Wednesday 22nd February 2017

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘u.s.’

Visual Capitalist: China leading the charge for lithium-ion megafactories

February 17th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | February 17, 2017

China leading the charge for lithium-ion megafactories

The Chart of the Week is a Friday feature from Visual Capitalist.

 

Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 has been a centre of attention for people interested in the growing momentum behind green energy, electric cars and battery production. Therefore, it is no surprise that this facility was in the news again last month, with Tesla starting to mass-produce batteries as it ramps up to its goal of 35 GWh of capacity and beyond.

However, as exciting as this project is, it’s actually just one of multiple large-scale “megafactories” being built—with many of them being in China.

China leading the charge

We talked to Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, who explained that Tesla isn’t alone or unique in its ambitions to build lithium-ion batteries at scale:

While the Tesla Gigafactory is vitally important from an EV vertical integration perspective, the majority of new lithium-ion battery capacity is being built in China. Some of these plants are expected to be huge, such as the CATL facility at 50 GWh—there is little doubt that China’s lithium-ion industry has come of age.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) has plans to build the largest lithium-ion megafactory of all—but the company is little known in North America. It’s already worth $11.5 billion and could be a dominant force globally in the battery sector if it successfully increases its lithium-ion production capacity six-fold to 50 GWh by the year 2020.

Other Chinese manufacturers are on a similar trajectory. Panasonic, LG Chem and Boston Power are building new megafactory plants in China, while companies such as Samsung and BYD are expanding existing ones. Lithium-ion plants in China currently have a total capacity of 16.4 GWh—but by 2020, they will combine for a total of 107.5 GWh.

Capacity by country

This ramp-up in China means that the country will have 62% of the world’s lithium-ion battery production capacity by 2020.

There are only three other players in the megafactory game: United States, South Korea and Poland.

  2016 capacity (GWh) 2020 capacity (GWh) % of global total (2020)
Total 27.9 173.5 100%
United States 1.0 38.0 22%
China 16.4 107.5 62%
Korea 10.5 23.0 13%
Poland 0.0 5.0 3%

Above estimates on battery capacity courtesy of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

The NASA model

February 14th, 2017

How the U.S. government might help build a rare earths supply chain

by Greg Klein

The timing seems ominous. As rival American and Chinese warships assert themselves in the disputed South China Sea, the United States Geological Survey reported 20 minerals on which the U.S. imports all of its supply. Included are rare earths—coming almost entirely from China, of course. It was a 2010 conflict in the same troubled waters between Japan and China that caused the latter country to cut off rare earths exports to its adversary. As other supply chains broke apart, REE prices went on an exponential tear. Might China do that again and, this time, are American decision-makers sufficiently concerned?

They should be, say some observers. Additionally, there also looms the possibility of a trade war sparked by U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Yet some REEs are necessary not only for consumer electronics and clean energy, but also for military defence.

How the U.S. government might help build a rare earths supply chain

The U.S. government shows increasing concern
about relying on China for defence needs.
(F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter photo: Boeing)

The 20 entirely foreign-dependent minerals reported by the USGS represent an increase from 19 the previous year and 11 in 1984. The list includes rare earths, scandium and yttrium as three separate categories. In February 2016 Industrial Minerals reported that the U.S. Department of Defense “identified 15 of the 17 rare earths as critical over the last five years.”

Having foreseen as far back as 2009 the possibility of China using REEs as a geopolitical strategy, Jeff Green watches the topic from a defence perspective. “I think about the tools China has to retaliate and rare earths come right to the top of the list,” he says.

Green has recently served on the U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness. He’s a lawyer, a member of the U.S. Magnetic Materials Association and the REE World Advisory Board, a U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel and a former USAF missile combat crew commander. He describes his Washington firm J.A. Green & Company as “primarily a defence lobbying company that’s really interested in the nexus between national resource security and national security.”

He finds the U.S. government’s concern stronger and better informed than previously. That contrasts with events leading to what he calls the “Molycorp fiasco,” a supposed market solution to the 2010 shock and a strategy that he warned against. It went on to “burn the market to the tune of one and a half billion dollars.”

The result? “Today we’re probably in a more dire China-dependent situation than ever before.”

But Green sees hope in a Congressional bill that he anticipates being introduced within a week or so. Rep. Duncan Hunter’s proposal would help American companies develop domestic supplies of REEs and other minerals critical to defence. Assistance could come in the form of no-interest loans, Green says. Additionally the Department of Defense might pay more for American products made from American commodities, with the government reimbursing the difference between domestic and Chinese costs until American companies can compete.

It’s not a pure free market economic philosophy but one that will say: ‘If we’ve got a critical supply risk and we’ve got domestic companies that can fill that gap, then let’s invest in America to protect our national security and grow our manufacturing base.’—Jeff Green

As for the bill’s chances of success, Green’s optimistic. “You’ve got an administration that is very pro Buy American, Hire American. You’ve got a Congress that very much supports manufacturing. It will be much more pro-mining, pro-industry than we’ve seen. It’s not a pure free market economic philosophy but one that will say: ‘If we’ve got a critical supply risk and we’ve got domestic companies that can fill that gap, then let’s invest in America to protect our national security and grow our manufacturing base.’

“It’s a totally different dynamic than Washington’s seen in 40 years.”

Chris Berry agrees about the need for subsidies, among other assistance. In a research report last year the president of House Mountain Partners and editor of the Disruptive Discoveries Journal warned of the cost of not creating a supply chain outside China. In an e-mail to ResourceClips.com he notes that the “mine permitting, exploration and building process would all need to be expedited through legislation and through subsidies. This is the only way I see non-Chinese deposits being able to compete with China’s RE production costs. The good news is that as various technologies grow in importance (such as EVs) and existing processes grow as well (fluid cracking catalysts), this implies steady demand for REEs.”

While Berry considers the establishment of new supply chains “a multi-year endeavour,” he adds, “a focus on recycling or funding of materials science to minimize foreign dependence of these materials is a reasonable near-term solution to encourage supply chain development.”

As for the raw materials, Green maintains the U.S. has REE resources sufficient for defence needs, which he says are relatively small. “We’re not trying to compete globally in the automotive, magnet or catalyst markets,” he emphasizes. “We’re trying to protect our national security needs.”

Yet the Congressional bill calls for assistance to all aspects of the supply chain, he says, “whether that’s processing, refinement, separation, beneficiation, metal production, alloy production, magnet production.”

Support for supply chains would benefit other sectors, he points out. “This is the old NASA model. The government for years invested in new technologies and we’ve reaped the benefits in consumer advancements. Just look at the refining industry for petroleum products, at catalysts, phosphors in electronics, magnets for vehicles, battery materials. I think the commercial applications are terrific.

“I believe the president will kind of cheerlead this effort along,” he adds. “That’s really a game-changer. He’s going to take the traditional free trade model and turn it on its head. He’ll say the rest of the world doesn’t play by these rules so we’re going to play smarter—we’re going to treat our industries like the rest of the world treats theirs.”

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

January 31st, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 31, 2017

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

China stands out in a map showing major sources of non-fuel mineral
commodities of which the U.S. imported more than 50% of its supply in 2016.
(Graphic: U.S. Geological Survey)

 

Lacking any domestic sources at all, the United States imported 100% of its supply of 20 minerals last year, the USGS reports. That number increased from 19 the previous year and 11 in 1984. Included in the 2016 list were rare earths, manganese and niobium, “which are among a suite of materials often designated as ‘critical’ or ‘strategic’ because they are essential to the economy and their supply may be disrupted.”

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

Imports of rare earth compounds and metals increased 6% over 2015, although the value dropped from $160 million to $120 million. China supplied 72% directly, with other imports coming from Estonia (7%), France (5%), Japan (5%) and other countries (11%).

But the Estonian, French and Japanese material was derived from concentrates produced in China and elsewhere, the USGS added.

American imports of tantalum increased about 40% over 2015. The USGS attributed about 37% of 2016 global production to the Democratic Republic of Congo and 32% to Rwanda. Estimates reverse those numbers for the previous year.

An alphabetical list of the 20 minerals follows, with rare earths, scandium and yttrium each comprising a separate category:

  • arsenic
  • asbestos
  • cesium
  • fluorspar
  • gallium
  • graphite
  • indium
  • manganese
  • mica
  • niobium
  • quartz crystal
  • rare earths
  • rubidium
  • scandium
  • strontium
  • tantalum
  • thallium
  • thorium
  • vanadium
  • yttrium

The report listed 50 minerals for which the U.S. imported over half of its supply. Overall China was the largest exporter, with Canada running second.

The Ashram advantage

January 30th, 2017

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

by Greg Klein

The appeal to Western markets is obvious—an advanced, low-cost rare earths project in a friendly jurisdiction. So even before the recent military build-up in the South China Sea, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE experienced an increase in American requests for concentrate samples from its northern Quebec Ashram deposit. With the U.S. Navy now challenging Chinese territorial aggression, the confrontation seems to pit two superpowers against each other. But what does that really indicate?

It’s actually “one lonely small old Russian-built carrier against three U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers,” Commerce president Chris Grove points out. “So when Beijing says it’s going to take off the gloves, I think they’re referring to trade.”

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

That brings to mind the Senkaku incident, a much smaller 2010 confrontation in the same region that prompted China to cut off rare earths exports to Japan, sending global supply chains into turmoil and prices soaring. A possible Senkaku redux is one of a number of aspects to a global paradigm shift that Grove sees coming, to the benefit of Western industry in general and Ashram in particular.

The U.S. might easily outgun China, but China produces about 90% of the world’s rare earths. They’re essential to several defence needs, “a fact that really drives certain people in the U.S. absolutely apoplectic,” says Grove.

While Westerners have struggled to compete with China on costs, prices mean little to the U.S. Department of Defense, which last year began putting money behind potential domestic processors, Grove says. That support complements a multi-faceted advantage that the West is gaining over China, he explains. The latter country struggles with rising labour costs and the need to finally address its environmental woes. Meanwhile Western countries offset their labour costs with technological innovation and maintain the world’s highest environmental standards.

Even putting aside defence, demand for rare earths continues to grow with another global development. The international commitment to address climate change through clean energy, exemplified by the Paris Agreement, increases rare earths demand for numerous applications ranging from EVs to wind turbines.

In a research report last year, Chris Berry noted that “REE usage continues to grow at a pace well above global GDP growth with demand CAGRs growing anywhere from 4% to 8%, with permanent magnet demand forecast to lead this charge to 2020.”

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

Ashram has undergone another 9,200 metres since
its resource estimate, often hitting even higher grades.

Clearly there’s a market for non-Chinese sources. And Grove sees Ashram uniquely positioned to help serve that market. Certainly others have failed but, he emphasizes, they lacked Ashram’s benefits of mineralogy, metallurgy, grade and jurisdiction—all of which add up to lower costs.

The project reached PEA in 2012, with an amended PEA in 2015. Since then the company’s been busy on multiple fronts as it advances towards pre-feasibility.

Ashram’s advantage begins with its relatively simple mineralogy, with carbonatite host rock and rare earths within the minerals monazite, bastnasite and xenotime, which dominate commercial REE processing.

Pilot plant metallurgical tests have quadrupled the PEA’s concentrate grade, producing 41% total rare earth oxides and 43% TREO, both at 71% recovery. That puts the grade well within the range of commercial producers and does so through a single-leach process that simplifies the flowsheet.

Requests for concentrate samples have come from Solvay, Mitsubishi, Treibacher, BASF, DKK, Albemarle and Blue Line, among others covered by non-disclosure agreements.

Metallurgy has also found a potential fluorspar byproduct, offering an advantage to both revenue and opex. Grove credits Glencore Canada’s interest in fluorspar with the willingness of its NorFalco Sales division to supply Commerce with sulphuric acid on highly favourable terms.

Proud as he is of Ashram’s high-grade, near-surface resource, Grove anticipates an even more impressive upgrade. The current estimate uses a 1.25% cutoff to show:

  • measured: 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides

  • indicated: 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% TREO

  • inferred: 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% TREO

Commerce has since drilled another 9,200 metres, mostly infill but always with some stepout holes as well. “In all those drill programs, we always hit mineralized material in the stepouts, we always encountered less waste rock at surface than was modelled in the resource and we always hit zones that were higher than the average grade,” he says.

Ashram’s magnet feed distribution also has Grove enthused. Overall, the deposit ranks with the largest producers for praseodymium, neodymium, terbium and dysprosium. Ashram’s medium-to-heavy REO resource, moreover, surpasses the producers for those elements. And, as Grove points out, those are critical elements. Efforts to find substitutes for magnet REEs have failed.

Companies with higher operating costs are probably praying for higher prices. Commerce Resources doesn’t need them. We still have a margin at today’s prices.—Chris Grove

Benefiting both Ashram’s opex and the environment would be wind energy, currently being studied for the project. Commerce’s environmental commitment as well as its community outreach have been recognized by the e3 Plus Award for social responsibility from l’Association de l’exploration minière du Québec.

The company has also received a $300,000 provincial grant to optimize tailings management, funding that shows Quebec’s commitment to mining as well as the environment. Grove calls the province “a fantastic jurisdiction,” one that invests directly in companies through Ressources Québec and makes tangible progress on the visionary Plan Nord infrastructure program.

Following a private placement of up to $2.5 million offered last month, Grove looks forward to a number of near-term milestones. Still to come are final assays from last year’s drilling. The agenda also calls for completing the pilot plant and filling requests for REE and fluorspar concentrate samples. The samples, Grove suggests, could spur interest in a JV or offtake agreement.

The Commerce quest for rare metals hasn’t been confined to rare earths. Last September sampling on the company’s property about a kilometre from Ashram found “spectacular” results up to 5.9% niobium pentoxide, described by Grove as “approximately double the grade of the largest and longest-running niobium producer’s head grade, CBMM’s Araxa deposit in Brazil.”

Commerce also holds the Blue River project in southeastern British Columbia. The property’s Upper Fir tantalum-niobium deposit reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.

But Commerce remains very much focused on Ashram. Whether events in the South China Sea send RE prices soaring, Grove sees possible increases coming from producers boosting revenues. But, he emphasizes, Ashram doesn’t need higher prices. “Companies with higher operating costs are probably praying for higher prices,” he says. “Commerce Resources doesn’t need them. We still have a margin at today’s prices.”

Visual Capitalist: What’s needed to sustain uranium’s resurgence?

January 27th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 27, 2017

What’s needed to sustain uranium’s resurgence?

 

Uranium miners up 59% on pro-nuclear hopes since U.S. election

The Chart of the Week is a Friday feature from Visual Capitalist.

Uranium’s spot price had a rough ride throughout the course of 2016, but for many investors there is suddenly a new aura of optimism around the troubled metal.

It all starts with Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy, which is being perceived by many as a potential boon to the uranium sector. Official details are slim, but industry executives are currently speculating that the Trump administration will be better for nuclear power than the previous government.

If that’s true, then it would mean far less regulatory hurdles for nuclear power, and likely even funding to bring more power plants online in the United States.

A shot in the arm

Perhaps such a catalyst is just what the metal needed. The spot price and the share prices of uranium miners have been in a gruesome bear market ever since the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan. The prolonged pain has worn down investors and companies alike, but everything has to bottom at some point.

As David Erfle from Kitco pointed out last week, the chart for the Global X Uranium ETF (URA) makes any other downturn look like a piece of cake. The ETF, which tracks global uranium miners, has lost a whopping 90% of its value over the last six years, including two rollbacks (in 2013 and 2015).

Lately, thanks to the “Trump bump” and a 10% production cut in Kazakhstan announced earlier this month, the URA is suddenly buzzing with volume. The ETF is now back up on its feet, gaining a solid 59% since the election.

But can uranium be great again?

A bounce in uranium stocks is something that was way overdue. However, if nuclear-related announcements aren’t made soon from the Trump administration, the newfound optimism could fade pretty fast.

Statistically speaking, the World Health Organization says that nuclear power kills less people per terawatt hour than any other major source of power, even rooftop solar. Nuclear is also friendly from an emissions perspective: using a life-cycle emissions analysis, nuclear generates similar emissions to wind or hydropower.

The problem, of course, lies in the fat tail risk of a nuclear catastrophe, which is something that is still fresh in people’s minds in the wake of Fukushima.

Whether nuclear and uranium can be great again depends on the public’s tolerance for such projects, as well as a significant amount of support from the government to push new projects through. The rally is much welcomed by uranium investors—but it will remain unclear if it has any long-term legs until these two considerations are met.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Visual Capitalist: The top 10 reasons investors should look at cobalt

January 23rd, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 23, 2017

Every once in a while, a previously underappreciated metal rises to prominence. Several factors can cause this to happen: new technology, changing consumer preferences, supply constraints or skyrocketing demand can all bring an unknown metal to the forefront of discussion.

Cobalt could be the latest metal that fits this description. It’s a crucial metal to the boom in lithium-ion battery demand, but it also has an increasingly precarious supply chain that could be very volatile moving forward.

Why investors should look at cobalt

This infographic comes from eCobalt Solutions, a company focused on providing ethically produced and environmentally sound battery-grade cobalt salts. It presents the investment case for the relatively unknown metal.

The top 10 reasons investors should look at cobalt

 

With the green movement in full swing, there is compelling evidence that cobalt could be the next relatively unknown metal to rise to prominence. Here are the top 10 reasons that investors should look at cobalt:

1. Cobalt is one of the few metals used for superalloys.

Nearly 20% of all cobalt is used for superalloys—a class of high-tech metals that originally emerged to suit the high operating temperatures of jet engines. There are three main superalloy types:

  • Nickel-based: the bulk of alloys produced

  • Cobalt-based: higher melting point gives ability to absorb stress and corrosion resistance

  • Iron-based: the original superalloy, invented prior to the 1940s

Their use has extended into many other fields—and today, superalloys are used in all types of turbines, space vehicles, rocket engines, nuclear reactors, power plants and chemical equipment.

2. The green economy runs on cobalt.

There are many types of lithium-ion batteries, but the vast majority of li-ions sold today use cobalt in some capacity. In fact, by 2020 it is expected that 75% of lithium-ion batteries will contain cobalt. Why? It’s because cobalt is the most important metal for increasing the energy density of lithium-ion cathodes.

3. And green uses such as EVs are driving the upwards trajectory of cobalt demand.

By 2020, almost one-fifth of cobalt demand will stem from electric vehicles.

Total refined cobalt demand:

Year Demand % xEV batteries % Electronics batteries
2010 64,000 <1% 30%
2015 95,000 6% 36%
2020e 124,000 17% 31%

Source: CRU

“Cobalt’s demand growth profile remains one of the best among industrial metals peers. Its exposure to rechargeable batteries continues to play a crucial role.”—Macquarie

4. Getting cobalt is the hard part.

Ninety-eight percent of cobalt is produced as a byproduct of copper and nickel mines. The problem? If copper and nickel production isn’t growing, then more cobalt isn’t mined to meet demand.

5. Why not find more cobalt?

It’s easier said than done. The vast majority of the world’s cobalt lies in risky regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Country % Cobalt Supply in 2014
DRC 58%
Russia 6%
Cuba 5%
Australia 5%
Philippines 4%
Madagascar 4%
Other 19%

Source: CRU

6. And so supply can tighten.

Chemical cobalt, the kind used in batteries, is expected to fall into a growing deficit over the next few years. By 2020, CRU expects that deficit to be at least 12,000 tonnes.

7. Meanwhile, the U.S. government definitely doesn’t have any strategic stockpiles.

According to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, the government sold off cobalt all the way up to 2008. Now there are only 301 tonnes left in strategic stockpiles.

8. Cobalt was one of the best-performing metals in 2016.

Metal 2016 performance
Zinc 66%
Cobalt 47%
Nickel 17%
Aluminum 17%
Copper 17%
Silver 16%
Gold 9%
Platinum 1%
Uranium -42%

9. Cobalt prices have been rising but they are nowhere near all-time highs yet.

All-time highs for cobalt prices happened in 2008, after the DRC government placed restrictions on export of ores and concentrates. For a brief stint, cobalt prices even exceeded $50 a pound. The current price? Roughly $16 a pound.

10. Many experts predict the cobalt market to be interesting to watch in 2017.

“Just how much cobalt is in stockpiles in China is the million-dollar question. Clarity here can materially affect the cobalt price.”—Chris Berry, House Mountain Partners LLC

“The refined cobalt market will fall into a 3,000-tonne deficit this year following seven years of overcapacity and oversupply. CRU anticipates prices to increase onward into 2017.”—Edward Spencer, CRU Group

“With this growth will come further disruption to the traditional market structures that have developed in cobalt over the last 30 years. In short, a new, more secure supply chain for the modern era will need to be created, a task that includes new mines, new refineries and a more transparent supply chain.”—Andrew Miller, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

Cobalt: A precarious supply chain

January 14th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

Cobalt: A precarious supply chain

 

How does your mobile phone last for 12 hours on just one charge? It’s the power of cobalt, along with several other energy metals, that keeps your lithium-ion battery running.

The only problem? Getting the metal from the source to your electronics is not an easy feat, and this makes for an extremely precarious supply chain for manufacturers.

This infographic comes to us from LiCo Energy Metals TSXV:LIC and it focuses on where this important ingredient of green technology originates from, and the supply risks associated with its main sources.

What is cobalt?

Cobalt is a transition metal found between iron and nickel on the periodic table. It has a high melting point (1493° C) and retains its strength to a high temperature.

Similar to iron or nickel, cobalt is ferromagnetic. It can retain its magnetic properties to 1100° C, a higher temperature than any other material. Ferromagnetism is the strongest type of magnetism: it’s the only one that typically creates forces strong enough to be felt and is responsible for the magnets encountered in everyday life.

These unique properties make the metal perfect for two specialized high-tech purposes: superalloys and battery cathodes.

Superalloys

High-performance alloys drive 18% of cobalt demand. The metal’s ability to withstand intense temperatures and conditions makes it perfect for use in:

  • Turbine blades

  • Jet engines

  • Gas turbines

  • Prosthetics

  • Permanent magnets

Lithium-ion batteries

Batteries drive 49% of demand—and most of this comes from cobalt’s use in lithium-ion battery cathodes:

Type of lithium-ion cathode Cobalt in cathode Spec. energy (Wh/kg)
LFP 0% 120
LMO 0% 140
NMC 15% 200
LCO 55% 200
NCA 10% 245

The three most powerful cathode formulations for li-ion batteries all need cobalt. As a result, the metal is indispensable in many of today’s battery-powered devices:

  • Mobile phones (LCO)

  • Tesla Model S (NCA)

  • Tesla Powerwall (NMC)

  • Chevy Volt (NMC/LMO)

The Tesla Powerwall 2 uses approximately seven kilograms and a Tesla Model S (90 kWh) uses approximately 22.5 kilos of the energy metal.

The cobalt supply chain

Cobalt production has gone almost straight up to meet demand, more than doubling since the early 2000s.

But while the metal is desired, getting it is the hard part.

1. No native cobalt has ever been found.

There are four widely distributed ores that exist but almost no cobalt is mined from them as a primary source.

2. Most cobalt production is mined as a byproduct.

Mine source % cobalt production
Nickel (byproduct) 60%
Copper (byproduct) 38%
Cobalt (primary) 2%

This means it is hard to expand production when more is needed.

3. Most production occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with elevated supply risks.

Country Tonnes %
Total 122,701 100.0%
United States 524 0.4%
China 1,417 1.2%
DRC 67,975 55.4%
Rest of World 52,785 43.0%

(Source: CRU, estimated production for 2017, tonnes)

The future of cobalt supply

Companies like Tesla and Panasonic need reliable sources of the metal and right now there aren’t many failsafes.

The United States hasn’t mined cobalt in significant volumes since 1971 and the USGS reports that the U.S. only has 301 tonnes of the metal stored in stockpiles.

The reality is that the DRC produces about half of all cobalt and it also holds approximately 47% of all global reserves.

Why is this a concern for end-users?

1. The DRC is one of the poorest, most corrupt and most coercive countries on the planet.

It ranks:

  • 151st out of 159 countries in the Human Freedom Index

  • 176th out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index

  • 178th out of 184 countries in terms of GDP per capita ($455)

  • 148th out of 169 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index

2. The DRC has had more deaths from war since WWII than any other country on the planet.
Recent wars in the DRC:

  • First Congo War (1996-1997)—An invasion by Rwanda that overthrew the Mobutu regime.

  • Second Congo War (1998-2003)—The bloodiest conflict in world history since WWII, with 5.4 million deaths.

3. Human rights in mining

The DRC government estimates that 20% of all cobalt production in the country comes from artisanal miners—independent workers who dig holes and mine ore without sophisticated mines or machinery.

There are at least 100,000 artisanal cobalt miners in the DRC and UNICEF estimates that up to 40,000 children could be in the trade. Children can be as young as seven years old and they can work up to 12 hours with physically demanding work earning $2 per day.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International alleges that Apple, Samsung and Sony fail to do basic checks in making sure the metal in their supply chains did not come from child labour.

Most major companies have vowed that any such practices will not be tolerated in their supply chains.

Other sources

Where will tomorrow’s supply come from and will the role of the DRC eventually diminish? Will Tesla achieve its goal of a North American supply chain for its key metal inputs?

Mining exploration companies are already looking at regions like Ontario, Idaho, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to find tomorrow’s deposits.

Ontario: Ontario is one of the only places in the world where cobalt-primary mines have existed. This camp is near the aptly named town of Cobalt, which is located halfway between Sudbury, the world’s nickel capital, and Val-d’Or, one of the most famous gold camps in the world.

Idaho: Idaho is known as the Gem State while also being known for its silver camps in Coeur d’Alene—but it has also been a cobalt producer in the past.

B.C.: The mountains of B.C. are known for their rich gold, silver, copper, zinc and met coal deposits. But cobalt often occurs with copper and some mines in B.C. have produced cobalt in the past.

Northwest Territories: Cobalt can also be found up north, as the NWT becomes a more interesting mineral destination for companies. One hundred and sixty kilometres from Yellowknife, a gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper deposit is being developed.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Infographic: Countries of origin for raw materials

November 16th, 2016

Graphic by BullionVault | text by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | November 16, 2016

Every “thing” comes from somewhere.

Whether we are talking about an iPhone or a battery, even the most complex technological device is made up of raw materials that originate in a mine, farm, well or forest somewhere in the world.

This infographic from BullionVault shows the top three producing countries of various commodities such as oil, gold, coffee and iron.

Infographic Countries of origin for raw materials

 

The many and the few

The origins of the world’s most important raw materials are interesting to examine because the production of certain commodities is much more concentrated than others.

Oil, for example, is extracted by many countries throughout the world because it forms in fairly universal circumstances. Oil is also a giant market and a strategic resource, so some countries are even willing to produce it at a loss. The largest three crude oil-producing countries are the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia—but that only makes up 38% of the total market.

Contrast this with the market for some base metals such as iron or lead and the difference is clear. China consumes mind-boggling amounts of raw materials to feed its factories, so it tries to get them domestically. That’s why China alone produces 45% of the world’s iron and 52% of all lead. Nearby Australia also finds a way to take advantage of this: It is the second-largest producer for each of those commodities and ships much of its output to Chinese trading partners. A total of two-thirds of the world’s iron and lead comes from these two countries, making production extremely concentrated.

But even that pales in comparison with the market for platinum, which is so heavily concentrated that only a few countries are significant producers. South Africa extracts 71% of all platinum, while Russia and Zimbabwe combine for another 19% of global production. That means only one in every 10 ounces of platinum comes from a country other than those three sources.

Graphic by BullionVault | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

American election fosters forecasting frenzy

November 11th, 2016

by Greg Klein | November 11, 2016

An anti-establishment crusader, a dangerous extremist or a sensible person given to outrageous bombast, that new U.S. president-elect has some mining and metals observers in as much of a tizzy as the official commentariat.

Soon after the election result was announced, the World Gold Council cheered as their object of affection passed $1,300, “compared with $1,275 an ounce before the vote counting began.

U.S. election fosters forecasting frenzy

“We are seeing increasingly fractious politics across the advanced economies and this trend, combined with uncertainty over the aftermath of years of unconventional monetary policies measures, will firmly underpin investment demand for gold in the coming years,” the WGC maintained.

Two days later gold plunged to a five-month low, “hit by a broad selloff in commodities as well as surging bond yields on speculation a splurge of U.S. infrastructure spending could stoke inflation.” At least that was Reuters’ explanation.

GoldSeek presented a range of comments, with Brien Lundin predicting a short rally for gold. GATA’s Chris Powell suggested the metal’s status quo would prevail. “Trump won’t be giving instructions to the Fed and Treasury until January, if he even has any idea by then of the market rigging the government does.”

About a day after that comment, Reuters noted that Trump’s team had been courting big banking bigshot Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co for Treasury secretary.

Powell added that a post-election “great grab for physical gold” might overpower “the paper market antics of the central bank. But geopolitical turmoil hasn’t done much for gold in recent decades and I’d be surprised if that changed any time soon.”

A pre-existing rally pushed copper past $6,000 a tonne on November 11, which Bloomberg (posted in the Globe and Mail) attributed to “Chinese speculators and bets that Donald Trump will pour money into U.S. infrastructure.”

Initial effects of Trump’s 10-year, $10-trillion campaign promise are “unlikely to kick in until the third quarter of 2017 and would in our view have the largest effect on steel, zinc and nickel demand,” Goldman analyst Max Layton told the Financial Times.

The FT also quoted Commerzbank cautioning that “metal prices still appear to be supported by the euphoria exhibited by market participants in the wake of Trump’s election victory, a reaction we find somewhat inexplicable.”

Industrial Minerals called a copper bubble.

Some sources consulted by the journal wondered whether the “pragmatic businessman” would carry out his threatened restrictions to free trade. As for Trump’s climate scepticism and opposition to green energy subsidies, Chris Berry told IM the economic case alone will sustain vehicle electrification and the resulting demand for lithium, cobalt and graphite.

Looking at a more sumptuous form of carbon, Martin Rapaport declared, “The diamond and jewelry trade will benefit as the new policies create a more prosperous middle class and greater numbers of wealthy consumers. Global uncertainty will also increase demand for investment diamonds as a store of wealth.”

But the outsider’s victory might have shocked Rapaport into ambiguity. While saying the election “sets the stage for growth and development,” a preamble to his November 9 press release called the result “positively dangerous.”

Not to be left out of the forecasting frenzy, ResourceClips.com predicts the Yukon tourist industry will add Frederick Trump, the Donald’s bordello-owning granddad, to its romanticized cast of colourful Klondike characters.

Ever deeper, ever higher

October 11th, 2016

China takes on three mining frontiers, but not without competition

by Greg Klein

This is the first of a two-part feature. See Part 2.

Nearly a century before laggard Europeans got around to their Age of Exploration, Chinese merchant vessels had been travelling at least as far as eastern Africa, returning with vast shiploads of treasure. The voyages ended abruptly in 1433, for reasons debated by historians, and rulers ordered a massive merchant fleet destroyed. That largely left the New World to Westerners, evidently not a policy China intends to repeat. Now the country plans the conquest of three new frontiers: “deep underground, deep sky and deep sea.”

Such are the goals of Three Deep, a five-year plan announced last month by the country’s Ministry of Land and Resources. China’s funding R&D that would take mineral exploration deeper than ever on land and at sea, while exploring from outer space as well. But formidable as they are, the three frontiers aren’t completely uncharted. The expansionist, resource-hungry regime will have competition.

China takes on three mining frontiers, but not without competition

By 2020 the country wants the ability to mine land-based deposits that begin two kilometres in depth, find minerals at three kilometres, and identify oil and gas at 6.5 to 10 kilometres, the South China Morning Post reported October 5. China intends to develop underground communities too, although those details were even more scarce.

China also plans technology for undersea mineral exploration and mining, working towards the ability to send a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to 11 kilometres’ depth by 2020, the paper added. That’s slightly beyond the deepest known point of any seabed. The country has already sent an ROV seven kilometres deep in the Pacific. In the Indian Ocean, Chinese have been studying seabed mining technology on a 10,000-square-kilometre area south of Madagascar, the SCMP stated.

Going from the depths to the heavens, China wants 27 satellites in orbit by 2020 to conduct surveys and research, partly on terrestrial mineral potential. The country also has expressed ambitions for moon and Mars landings, and for sending its citizens into space. A Chinese competitor to SpaceX, One Space Technology, plans its first commercial rocket launch in 2018.

SpaceX, of course, retains its Elon Musk confidence even after the Falcon 9 rocket blew up prior to take-off last month, destroying a $300-million communications satellite. Having received NASA contracts to ferry people and cargo to the International Space Station, Musk continues to talk about sending colonists to Mars. He’s already sent some lithium stocks to the moon.

Probably among the more credible companies talking about mining the heavens are Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. Both develop technology for NAFTA and both have signed MOUs with Luxembourg that would help finance mineral exploration and mining of near-Earth asteroids. The Grand Duchy, a global leader in satellite communications, has announced its willingness to invest in extra-terrestrial mining to become a world leader in other worlds. The country also plans to create a legal framework for its outer space endeavours, after the U.S. passed legislation giving Americans the right to keep any extra-terrestrial commodities they extract.

Deep Space says it will launch its Prospector X experimental asteroid explorer “in the near future.” By the first half of the next decade, Planetary expects to begin small-scale extraction of asteroid water for its oxygen and hydrogen.

Already a nine-year veteran of the main asteroid belt, NASA’s Dawn craft now orbits the dwarf planet Ceres after having studied the proto-planet Vesta. Last month the space agency’s NASA OSIRIS-REx set off for the asteroid Bennu, with arrival expected in 2018 and return in 2023.

JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, has been to that neighbourhood and back after its Hayabusa craft delivered asteroid samples in 2010.

Last month the European Space Agency ended the 12-year, eight-billion-kilometre odyssey of its Rosetta craft, which spent the last two years studying a comet. In a joint project with Russia’s Roscosmos, the ESA expects to land a capsule on Mars on October 19 to search for signs of previous life.

Russia’s moon exploration program sees potential for minerals delivered by asteroid impact. “In the next few years, all scheduled moon flights will focus on its southern polar region, where low-temperature reservoirs of rare earths, as well as unknown volatile substances, have been detected,” Industrial Minerals quoted Vladislav Shevchenko of Moscow State University. Given higher commodity prices, mining could be viable, he added.

Boeing NYSE:BA recently matched Musk’s big talk as CEO Dennis Muilenburg spoke about sending holidayers to orbiting tourist traps prior to linking up with the Red Planet. “I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Bloomberg quoted him last week. As a NASA contractor Boeing competes with SpaceX on its own and through the United Launch Alliance, a JV with Lockheed Martin NYSE:LMT.

This is the first of a two-part feature. See Part 2.