need to be discovered, developed and come online to meet demand. In the meantime, those that invest in base metals could see scarcity drive prices up as the economy moves towards its electric future on a more populated planet.

An extended base metals boom may very well be on the horizon.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Inmates caught tunnelling below prison were miners, not escapees

May 8th, 2018

by Greg Klein | May 8, 2018

Illicit diamonds and metals, often from conflict sources, plague the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mineral-rich reputation. But in a new twist on illegal mining, authorities have discovered a covert diamond operation run by prisoners right underneath their prison. And while the country’s notorious conflict operations often use forced labour, this mine was popular enough with its workers to retain some of them after their sentences finished.

Inmates caught tunnelling below prison were miners, not escapees

According to a UN report, the DRC’s Osio Prison was
on its way to “becoming a model of self-sustainability.”
(Photo: UN Stabilization Mission in the
Democratic Republic of Congo)

The mine was discovered under the Osio Prison in the country’s north, DRC radio Okapi reported. A raid found over 30 people, including a prison guard, working underground or toiling in their cells at mining-related tasks.

Some prisoners had refused to leave the institution after finishing their sentences. Non-prisoners built temporary homes nearby to join the operation.

Miners said they extracted and sold gems weighing between half and three-quarters of a carat.

The prison guard or a police officer involved was sentenced to 15 days, Okapi added. Others were expelled from the site.

A 2011 United Nations report described Osio as a “high-security prison that houses 191 inmates, including 30 sentenced to capital punishment, 18 to life and 143 to prison terms ranging from three to 20 years.” The UN stated the prison’s agricultural and stock-raising projects had put it “on path to becoming a model of self-sustainability.”

Some companies that have recently run afoul of the DRC government include Glencore, its majority-held Katanga Mining TSX:KAT, AngloGold Ashanti NYSE:AU, Ivanhoe Mines TSX:IVN and Rangold Resources. Among the issues are a new mining code and tax structure, along with increased national ownership.

By far the world’s largest supplier of cobalt and a major source of copper along with diamonds, zinc, tin and gold, the DRC faces political instability and possible civil war after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his term ended in November 2016.

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.