#Washington | Critical minerals and rare earth miners, including an Australian-listed US lithium developer, are eyeing a potential Joe Biden administration with growing enthusiasm after his campaign signalled support for domestic production of electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage.
They say more friendly administration policies after four years of drift would add fresh momentum to what is already happening: the emergence of America as an “electrification” giant led by companies such as Tesla and General Motors.
Just as alloys make steel stronger, research allies make mineral science better. Geoscience Australia, the Geological Survey of Canada, and the USGS are coordinating their critical mineral mapping and research efforts to create a shared foundation of mineral information to help ensure a safe and secure supply of the materials needed for each country’s economy and security.
BHP said in August last year that it planned to start nickel sulphate production at its Kwinana plant, south of Perth, by the second quarter of 2020, before development was delayed due to complex engineering required to make the high purity product.
“We expect to have first crystals in the second half of this financial year,” asset president Eddie Haegel told the Diggers and Dealers mining conference in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, according to a copy of his speech.
Nickel makes batteries energy dense so cars can run further on a single charge.
As buyers seek low carbon choices, BHP is focusing on improving the environmental footprint of the operations, Haegel said.
“Our customers and future customers are increasing their demand for clean nickel products and a clean supply chain, so having the best assets also means addressing our Scope 1 and 2 emissions,” Haegel said, referring to direct and indirect carbon emissions such as those that come from power use.
Apple’s environment policy chief Lisa Jackson said during an online event announcing the new iPhone 12 handsets that “for the first time, we are using 100 percent recycled rare earth elements in all magnets including the camera, haptics and MagSafe (connectors).”
The announcement comes amid growing concerns about e-waste from billions of smartphones as consumers upgrade to new models, and with growing political tensions over rare earth materials needed for many electronics.
The device contains a panel which sits in a bath of water and carbon dioxide. Under sunlight the panel releases electrons which combine with the carbon dioxide and the protons in the water to make formic acid.
“These systems are like panels or sheets. It’s a very thin device – you can almost think of it as like a sheet of paper,” says Prof Reisner.
Perhaps the biggest step forward with the device is the fact that it is standalone. It doesn’t require an external power source, nor any top-ups of additional catalysts.
Despite the challenges artificial photosynthesis is attracting heavyweight investment. In the US, the Department of Energy recently announced funding of $100m (£76m) over five years.
The money is going to two separate projects: the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (Chase) and the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (Lisa).
Chase, led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), is working on practical applications similar to the Cambridge device by developing systems that, like solar panels, use semiconductors to absorb light, and then use various different catalysts to convert the carbon dioxide to fuel.
PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Global financial services provider Macquarie Group has called for investment into the nickel sector, despite an anticipated oversupply in the near-term and immediate investment in the nickel sector would be required to meet the potential “explosive” demand post 2025.
Lennon pointed out that world nickel use was expected to fall by 7.3% in 2020.
“The market is likely to get back into balance by 2024, and will move to a deficit by 2025,” Lennon told delegates.
He pointed out that in the medium-term, the pace of growth of the stainless steel market, and the pace of uptake of nickel in the lithium battery market would determine nickel demand.
California needs batteries. When California is on fire, it needs batteries that can keep a home, a hospital, a fire station, a senior center running longer than the four-hour standard of lithium-ion.
“What’s happened that’s brought this to bear has been the wildfires and the contingency issues we have in the PSPS (public-safety power shut-off) events,” said Mike Gravely, research program manager for the California Energy Commission.
What California needs has outsized significance in the energy-storage industry. The state expects to install 2,400 megawatts of energy storage in the next two years, a market-driving number that is, even so, a mere fraction of the 20,000 to 30,000 MW Gravely expects the state to need by 2045.
Lithium-ion’s seeming limitation to four hours can also be traced to California. It’s not so much a feature of the technology as a feature of California’s market, Gravely explained. The grid operator there reimburses storage resources that supply a minimum of four hours and, he said, “that’s what’s been driving most of our systems.”
Price is one reason why Tesla might be looking at its own supplies of nickel with a strong recovery developing as the primary market for the metal, stainless steel, picks up, especially in China.
From $5 a pound as recently as March nickel has risen to trade around $6.50/lb and is forecast by Morgan Stanley to top the $7/lb mark next year.
Environmental sustainability is another issue with questions routinely raised about a mining and processing technology called Nickel Pig Iron which has caused problems in country’s such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
If Tesla is serious about ensuring future supplies of essential raw materials then nickel ought to be top of its mining plans.
LONDON (Reuters) – The need for larger rechargeable batteries and more energy storage for 5G technology is expected to significantly boost demand for cobalt over coming years and potentially pit the sector against electric vehicle makers.
The fundamental challenge is economic. America’s goal should be secure supply chains, not national autarky of supply. The U.S. should do this by promoting domestic production; diversifying mineral imports away from China; cooperating with allies to insulate each other from Chinese control; developing multiple alternative supply chains; stockpiling rare earths to create shock absorbers in case of a crisis; and reducing demand by investing in alternatives.
Start with the fundamentals. Rare-earth elements exist in small quantities not easily separable from surrounding detritus. Significant known deposits exist in China, Brazil, Canada, Australia and India, as well as in the deep seabed. Sixteen of the 17 rare earths exist in the U.S. at a single west Texas site currently under development.
Their extraction and treatment is expensive and environmentally damaging, yet they are essential to $7 trillion in finished products. Wealthy countries have made licensing harder and raised other barriers, pushing the industry to China and Malaysia, where low labor costs and weak environmental enforcement make them economical.
As a report this year from the Colorado School of Mines concluded, “China’s strength is in refining those Rare Earth oxides into metallic alloys to manufacture end-products.” Breaking China’s monopoly will require development of processing plants and supply chains outside Beijing’s control.
China dominates the global market in rare-earth minerals, producing 70% of the world’s exports. But this isn’t a gift of nature — it’s the result of 15 years of industrial policy. The Chinese government identified a critical economic chokehold, invested in building companies, subsidized production to underprice and ultimately destroy competition, and then constructed a monopoly.