Monday 23rd April 2018

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘united states’

Critical Materials Institute director Alex King discusses rare earths expertise in the U.S.

April 18th, 2018

…Read more

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

April 16th, 2018

by Greg Klein | April 16, 2018

Notwithstanding a decline in production, silver fell slightly in price and lost further ground to gold last year, according to the World Silver Survey 2018. Prepared by Thomson Reuters for the Silver Institute, the 28th annual study reported total supply of 991.6 million ounces in 2017, compared with physical demand of 1,017.6 million ounces. The 26-million-ounce deficit grew to 35.2 million ounces when ETP and exchange inventory increases were factored in.

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

But at $17.05, the average price represented a 0.5% year-on-year drop. The metal ended the year at $16.87, having traded between $15.22 and $18.56 during 2017.

While recycling provided most of the remaining supply, the year’s global mine production came to 852.1 million ounces. That represented a 4.1% decline attributed largely to “supply disruptions in the Americas,” most notably Guatemala, where Tahoe Resources TSX:THO had its Escobal mining licence suspended, and the U.S., where a strike beginning in March 2017 forced Hecla Mining NYSE:HL to slash production at its Lucky Friday mine. Australia and Argentina also showed considerable declines.

Canada, ranking 14th for silver production, extracted 12.7 million ounces last year, compared with 13 million in 2016.

Meanwhile, gold has been leaving silver behind. Year-end prices for 2016 showed the yellow stuff selling for 71.4 times the price of its poorer cousin. The 2017 gold:silver ratio averaged 73.9:1, hitting 77:1 by year-end, “a high level that perhaps suggests that the market is trying to tell us something,” Thomson Reuters stated. “We suspect the high gold:silver ratio indicated that the market had been expecting another major crisis could be looming, or at the least that it was about time for equities correction, and therefore investors had been accumulating physical gold in the market.”

Another precious metal also paled in comparison with gold, which ended 2017 at an historical high of 1.4 times the price of platinum.

But investors looking at silver and platinum’s catch-up potential should consider “gold’s role as a safe haven and that some smart money has been hedging against geopolitical risks and potential correction in equities,” the study added.

Can’t live without them

March 23rd, 2018

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

by Greg Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Petty of the U.S. Department of the Interior comments on a draft list of 35 critical minerals

March 20th, 2018

…Read more

Flanders to Holland and back

March 13th, 2018

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

by Greg Klein

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

A stately building belies elaborate security guarding this Antwerp diamond bourse.

 

As if providing an outer defence, a solid line of retail jewellers blocks two broad avenues from Antwerp’s famed diamond district. Access comes mainly through a side street with a police-controlled traffic barrier. More cops and soldiers (the latter attesting to Belgium’s ongoing terror alert) patrol the narrow streets inside. The only vehicles seem to be armoured vans customized for the diamond trade or the occasional bicycle carrying an Orthodox Jew with long coat and side curls flowing in the wind but magnificent hat solidly perched.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Practitioners in Belgium and the Netherlands
perfected the art of transforming rough stones into jewelry.

Except for the Portuguese synagogue, the buildings look un-Antwerpishly drab, catering to four bourses, several major companies and many more smaller operations that buy and sell stones and/or cut and polish them, as well as businesses selling tools of the trade or offering services like laser inscription removal.

Travel agents advertise flights to Mumbai and the Emirates, the Union Bank of India maintains a local branch and the neighbourhood postal outlet flogs a “one-of-a-kind diamond postage stamp.”

And there are no photos allowed, a courteous but firm police officer insists.

“But I’m a journalist from Canada.”

“I realize that, but it’s not allowed.”

“Being a journalist from Canada?”

“They don’t like it.”

“They” apparently represent the world’s diamond capital, a status Antwerp still holds for grading rough, although no longer for the art of transforming those stones into jewelry. One polishing factory, however, is DiamondLand, which welcomes visitors to its workshop before ushering them into the sales department. A guide explains that Antwerp’s seemingly ubiquitous diamond retailers cater to an international clientele attracted by prices that justify travel expenses.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Traders in 15th-century Bruges met outside
the home of Jacob van der Beurze, from
whom the word “bourse” was derived.

Yet this global diamond centre’s far from any mine. Antwerp and other cities of the Low Countries gained that peculiar stature pretty much by inventing the modern diamond industry. Just how they did that can be explained by a visit to Bruges, aka Brugge.

Those able to tear themselves away from the insufferably pretty canal-side buildings of possibly Europe’s most beautiful fairy tale surroundings could spend a few interesting hours in the city’s Diamond Museum. There, visitors learn of Venetian traders who brought diamonds to Europe from India, once the world’s only known source, eventually establishing a permanent presence in this once-important trade centre by the 15th century. That was before 16th century Portuguese and 17th century Dutch took over the Asian trade routes.

Other European cities had diamond cutters too, but it was in Bruges in 1476 that Lodewijk van Bercken is said to have invented the technique of polishing stones using a wheel, diamond dust and olive oil. His existence might owe more to legend than fact, but the technique continued, enhanced by later refinements and more recent technology.

As local waterways silted up, Bruges lost its overseas trade and the diamond industry shifted to Antwerp, which in the late 15th century became the world’s greatest trade centre overall. The industry gained new blood with migrations of Jews fleeing the Spanish in Spain, the Spanish in Portugal and, later, the Spanish in Flanders as the industry moved once again, this time to Amsterdam. Diamonds played a part in the city’s Golden Age, which flourished especially well after Amsterdammers forced the closure of Antwerp’s port. Protestants from France and Flanders joined the religious diasporas that bolstered Europe’s diamond industry.

During all that time new diamond sources were found in Borneo, Brazil, Russia and Australia, with the greatest discoveries of all in late 19th-century South Africa. That country’s first consignment of stones sparked a boom in Amsterdam, bringing unprecedented demand for cutters and polishers.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

This exacting profession continues
to draw new adherents.

Amsterdam’s decline began in the 1920s, to the advantage of Antwerp. Bruges also regained some stature as early 20th-century strikes encouraged some Antwerp companies to move their operations to job-starved West Flanders. Bruges’ on-and-off revival lasted about 61 years, Amsterdam held out with a few prominent companies but Antwerp prevailed. More recently, however, polishing has been moving to places like Tel Aviv, New York, Moscow and especially Surat, where the sector could be joined by the world’s largest diamond bourse, reportedly now under construction.

But Amsterdam, second only to Bruges for canal-side prettiness, to Vancouver for drugs and hookers, and to nowhere for massive mobs of selfie-snapping sightseers, still hosts companies offering workshop tours. Among them is Gassan Diamonds, now ensconced in a building that originally housed Boas Bros, once Europe’s largest company. Among the newer company’s achievements is the patented Gassan Cut with 121 facets.

Further factory visits make facet envy evident. One such operation is Coster Diamonds, founded in 1840 and the world’s oldest remaining diamond company. It was Coster that cut history’s most fabled stone, the Koh-i-Noor, now part of Britain’s Crown Jewels.

Crediting lengthy experience and new technology, Coster created the Royal 201 eight years ago by adding 144 facets to the more traditional brilliant cut, aka the Amsterdam cut. Coster also claims a Guinness record for the smallest polished stone ever—a tiny, tiny brilliant cut of 0.0000743 carats.

But with its 257-facet Star of Amsterdam created two years ago, Amsterdam’s Zazare Diamonds surpasses Gassan and Coster in the many-sided contest. This isn’t just a numbers game, a Zazare rep insists. “More facets mean more sparkle, more life,” she says.

But much of the industry’s sparkle and life have moved elsewhere, especially India. Numbers provided by Rapaport News show the country’s net polished exports, representing exports minus imports, climbed 3.8% to $20.71 billion last year. Belgium’s share fell 34% to $269.2 million.

Although India already hosts the world’s largest gem exchange in Mumbai’s Bharat Diamond Bourse, the Surat Diamond Bourse would far overshadow its neighbour. Construction has begun on a nine-tower complex that could accommodate more than 4,400 merchants, sources told Rapaport. Expected to be fully operational by 2021, the long-delayed proposal would be located within the government-planned Diamond Research and Mercantile (DREAM) City, confirming much of the world’s trade in the country that first found and coveted the gems.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Dozens of diamond shops form a solid wall curving
along two streets outside Antwerp’s diamond district.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

But not all of them thrive.

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

February 21st, 2018

by Greg Klein | February 21, 2018

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.

U.S. defence lobbyist and former air force commander Jeff Green welcomes America’s move towards a critical minerals strategy

January 24th, 2018

…Read more

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke remarks on the American president’s call for a critical minerals strategy

January 17th, 2018

…Read more

U.S. defence lobbyist and former air force commander Jeff Green warns about American dependence on critical minerals imports

January 8th, 2018

…Read more

America’s long-overdue critical minerals strategy heralds wide-ranging advantages, says Jeff Green

December 22nd, 2017

by Greg Klein | December 22, 2017

A long-time advocate of national self-reliance on critical minerals, the Washington defence lobbyist and former USAF commander calls it the United States’ “most substantive development in critical mineral policy in 20 years.” As President Donald Trump ordered a national strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on unfriendly or unstable sources of crucial commodities, Jeff Green responded: “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of the executive order because the U.S. government has fundamentally shifted its minerals policy, which impacts natural resource policy, national security and the economy.” Speaking with ResourceClips.com, he outlined five major outcomes that he foresees.

America’s critical minerals strategy was long overdue and will show wide-ranging effects, says Jeff Green

“One, I think you will see regulatory streamlining in the very near future and I think that’s really important for permitting and opening mines in the United States.”

Just six days before Trump’s announcement, Green published an op-ed arguing that unwieldly permitting procedures affected national security.

“Two, with the fundamental shift in policy and the easing of regulatory burdens, I hope to see companies get increased access to capital markets and private sector investment,” he added.

“Three, this is a formalization of the nexus between national security and critical minerals, and that is something that the last administration refused to do. When you look at the rare earths crisis, the prior administration said there was no problem. This administration has said that critical minerals are fundamental to national security, and that’s very important.

“Four, I think this will lead to investment by the Department of Defense in critical minerals, largely because they have the funding to do this and they can best pinpoint where those areas of investment need to be.

“Five, I think you’ll potentially see the U.S. bring additional anti-dumping actions, particularly against the Chinese, for dumping minerals into our market below value.”

I do think that the direct actions from the executive order will largely benefit U.S. companies. But I also see efforts to collaborate on access to materials with companies that can provide it.—Jeff Green

Of course the U.S. national strategy primarily affects the U.S. “President Trump has said ‘America first,’ and to our friends in Canada that might be a little disappointing,” Green pointed out. “But he has also said that international co-operation and partnerships with our strongest allies will be really important. I do think that the direct actions from the executive order will largely benefit U.S. companies. But I also see efforts to collaborate on access to materials with companies that can provide it. I think pragmatically the administration is going to say, ‘If you’ve got a tantalum project in Canada that’s more advanced than anything we have in the U.S., we ought to work with you to bring that supply to market, rather than continue to rely on some other countries.”

Meanwhile the proposed Metals Act, a bill calling for U.S. government support to develop domestic resources and supply lines, has been languishing in multiple committees. But “many of the principles in the act worked their way into the executive order,” Green said.

“The president’s action marks the culmination of almost a decade of work by many of us who’ve been advocating for more access to critical minerals,” he added. “There’s been tremendous effort by people in the industry to get to this point and the hope is that regulatory streamlining and everything go quickly so we can see positive results.”

Pleased as he was, Green wasn’t surprised. “There was word here in Washington D.C. that this was coming, so it was a nice early Christmas gift.”

Read more about the U.S. federal strategy on critical minerals.