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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

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.

Senkaku II

July 23rd, 2018

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

 

At first glance, the rare earths aspect of the U.S.-China tariffs tussle looks like small change—a proposed 10% duty on American RE imports that might cause a smallish markup on some manufactured goods and wouldn’t necessarily apply to defence uses. But all that’s part of a much bigger battle that will probably target $250 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S. China used an incomparably smaller incident in 2010 to rationalize a ruthless sequence of rare earths trade machinations. Could something like that happen again, this time with different results?

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

Hostilities began earlier this month as the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with levies on another $16 billion likely to come. China retaliated with tariffs on equal amounts of American imports.

The U.S. re-retaliated with a threatened 10% on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports in a process that would follow public consultation. The additional list includes rare earth metals along with yttrium and scandium, which are often considered REs but rate distinct categories in this case.

Last year the U.S. imported $150 million worth of 15 RE metals and compounds, up from $118 million the previous year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some 78% came directly from China, with much of the rest derived from Chinese-produced concentrates. Yttrium shows a similar story, with 71% coming directly from China and nearly all the rest from Chinese concentrates. Although lacking hard numbers for scandium, the USGS states that too comes mostly from China.

Globally, China produced over 80% of world RE supply last year, but with less than 37% of the planet’s reserves.

Rare earths plus scandium comprise two of 35 mineral categories pronounced critical to the American economy and defence by Washington last May, after Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Now the same administration wants to slap those commodities with a 10% price hike.

And at risk of provoking powerful Chinese retaliation.

Rare earths watchers will remember the 2010 confrontation around the disputed East China Sea islands of Senkaku. The Japanese navy arrested a Chinese fishing crew captain who had twice rammed his boat against the military vessel. Within days, China banned all rare earths exports to Japan, crippling its globally important but RE-dependent manufacturers. China also imposed heavy cutbacks and duties on exports to other countries.

While some Western manufacturers relocated to China, Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. Lynas Corp’s Mount Weld project in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass project in California both reached production in 2013. The following year the U.S. claimed victory as the World Trade Organization ordered China to drop its export restrictions on rare earths, as well as tungsten and molybdenum.

China complied with a vengeance, flooding the world with cheap RE supply. America’s WTO victory proved Pyrrhic as a burgeoning non-Chinese supply chain failed to compete. The most salient casualty was Mountain Pass, which went on care and maintenance in 2015.

So does China have more rare earths machinations in mind, this time responding not to a minor territorial dispute but tariffs affecting $250 billion of Chinese exports?

Maybe, but different circumstances might bring a different outcome. Since the Senkaku-induced RE crisis, advanced-stage projects have developed potential mines outside China. Work has progressed on non-Chinese supply chains, working to eliminate that country’s near-monopoly on processing expertise. Most recently, the U.S. has begun an official critical minerals policy to encourage development of supplies and supply chains in domestic and allied sources.

Of course any future scenario remains speculative. But this time the West might be better prepared for China’s tactics. Any new export restrictions might spur development of the deposits that now exist outside China. Any Chinese attempts to dump cheap supply could face further, far more punishing tariffs. While some other industries might suffer in the shorter term, Western resource companies might welcome Senkaku II.

U.S. releases draft list of 35 critical minerals, seeks public comment

February 21st, 2018

by Greg Klein | February 21, 2018

Update: In May 2018 the U.S. Department of the Interior officially declared all 35 items on the draft list to be critical minerals.

 

The world’s largest economy and strongest military has taken another step to mitigate some surprising vulnerabilities. On February 16 the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft list of 35 minerals deemed critical to American well-being. The move follows December’s presidential executive order calling for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” In response the U.S. Geological Survey compiled the new list, which now awaits input from the public. Americans have until March 19 to respond.

U.S. releases draft list of 35 critical minerals, seeks public comment

“The work of the USGS is at the heart of our nation’s mission to reduce our vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals,” commented the DOI’s Tim Petty. “Any shortage of these resources constitutes a strategic vulnerability for the security and prosperity of the United States.”

The list defines “critical” as “a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption, and that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy or national security.”

Among them are “aluminum—used in almost all sectors of the economy; the platinum group metals—used for catalytic agents; rare earth elements—used in batteries and electronics; tin—used as protective coatings and alloys for steel; and titanium—overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or as a metal alloy.”

Just one day before Donald Trump issued the order, the USGS released a nearly 900-page report, the first thorough examination of the subject since 1973, detailing 23 critical minerals. All 23 made the new list, with 12 newcomers including scandium, uranium and tungsten. Rare earths come under a single category of 17 elements. The list can be seen here, with links to USGS reports on each mineral.

Speaking with ResourceClips.com days after the president’s order, Jeff Green called it the country’s “most substantive development in critical mineral policy in 20 years.” The U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel, former USAF commander and Washington defence lobbyist added that a new critical minerals policy would largely benefit American companies and supply chains. But he pointed out that Trump “also said that international co-operation and partnerships with our strongest allies will be really important.”

See the USGS draft list of 35 critical minerals.

Read more about the U.S. critical minerals initiative.

Mining supporters and critics speak out as government ministers meet in New Brunswick

August 14th, 2017

by Greg Klein | August 14, 2017

This is the week that the country’s mining ministers convene with their counterparts from all Canadian jurisdictions. Taking place this year in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference will “discuss shared priorities for collaborative action to advance energy and mining development across the country.” Participants will also hear from the industry and its critics, with the latter highlighting NB’s proposed Sisson tungsten-molybdenum open pit mine.

The Canadian Mineral Industry Federation proposed reforms in six key areas that would expand the industry’s “vast socio-economic contributions to Canadians.” Not surprisingly, regulatory streamlining topped the list. The group called for an “effective, timely and co-ordinated regulatory process, from pre-environmental assessment to post-EA permitting.”

Mining supporters and critics make voices heard as government ministers meet in New Brunswick

Workers at the Sisson project, one of the world’s largest
undeveloped tungsten deposits and now site of a protest camp.

Proportionately Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives, the industry called on governments to enhance indigenous participation through “investments in health, education and skills training, and by implementing government resource revenue-sharing mechanisms.”

Looking at climate change, the CMIF warned that poorly crafted regulations could push mining “to competitor countries with less stringent climate change policies.” The group also called on governments to acknowledge the challenges of working in remote regions dependent on diesel fuel.

On a related topic, the CMIF encouraged governments to provide isolated regions with better infrastructure to “benefit both industry and local and indigenous communities.”

Concern about a shrinking land base prompted the CMIF to recommend that “mineral potential is factored into all land withdrawal decision-making processes.”

The group also called for government and industry to collaborate on a Clean Resources Innovation Supercluster, which would concentrate industry, R&D and associated small and medium-sized enterprises in one area to attract investment and develop synergies.

A coalition of native and advocacy groups, however, challenged the conference to make good on this year’s theme of Clean Growth.

“We’re not against ‘clean growth’ or ‘clean energy’ but these must not be empty words,” said Jacinda Mack, co-ordinator of First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining and a community member affected by British Columbia’s 2014 Mount Polley tailings dam collapse. “We’re here to alert the public and our governments that there are still serious problems with the way mining is done in this country, and that there can’t be any clean growth or clean energy without first having clean mining.”

The coalition also emphasized its opposition to the proposed Sisson open pit mine, about 330 kilometres by road from the conference location. A partnership of Northcliff Resources TSX:NCF and a subsidiary of family-owned Todd Corp, the plan received federal environmental approval in June. Proponents describe Sisson as one of the world’s largest undeveloped tungsten deposits, with an estimated 27-year lifespan.

But a newly released report charges that the project’s “mining waste facility design is business-as-usual, using the same facility design and water cover approach used at the failed Mount Polley mine.”

Members of the Maliseet First Nations have occupied a protest camp at Sisson since early July. In February, chiefs of the six Maliseet nations signed a multi-million-dollar revenue-sharing deal with the province, CBC reported. But five of the chiefs later “denounced” the agreement, the network stated.

The coalition estimates liability for contaminated mine sites across Canada to surpass $10 billion, a figure that “can easily triple or quadruple once the true costs for site cleanup and risks from spills and failures are considered.”

Two newly elected governments join the conference this year. In November the Yukon Liberals returned to power after a 14-year hiatus. Last month B.C.’s NDP was sworn in as the province’s new government after gaining support from the three-MLA Green Party to vote down the minority BC Liberals’ Throne Speech.

Visual Capitalist: The history of tungsten, the strongest natural metal on Earth

May 1st, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | May 1, 2017

The history of tungsten, the strongest natural metal on Earth

 

With a tensile strength of 1,510 megapascals, we now know tungsten as the strongest naturally occurring metal on Earth.

This infographic is from Almonty Industries, a tungsten producer, and it reveals the history of tungsten.

Interestingly, the infographic shows that despite tungsten’s strength, most of civilization has lived without any practical use of the metal. That’s because tungsten wasn’t officially discovered until the 18th century—though, as you will see, it was a thorn in the side of metallurgists for many centuries before that.

From the heavens

Like all elements with an atomic number higher than iron, tungsten cannot be created by nuclear fusion in stars like our sun.

Instead, tungsten is thought to be formed from the explosions of massive stars. Each supernova explosion has so much energy that these newly created elements are jettisoned at incredible speeds of 30,000 kilometres per second, or 10% of the speed of light—and that’s how they get dispersed throughout the universe.

Supernova explosions don’t happen often—as a result, in every one million grams of the Earth’s crust, there are only 1.25 grams of tungsten.

An unusual history

In the periodic table, tungsten is listed under the letter W. That’s because two names for the same metal actually arose simultaneously.

Wolfram: derived from the German words “wolf” (English: wolf) and the Middle High German word “ram” (English: dirt).

In the Middle Ages, tin miners in Germany complained about a mineral (wolframite) that accompanied tin ore and reduced tin yields when smelting. With a longish, hair-like appearance, wolframite was thought to be a “wolf” that ate up the tin. Wolframite had plagued metallurgists for many centuries, until tungsten was discovered and proper methods were developed to deal with the heavy metal.

Tungsten: derived from the Swedish words “tung” (English: heavy) and “sten” (English: stone) due to its density.

Scheelite, the other important tungsten ore, was discovered in an iron mine in Sweden in 1750. It garnered interest for its incredible density—which is why it was named “heavy stone.”

The discovery

The metal was discovered by Spanish nobleman Juan José D´Elhuyar, who eventually synthesized tungsten from both wolframite and scheelite—showing they were both minerals from the same new element.

History of tungsten uses

Discoveries in tungsten use can be loosely linked to four fields: chemicals, steel and super alloys, filaments and carbides.

1847: Tungsten salts are used to make coloured cotton and to fireproof clothes used for theatrical and other purposes.

1855: The Bessemer process is invented, allowing for the mass production of steel. At the same time, the first tungsten steels are being made in Austria.

1895: Thomas Edison investigated materials’ ability to fluoresce when exposed to X-rays and found that calcium tungstate was the most effective substance.

1900: High-speed steel, a special mix of steel and tungsten, is exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris. It maintains its hardness at high temperatures, perfect for use in tools and machining.

1903: Filaments in lamps and lightbulbs were the first use of tungsten that made use of its extremely high melting point and its electrical conductivity. The only problem? Early attempts found tungsten to be too brittle for widespread use.

1909: William Coolidge and his team at General Electric are successful in discovering a process that creates ductile tungsten filaments through suitable heat treatment and mechanical working.

1911: The Coolidge process is commercialized and in a short time tungsten light bulbs spread all over the world equipped with ductile tungsten wires.

1913: A shortage in industrial diamonds in Germany during World War I leads researchers to look for an alternative to diamond dies, which are used to draw wire.

1914: “It was the belief of some Allied military experts that in six months Germany would be exhausted of ammunition. The Allies soon discovered that Germany was increasing her manufacture of munitions and for a time had exceeded the output of the Allies. The change was in part due to her use of tungsten high-speed steel and tungsten cutting tools. To the bitter amazement of the British, the tungsten so used, it was later discovered, came largely from their Cornish Mines in Cornwall.”—From K.C. Li’s 1947 book Tungsten

1923: A German electrical bulb company submits a patent for tungsten carbide, or hardmetal. It’s made by “cementing” very hard tungsten monocarbide (WC) grains in a binder matrix of tough cobalt metal by liquid phase sintering. The result changed the history of tungsten: a material which combines high strength, toughness and high hardness. In fact, tungsten carbide is so hard, the only natural material that can scratch it is a diamond. (Carbide is the most important use for tungsten today.)

1930s: New applications arose for tungsten compounds in the oil industry for the hydro-treating of crude oils.

1940: The development of iron, nickel and cobalt-based superalloys begins, to fill the need for a material that can withstand the incredible temperatures of jet engines.

1942: During World War II, the Germans were the first to use tungsten carbide core in high-velocity armour-piercing projectiles. British tanks virtually “melted” when hit by these tungsten carbide projectiles.

1945: Annual sales of incandescent lamps are 795 million per year in the U.S.

1950s: By this time, tungsten is being added into superalloys to improve their performance.

1960s: New catalysts were born containing tungsten compounds to treat exhaust gases in the oil industry.

1964: Improvements in efficiency and production of incandescent lamps reduce the cost of providing a given quantity of light by a factor of 30, compared with the cost at introduction of Edison’s lighting system.

2000: At this point, about 20 billion metres of lamp wire are drawn each year, a length which corresponds to about 50 times the Earth-moon distance. Lighting consumes between 4% and 5% of the total tungsten production.

Tungsten today

Today, tungsten carbide is extremely widespread and its applications include metal cutting, machining of wood, plastics, composites and soft ceramics, chipless forming (hot and cold), mining, construction, rock drilling, structural parts, wear parts and military components.

Tungsten steel alloys are also used in the production of rocket engine nozzles, which must have good heat-resistant properties. Super alloys containing tungsten are used in turbine blades and wear-resistant parts and coatings.

However, at the same time, the reign of the incandescent light bulb has come to an end after 132 years, as they start to get phased out in the U.S. and Canada.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

A transformational discovery

November 10th, 2016

Lac de Gras glitter became the backbone of the NWT economy

by Greg Klein

This is the second of a two-part feature. See Part 1.

The greatest staking rush the world’s likely seen, a shakeup of the global diamond industry and a tremendous boost to Northwest Territories finances—all that started with the Ekati discovery announced by Chuck Fipke 25 years ago this week. The effects on the NWT alone were momentous. The exploration sector boomed like never before, reaping four discoveries in six years that became working mines, while communities and individuals realized benefits both tangible and intangible.

Exploration fervour “certainly caused an injection into the economy,” notes Tom Hoefer, NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines executive director. “But where it really made a difference was when we had mines developed.”

Lac de Gras glitter became the backbone of the NWT economy

The Ekati mine began a transformation that
out-performed all other resources and sectors in the NWT.

It actually took two operations, Ekati and Diavik, to offset the territory’s 1990s economic malaise, he says. Yellowknife’s Giant and Con mines were winding down their 50 to 60 years of gold production. Around the same time, Nunavut’s 1999 separation dealt a blow to NWT revenue. “So there was a double hit on the economy. When Ekati went into production, it wasn’t enough to offset that economic downturn. It wasn’t until Diavik that the economy turned around significantly.

“It was almost palpable when Diavik got its approval. You could cut it, you could just feel it, all of a sudden people were saying, ‘Now we’re set.’ Those turned out to be world-class diamond mines, so in hindsight people were right.”

Of more than $60 billion worth of NWT mining output since 1932, gold provided 18%. It’s sometimes forgotten that the territory was a major base metals producer too, with zinc accounting for 30% of that $60-plus billion. But less than two decades of diamond production contributed 38%. The value of annual diamond production has topped $2 billion in the past “and I think we’re around $1.7 billion now,” Hoefer says. “That’s pretty significant when you consider that the NWT government’s entire budget is about the same.”

With last year’s shutdown of the Cantung tungsten operation, the territory has no mining but diamond mining. The three mines now in operation rank Lac de Gras as the world’s third-largest producer by value.

Figures from 2014 credit diamond mining with a 29% direct contribution to territorial GDP, by far the largest private sector portion. Chamber data attributes direct and indirect benefits to about 40% .

Taking another perspective, Hoefer points to a 2014 Canada-wide survey on aboriginal perceptions of the mining industry. Outside the NWT and Nunavut, favourable ratings ranged from 25% in Quebec to 45% in the Yukon. NWT responses were 55% favourable compared to 33% unfavourable, with 12% undecided. The territory ranked second only to Nunavut, which had 59/32/9 ratings.

“I would say the reason is all the aboriginal participation we’ve had in mining,” Hoefer says.

An NWT-specific survey taken this year shows overwhelming support. About 80% of respondents expressed positive feelings about the territory’s mining and exploration companies, 83% said regulation works well and 82% want more mining projects.

Those responses might partly result from the way benefits are distributed. Territorial legislation requires mining proposals to address not only environmental impacts but also positive socio-economic effects, Hoefer explains. Companies sign agreements with the government that address training, employment and local spending. The miners then file annual reports stating what they’ve accomplished.

“Put the clock back to before diamonds were discovered and the first mine built, there was maybe just a handful of aboriginal companies that could work with mining.” Now the Chamber lists over 60 NWT aboriginal companies created since Ekati began construction in 1996. They’ve shared over $5 billion of the $12 billion that diamond miners have spent in the territory.

The mines have also contributed over $100 million to communities under Impact Benefit Agreements.

And of course there are the jobs. Lac de Gras diamonds have provided over 24,000 person-years of mine employment.

That’s really in essence what I think a government would want to do with its resources—generate wealth for people who don’t have it.—Tom Hoefer,
executive director of the NWT
and Nunavut Chamber of Mines

“That’s really in essence what I think a government would want to do with its resources—generate wealth for people who don’t have it.”

Looking to the future, Lac de Gras explorers continue the quest for more deposits. Among existing miners, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC 60/40 JV expects Diavik to last until 2024. Plans to add a fourth deposit won’t extend the lifespan but will keep production robust until shutdown, Hoefer says.

De Beers’ technically challenged Snap Lake shut down last year, at a cost of about 750 jobs. Some of them were saved by Gahcho Kué, which last summer became the world’s largest diamond mine to open in 13 years. But despite output that’s expected to be about two and a half times greater than Snap, the open pit will employ fewer people, currently 441. The De Beers/Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV 51%/49% JV sees an initial 12-year mine life, but Mountain Province talks optimistically of extensions.

Getting back to the genesis of all this economic activity, Dominion’s majority-held Ekati would have its life expectancy extended to at least 2030 should the Jay pipe addition pass feasibility and final permitting. The mine employs around 1,500 workers and accounts for about $400 million in annual spending.

Commemorating the quarter-century since Ekati’s discovery, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines presents a Diamond Gala on November 17, the final evening of this year’s Geoscience Forum. Hoefer says the event will be a three-part celebration recognizing the discovery, the subsequent construction and operation of four mines, and the support of aboriginal governments. Fipke will be on hand as guest speaker, perhaps marvelling at the transformation brought about by his pursuit of Lac de Gras glitter.

This is the second of a two-part feature. See Part 1.

Why stop there?

September 20th, 2016

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

by Greg Klein

Self-congratulation might have been irresistible as 150 visitors from across Canada and the world flocked to a spot 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife to attend Gahcho Kué’s official opening on September 20. But there’s no evidence the mining and exploration crowd will waste much time resting on their laurels. JV partners De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV continue their pursuit of additional resources. And within sight of the Northwest Territories’ new mine, Mountain Province spinout Kennady Diamonds TSXV:KDI hopes success will repeat itself right next door.

Twenty-one years in the making and the world’s largest new diamond mine in 13 years, Gahcho Kué’s expected to give up 54 million carats over a 12-year lifespan. Average price estimates for the three pipes come to $150 per carat. That would provide Canada with gross value added benefits of $6.7 billion, $5.7 billion of that going to the NWT, which would gain nearly 1,200 jobs annually, according to an EY study released earlier this month.

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

Gahcho Kué partners hope to extend the
mine well past its 12-year projection.

That’s a strong rebound for the territory’s biggest private sector industry, following last year’s shutdown of the Cantung Tungsten mine and De Beers’ Snap Lake. The closures left the NWT with just two mines, both diamond operations in the Lac de Gras region that also hosts the newcomer.

But those two mines, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC 60/40 JV at Diavik and Dominion’s majority-held Ekati, maintained Canada’s place as the world’s third-largest producer by value.

Holding 51% and 49% respectively of Gahcho Kué, De Beers and Mountain Province hope to prolong its duration. Rather expansively maybe, the slightly junior partner outlines a multi-phase program.

Should all go to plan, Phase II would upgrade resources into reserves, maybe adding as much as five years to the operation. Phase III would deepen the Tuzo pipe, bringing another three years. Phase IV would do the same to the 5034 and Hearne kimberlites, as well as bring on the new Tesla pipe. If plans, projections and prayers come to fruition, Gahcho Kué might end up with more than 20 years of operation. With optimism drowning out any puns regarding pipe dreams, Phase V calls for “new targets.”

At least that’s the tale told by Mountain Province. De Beers acts as project operator.

Another company also holds high hopes, as well as about 71,000 hectares to the north, west and south of Gahcho Kué. Mountain Province spun out the Kennady North project into Kennady Diamonds, which has been advancing its own ambitious timeline.

The project’s Kelvin kimberlite has a maiden resource slated for this quarter and a PEA for Q4. Subject to those results, the company hopes to take Kelvin to feasibility next year, and to complete resource estimates for the Faraday 1, 2 and 3 kimberlites less than three kilometres northeast.

On the eve of the Gahcho Kué grand opening, Kennady pronounced itself pleased with this year’s 612-tonne bulk sample recovery, averaging 2.09 carats of commercial-sized stones per tonne from Kelvin’s north limb. With last year’s south limb grade coming to 2.02 carats per tonne, the results show “remarkable consistency in overall diamond grade across the full extent of the body,” said president/CEO Rory Moore. “This is a positive attribute from both an evaluation and a mining perspective.”

In a crucial step, a parcel goes to Antwerp next month for a price evaluation, with results expected about three weeks later.

The world’s biggest new diamond mine hardly satisfies NWT appetites

Kennady Diamonds hopes for a
glittering future just north of Gahcho Kué.

Two rigs currently have the Faraday kimberlites subject to an 8,000-metre summer program of both exploration and delineation drilling. Out of 15 holes reported so far, 14 revealed kimberlite.

The summer program follows a 10,712-metre winter campaign that discovered Faraday 3 as well as four diamonds in drill core, two each from Faradays 1 and 3.

Two mini-bulk samples released this year for Faraday 1 averaged 4.65 carats per tonne and three carats per tonne respectively. Faraday 2 minis averaged 2.69 carats, 3.04 carats and 4.48 carats per tonne.

Last month Kennady expanded its property by another 4,233 hectares directly south of Gahcho Kué. But the company’s focus remains on the Kelvin-Faraday corridor north of the new mine.

As for De Beers, its other Canadian focus since Snap Lake’s demise has been the Victor mine in Ontario’s James Bay region. With less than five years of operation left, it too faces doom. Another seven years could potentially come from the Tango kimberlite, seven kilometres away and now undergoing a federal environmental review.

Local relations, however, have taken an unexpected turn. Last week De Beers Canada chief executive Kim Truter told CBC the company would go beyond the duty to consult and seek the Attawapiskat community’s outright consent for Tango. “It’s pointless us actually operating in these first nations areas if we don’t have local support,” he said.

The network added, “Support has been shaky in the first nation since the signing of the original agreement with De Beers in 2005. Band officials boycotted and picketed the grand opening of the mine in 2008 and the road into the mine has been blockaded several times, including in 2013.”

But Truter’s remarks drew an angry response from newly elected chief Ignace Gull, the Timmins Press reported September 19. The paper quoted a social media post in which he stated, “Attawapiskat is in a midst of suicide crisis and we need to deal with this first and they have to back off instead of threatening us.”

In Quebec’s James Bay region, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY began ore processing at its Renard project in July, expecting to achieve commercial operation by year-end. The province’s first diamond mine expects to average 1.6 million carats annually for an initial 14 years.

Back at Gahcho Kué, visitors celebrated the grand opening as a possible strike loomed. Last week CBC reported that mediation had broken down between a contractor and a Teamsters local representing around 60 camp kitchen and cleaning staff.

Canada’s new diamond mines: Gahcho Kué ramping up, Renard catching up

August 3rd, 2016

by Greg Klein | August 3, 2016

“On time, on budget and in a challenging environment,” as De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver proudly noted, the world’s largest new diamond mine has begun full commissioning. The Northwest Territories open pit should reach full production in Q1 next year with average output of 4.5 million carats annually over its 13-year lifespan, according to an August 3 statement from Anglo American. Or a 12-year life, according to a same-day statement from Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV.

Canada’s new diamond mines: Gahcho Kué ramping up, Renard catching up

Sub-arctic conditions hardly deter De Beers,
which has opened three diamond mines in Canada’s north.

The company owns a 49% stake in the JV, with operator De Beers holding the rest. De Beers, in turn, is held 85% by Anglo and 15% by Botswana.

Mountain Province reported two large gem-quality stones recovered over the past few days, weighing in at 12.1 carats and 24.65 carats. The company expects its first diamond sale by year-end.

Located about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, Gahcho Kué sits in the diamondiferous Lac de Gras region that also hosts Dominion Diamond’s (TSX:DDC) majority-held Ekati mine, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion 60/40 JV at Diavik, and Snap Lake, De Beers’ first mine outside Africa. De Beers also operates the Victor mine in northern Ontario.

Snap Lake, a money-loser since opening in 2008, shut down last December. The company plans to flood the mine unless a buyer can be found. Output from Ekati and Diavik, however, sustained the NWT’s rank as the world’s third-largest diamond producer by value.

The two operations also sustained mining as the NWT’s largest private sector employer, despite the closures of Snap Lake and North American Tungsten’s Cantung mine in October 2015.

In Quebec’s James Bay region, meanwhile, Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY began processing ore at its Renard project last month, slated to achieve full nameplate capacity within nine months. The company will declare commercial production after 30 days of processing ore at 60% of nameplate capacity, expected to happen by year-end. The combined open pit/underground operation would average 1.8 million carats annually for the first 10 years of its 14-year life. Average prices have been estimated at $155 per carat.

Read more about Canadian diamond projects.

See Chris Berry’s report on long-term diamond demand.

In the beginning

May 20th, 2016

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

by Greg Klein

The Book of Genesis somehow overlooks this country but Canada—traces of it, anyway—turns out to be an awful lot older than previously thought. In fact some Baffin Bay rocks contain relics an awful lot older than most of the planet, according to a team of scientists. The wonder of it is that, despite 4.5 billion years of geological turbulence, the Earth still retains these remnants of its 50-million-year babyhood.

Baffin Bay’s “birthmarks” date back to Earth’s infancy, geologists say

These Baffin Bay rocks host 4.5-billion-year-old silicate material
formed when “baby Earth” was less than 50 million years of age.
(Photo: Don Francis)

But don’t expect to see them, handle them or trip over them next time you’re footloose in Nunavut. Their presence can be detected only with an extremely sensitive mass spectrometer.

The findings were reported last week in the academic journal Science under the intimidating title Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts. Richard Walker, a co-author and University of Maryland geology professor, took time to explain that to ResourceClips.com in laypeople’s lingo.

He came to this study through his work with high-precision isotopic measurements. That makes tungsten especially interesting. “Its isotopic composition varies primarily as the result of the decay of another element, hafnium, at the other end of solar system history,” Walker explains. “The isotope of hafnium that decays to tungsten, hafnium-182, has a half-life of only about nine million years. So it was present for maybe the first 50 million years of solar system history. Any variations in tungsten isotopic composition that would follow had to have been created within the first 50 million years of solar system history.”

Walker and his colleagues didn’t expect to find such variations in Earth rocks when they began their study of core formation. The hot, metallic centre of the planet seems to have formed in the first 30 million years of the solar system. “By inference it has a very different tungsten isotopic composition from the rest of the planet. So one of the reasons we got into tungsten isotopes is we’re looking for some geochemical evidence for core-mantle interaction.

“Surprisingly, things didn’t turn out at all like we expected. The isotopic composition of the core, by inference, is presumed to be considerably lower than you, me and light bulbs. Almost all the stuff we have measured in early Earth rocks is actually higher. So that requires some process other than extracting the tungsten from the core. That’s what this paper is all about.”

But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks.—Richard Walker,
professor of geology at
the University of Maryland

His team and another group had previously found similar isotopic compositions in rocks ranging from 2.5 billion to four billion years of age. “But the rocks that we’re reporting data for in this study are only a few tens of millions of years old. These are not old rocks, they’re what we consider practically modern rocks. But they show the isotopic imprint of the process that happened within the Earth—wow!—really, really early in its history while it was still growing.”

Again, the finding isn’t the rocks themselves, as some media reported. It’s the isotopic measurement, imprint, signature or, to use a word concocted by the U of M press office, “birthmark.”

“I kinda like that term,” Walker says. It represents a portion of the Earth’s mantle that was somehow isolated from the rest of the planet’s middle part over 4.5 billion years ago.

Lead author Hanika Rizo of l’Université du Québec found the Canadian examples on Padloping Island off Baffin Island’s southeastern coast. Only a few rocks have been analyzed so far. “The general type of rock that’s being measured extends over thousands of square kilometres,” Walker points out. “We don’t know how much of this rock has that unusual isotopic signature. That’s something we’ll be working on for years to come.”

Similar findings came from the Ontong Java Plateau northeast of Papua New Guinea.

As for the world’s oldest actual rocks, Walker says that’s a matter of debate. “Everybody accepts that there are rocks that are more than 3.9 billion years old.”

He and some colleagues are among those who believe that rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq Belt of arctic Quebec’s Hudson Bay coast date back at least 4.3 billion years.

Zircons from Western Australia’s Jack Hills date back at least 4.4 billion years. “The rocks they’re found in are nowhere near that age but some of the minerals themselves can be dated to even older than 4.4 billion years.”

But as for the “birthmarks” of Nunavut and Micronesia, they convey a sense of drama to the cognoscenti. This planet, “despite having a very exciting and violent birth in the form of probably a sequence of giant impacts building a bigger and bigger Earth, never completely got itself chemically homogenized,” Walker says. “It’s surprising that we have somewhere down there remnants of the Earth that formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. That’s exciting, at least to a geologist—this goes back to the earliest stages of Earth history.”

Along with Walker and Rizo, report authors include Richard Carlson and Mary Horan of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay, Vicky Manthos and Matthew Jackson of the University of California, and Don Francis of McGill University.