Nickel tumbled after a major Chinese producer’s unexpected plan to add supply eased concerns about a structural deficit for the material that Elon Musk has said is the biggest concern for Tesla Inc. batteries.
Nickel is critical to the world’s clean-energy transition.
Tsingshan Holding Group Co., the world’s top stainless steel producer, will soon start supplying nickel matte to Chinese battery material producers and plans to expand its nickel investments in Indonesia. Matte is an intermediate product made from concentrate that can be further processed into battery-grade chemicals.
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.
The concept has been talked about for decades, but until now it’s been thought too difficult to operate in the high-pressure, pitch-black conditions as much as 5km deep.
Now the technology is advancing to the point where dozens of government and private ventures are weighing up the potential for mines on the ocean floor.
The rocks of the seabed are far richer in valuable metals than those on land and there’s a growing clamour to get at them.Billions of potato-sized rocks known as “nodules” litter the abyssal plains of the Pacific and other oceans and many are brimming with cobalt, suddenly highly sought after as the boom in the production of batteries gathers pace.
At the moment, most of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo where for years there’ve been allegations of child labour, environmental damage and widespread corruption.
This is to prepare the company for the future, wherein the Philippines—like its Southeast Asian neighbor Indonesia—would start banning the export of unprocessed mineral ore. In September last year, Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino filed a bill to prevent exports of unprocessed mineral ores in order to allow the country to unlock higher values from its mining resources and encourage mining firms to invest in processing plants.
Sudbury’s regreening efforts on its landscape will be the focus of any upcoming international mining environmental conference in the Nickel City this month.
The “Sudbury Method,” as some have termed the city’s regreening effort, which began in 1978, has served as a model for jurisdictions around the world to remediate environments damaged by mining, smelting and other industrial activities.
The rare earths industry is about to experience a clean-versus-dirty battle until now only seen among fuel producers, as a Chilean company is stepping up efforts to grab some of that market in a much greener way than China, the world’s top producer of such elements.such elements.