The Lithium Bubble

It’s really pretty obvious to me that we’re in a bubble concerning investments in lithium supplies. I’ve seen one project get funded just recently where I know, absolutely, that the technology they’re using is not in fact viable. It works, but it’s not economic. They are relying upon coproduction of other metals to make up the numbers and that’s a risky thing in mining.

Oh, sure, if you’re going for copper then you’ll take account of the gold, maybe the molybdenum credits, but they should be extra spice, not what pushes you over the line. Not that this is a law, rather just a rule of thumb.

However, bubbles o mean that interesting things get financed:

Claims that Cornwall is sitting on a multibillion-pound lithium bonanza are due to be tested after a start-up ­project that plans to drill for the metal raised £1m from a trio of experienced mining investors.

Cornish Lithium aims to extract the resource, which is in increasing ­demand for batteries, from hot underground salt water. Its new investors include Norwegian financier Peter Smedvig, founder of Smedvig Capital, whose net worth has been estimated at more than £900m.

I have absolutely no idea whether this will work, obviously. But it strikes me as being something which logically could.

Lithium “deposits” tend to be disperse. Another one I know of, there’s mountains of rock, in which there is zinnwaldite, that being 1.3% Li. So, you dig up the rock, crush it, get the zinnwaldite out, then process that. Sure, it can be done. That’s proven. Getting the rock out and the zinnwaldite out of the rock, is expensive.

There are other areas of the world where those mountains of granite have been worn down by erosion and the Li is now sitting in vast plains of salts. Much easier, which is why we get much current Li from such salt plains. There are also areas of the world where hot water has been circulating through rocks and so there are brines with it in. The rest of world production comes from this.

So, hunt for more brines underneath the right sort of granite mountains – which Cornwall is – and you’ve a good chance there. Granite with tin, tungsten in it is likely to have Li, and those Cornish rocks do.

The reason I know all of this is because the same structure should also contain Sc, or at least can. Unfortunately the hydroxide of Sc isn’t soluble in water meaning that you don’t get Sc concentrations in the brines. Sadly.

As I say, don’t know if Cornish Li will work although we do know it’s there in the slurry pits of China Clay mining. But it is a logical place to go looking, that’s for sure.

This would be a bit of a bargain

The Mountain Pass rare earths mine, located about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, was owned by Molycorp, a US natural resources group that filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

The mine is now due to be sold at auction on Wednesday, and Mr Clarke’s ERP Strategic Minerals has teamed up with Swiss private equity firm Pala Investments and Australian rare earths exploration group Peak Resources to offer $1.2m.

I would expect that $1.2 million to be a misprint though.

There is scandium in that thar tailings pile…..part of their frantic thrashing around before bankruptcy was to discuss it with me.

That’s aluminium scandium that is

Ghosts of the USSR: Eerie photographs show Soviet-era space shuttles left to rust in an abandoned desert hangar in Kazakhstan

That’s what it was developed for. Nasa developed aluminium lithium largely for use in the Shuttle. Soviets Al Sc. Which is, actually, the better alloy for the purpose. If, of course, you can get the scandium, which the Soviets could because they didn’t measure the costs of getting it properly.

True story – we were discussing with Nasa making some scandium aluminide* for them. It’s absolutely the best possible combination of light and very highly temperature resistant. Doesn’t even start to deform until well over 1,400 oC.

So, why not test making heat resistant tiles for shuttles from it? Which is what was going to happen. We’d make a bit of it, a few tens of kg, they would then play. That was the arrangement on the Friday, Monday or Tuesday they’d come back with a payment method.

On Saturday Columbia came down in pieces as a result of failure of the heat resistance system.

Absolutely no more was ever said about scandium aluminide.

*The convention is that aluminium scandium has a small dose of Sc. Maybe 2% in the master alloy, 0.1 or 0.2% in the final alloy you actually use. Dcandium aluminide would be perhaps 30% scandium. Quite lovely, lovely, stuff but alarmingly expensive.

Fun stuff

The Queen is among a clutch of landowners set to share a £3.8bn windfall from the largest mine dug in Britain. Dozens of small farmers in North Yorkshire could become multimillionaires thanks to a gigantic deposit of fertiliser a mile below the moors.

Sirius Minerals lifted the lid last week on the riches that will be unlocked for local people and estate owners by its mine. It broke ground on the project in North York Moors national park this year.

The company aims to tap a 70-metre deep seam of polyhalite, a mineral-rich form of potash. The £2.3bn mine is expected to reach peak production in the mid-2020s.

Sirius, which moved from the junior AIM market to the main board last week, said it would hand out royalty cheques of £65m a year. Under current projections, the payments will total £3.8bn over the lifetime of the project. The national park authority is set to receive £772m.

Minerals belong to the landowner. Except for gold, silver, fossil fuels, which belong to the Crown.

Just think how much easier fracking would be if the landowners got the royalty cheques…..

A delightful little metals point

British scientists exploring an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean have discovered a treasure trove of rare minerals.
Their investigation of a seamount more than 500km (300 miles) from the Canary Islands has revealed a crust of “astonishingly rich” rock.
Samples brought back to the surface contain the scarce substance tellurium in concentrations 50,000 times higher than in deposits on land.
Tellurium is used in a type of advanced solar panel, so the discovery raises a difficult question about whether the push for renewable energy may encourage mining of the seabed.

That’s super, isn’t it?

Dr Bram Murton, the leader of the expedition, told the BBC that he had been expecting to find abundant minerals on the seamount but not in such concentrations.
“These crusts are astonishingly rich and that’s what makes these rocks so incredibly special and valuable from a resource perspective.”

Rilly?

He says he is not advocating deep-sea mining, which has yet to start anywhere in the world and is likely to be highly controversial because of the damage it could cause to the marine environment.
But Dr Murton does want his team’s discovery, part of a major research project called MarineE-Tech, to trigger a debate about where vital resources should come from.
“If we need green energy supplies, then we need the raw materials to make the devices that produce the energy so, yes, the raw materials have to come from somewhere.
“We either dig them up from the ground and make a very large hole or dig them from the seabed and make a comparatively smaller hole.
“It’s a dilemma for society – nothing we do comes without a cost.”

Gosh.

Hmm, Te crustal concentration is thought to be 0.001 to 0.005 ppm. 50,000 times that is 50 to 250 ppm. Last I looked Te was $13 a lb or so. Could be anywhere now, that was a few years back.

And we tend not to mine stuff which is 250 ppm for something worth $13 a lb. The processing is too expensive.

Which is why we take the copper sludges from the production of anode and cathode sheet and send them off to a plant in the Philippines. Because they’re 0.5% to 2 %, or 5,000 ppm to 20,000 ppm, Te.

And having checked the price again ($11 to $22 a lb over the year) there’s no real evidence of any great shortage from that source. Especially since it’s only one form of solar cells which uses Te…..

Won’t happen, not a chance

Sir Richard Branson has raised the prospect of planes being made entirely from the so-called wonder material graphene within 10 years, as the airline industry battles a 50pc increase in fuel in the last 12 months, sparking a desperate need for ever lighter fleets.

The Virgin Atlantic president, who founded the airline in 1984, described the super-lightweight material as a ‘breakthrough technology’, which he said could help revolutionise the airline industry and transform its cost base.

It’s wonderful stuff, no doubt about it. But it’ll not be making airplanes in a decade’s time.

For the simple reason that the testing process for a new airplane alloy is more than 10 years.

From sodding scientists in a peer bloody reviewed paper in Nature for the Lord’s Sake

Our analysis also reveals that the incentives for investment in exploration
are not always aligned with societal needs and constraints. The market
determines investment based on short-term returns rather than long-term
scarcity planning.

Whut?

The mining, resource extraction, industries have the longest planning horizons of any organisation upon the planet. You start drilling holes in the ground now to check something out and you’re thinking about what’ll be happening 50 years into the future as you do so. Absolutely no one plans like this other than this industry. Governments certainly don’t….

Ah, yes, they are being as stupid as I thought they were going to be:

However, none of the current international
agencies has a mandate to plan, oversee or realize efficient and
effective exploitation of mineral resources. Even though there is considerable
fatigue with too many international treaties, as noted by major
resource powers such as China37, we propose that a linkage between the
International Resource Panel (Box 1) and the Intergovernmental Forum
on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development could use
existing treaty mechanisms for more effective resource planning. The
recently established United Nations Environment Assembly38 could play a
convening role to help ensure that ecological constraints are duly incorporated
into effective planning.

We’re going to put the UN in charge of mineral extraction to make it more efficient. Err, yes, that’ll work, won’t it?

2. Monitor impacts of mineral production and consumption. There is an
urgent need to establish a system for tracking mineral use along the entire
value chain, from source to end of life, perhaps based on the ‘fingerprinting’
developed by the German Geological Survey for tantalum39,40

Idiots, damn fool idiots. Yes, I do know those German guys and bloody good work they’ve done too. But their tracking only lasts until you first refine the metal. It’s absolutely useless, cannot in any manner work at all, after that first refining.

Such a system could also incorporate a global chain-of-custody programme,
similar to that of the food industry. Furthermore, there is a
need to promote domestic production and consumer cognizance of
mineral use, incorporating a notion of ‘metal miles’; that is, reduction
of the environmental cost of transport through increased consumption
of local products.

We’re going to have a global plan for minerals extraction so as to make sure that it’s all efficient. So that people then use only local minerals for local people? These folks are insane.

And they’re fools too:

Extraction processes should
be improved. Typical copper grades are less than 1% of the total mass and
the recovery rate of this small amount should be optimized.

Yep, every miner right around the world is just copacetic about his extraction rates. No one ever works to try to improve the percentage of the valuable stuff he extracts. The entire industry just ignores the most obvious method of profit enhancement. Yup, really, they do. They spend fortunes digging vast holes in the ground, erecting huge factories to process the dirt, and they don’t pay any attention at all to how efficiently they extract the gold from the dirt.

But putting the UN in charge would change all of that, wouldn’t it?

How do these people remember how to breathe?

In addition,
all valuable metals contained in the ore should be recovered rather than
ending up in the tailings dam (for example, indium or germanium in zinc
ores, or gallium in bauxite).

Absurdly twattish. Gallium from bauxite for example. Yep, it’s there. And the world uses perhaps 400 tonnes a year of Ga, about half from scrap (mostly process scrap) recycling. So, maybe 200 tonnes of virgin material (old numbers but still useful). There’s a few thousand tonnes of Ga in the bauxite processed each year. If we start to dump thousands of tonnes into a market that demands hundreds of tonnes what does that do to the price? Yep, it falls. Almost certainly to below the price of extracting the Ga from bauxite.

The reason we don’t do this therefore is that it’s not a valuable material, all that Ga in bauxite.

We recognize that in many cases commodity pricing signals run
contrary to ecological goals. Regulatory mechanisms would be needed
for companies to focus on longer-term resource conservation planning.

Facepalm. Let’s abolish the price system. That always works well.

Global
coordination is needed to ensure that minerals are produced in the most
ecologically and economically efficient way

By abolishing the price system?

Ultimately, international legal mechanisms
may be needed to anticipate and respond to future mineral availability
constraints

Grr.

No, Afghanistan’s mines are not worth £800 billion

The government appears powerless to take back the operation and officials admit that the Taliban have greater control than they do over Afghanistan’s mining industry and its mineral wealth, valued at more than £800 billion. In fact, mining has become the group’s second-biggest income source after the opium trade, while government revenues have dwindled.

Lapis, prized for its intense blue colour, has been mined in Afghanistan for 9,000 years.

Nato forces hoped that the country’s mineral wealth would underpin its recovery when they ended combat operations in 2014. However, riddled with corruption and damned by mismanagement, the mining industry has been reduced to a shambles as the state is fractured by the insurgency.

Sigh. That £800 billion comes from a Pentagon report (of $1 trillion). But that’s the value of the minerals after they have been dug up and sold. It does not include the costs of doing the digging up, it’s a gross revenue number, not a margin one.

The Taliban are mining lapis lazuli in northern Afghanistan, marble and coal in central, southern and western provinces, and gypsum, chrome ore and talc in the east. A report by the Global Witness NGO last year placed their earnings from lapis alone at £16 million a year.

Even that’s not right:

In 2014 the two mining areas of Deodarra and Kuran wa Munjan alone provided around $20m to armed groups, according to rough but conservative estimates – equivalent to the government’s declared revenue from the entire extractive sector in 2013. This includes about $18m to Commander Malek and informal armed groups linked to him, and more than $1m each to the Taliban and to armed groups mainly allegedly associated with Zulmai Mujadidi.
Armed groups made at least $12m from lapis in 2015, according to rough but credible estimates, with a government ban on the trade in early 2015 countered by massive smuggling through the Panjshir valley. The Taliban increased their share of this as their strength grew, to an estimated $4m. As of mid 2016, payments to the Taliban reportedly amount to at least 50% of the revenue from the mines.

Sigh.

This is interesting I thought and then I noticed

One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere.
….
“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich,

It’s obviously total bollocks therefore isn’t it?

“We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones.

Cellphones don’t particularly use rare earths, can’t think of any reason at all you’d buld a road across the Serengeti to get rare earths either.

Perhaps the distinguished professor and FRS means minor metals like tantalum which are used in cell phones but is just too ignorant to know the difference.

Not that that helps me with the Serengeti reference.

I tend to think that this won’t work out well

An Aim-listed miner is hoping to drive off with a slice of the European electric car market by reviving an old lithium mine near Dresden.

Bacanora Minerals, which is developing a lithium project in Mexico to cater for the Asian market, now wants a toehold in Europe, and believes it can feed the German auto industry by reopening the Zinnwald mine in southern Saxony.

Hmm.

The company will pay €5m (£4.26m) for a 50pc stake in Zinnwald, and put another €5m into a feasibility study over the next 18 months. Should the project pass muster, it will have the option to buy out its partner, SolarWorld AG, for a further €30m.

‘Coz, y’see, I know SolarWorld and their work on this deposit. And at least at the last update I got it made economic sense if the mineral containing the lithium was already above ground. But it didn’t if you had to go and dig it up.

Bacanora would use processing techniques developed at its Sonora mine in Mexico in its German operation,

Don’t really see that happening either. It’s entirely different minerals, y’see?

But, obviously, I can be wrong about these things.

This could be very fun indeed

Fairphone have just released a report talking about how soon we’ll run out of various minerals and thus why we must recycle phones.

I’ve been in touch with them because, obviously, they’re simply misunderstood what is a mineral reserve. My sorta subject.

In fact, their entire report, not to say their entire strategy, is based upon this misunderstanding. So, let’s see if they’re willing to be told of their error…..because their mistake does in fact entirely kablooie their entire point.

Update

Well, they’ve now changed their graphics and sent me to their source. Which is still wrong but less wrong, it’s wrong in its assumptions, not in its broad logic.

So, an insight into the life of a journo. There’s a lot that could be written about which on closer inspection isn’t very interesting…..

Hmmm

The two defendants are alleged to have been involved in a racket which led purchasers to believe they could make big profits out of the rising value of the metals.

What these victims were never told was that there was no chance of them being able to re-sell the commodities in 1 kg blocks, said Mr Polnay.

“These metals all have industrial uses. But those businesses who use them don’t want to buy them by the kilogram from various members of the public,” he said.

“The metals these defendants sold were, in effect, worthless, because in the form they were in – 1kg blocks – there is no one who would want to buy them,” said Mr Polnay.

I recognise that wording….

“This meant that for every £100 that a client thought he was investing, £50 to £74 would go to the salesman. Obviously and contrary to all fair, reasonable and honest behaviour, this was kept secret from the consumer,” he said.

On average, the defendants would use only £19 out of every £100 paid by investors to buy the metals.

I even recognise those numbers.

Dickinson, said to have been the prime mover in the scam, was sent to prison for seven years and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.

Oorloff, who was described as having had a lesser role, was jailed for four and a half years and disqualified for seven years.

Both defendants will face a confiscation hearing at Guildford Crown Court on May 19, 2017.

Hah!

Just so you know about the Cornish lithium

Cornwall looks set for a £50billion mining revolution after plans were revealed to make Poldark country Europe’s sole producer of lithium.
Lithium – known as ‘white petroleum’ – is used in the rapidly growing market for electric cars and rechargeable batteries in everything from mobile phones to cordless vacuums.
Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China but there are vast quantities locked inside its large granite stores up to 1,000 metres below the Cornish soil.

But with no European source the UK Government has earmarked lithium as a metal of strategic importance to the country and new mines could be opened or existing ones brought back into action.

I don’t say that this will work and I’m certainly not suggesting that you invest.

However, it is at least realistic .

There’s plenty of lithium around, any number of places you could get it from (there are at least two plans within 10 km of where I am now in Bohemia). But two good starts are with granite and with hot brines. And here in Cornwall they’re talking about extraction from hot brines running through granite – an entirely reasonable starting point.

Myself I would check on one other source before charging ahead though. The wastes from the China clay industry will have a decent amount of lithium in them and God Knows there’s enough of that lying about…..

Australian Mines Ltd – Can’t See This Working Myself

A little report in from the wilder shores of the junior metals market:

Australian Mines Ltd, a very junior gold and base metals explorer, is about to become the largest producer of scandium, a rare metal key to making better alloys for cars and planes.

A short time ago, its shares were 27% higher at $0.014. Before the announcement the company had a market capitalisation of just $12 million.

The Perth-based company today announced two deals: the 100% acquisition of the Flemington Scandium-Cobalt Project in NSW, one of the highest grade scandium deposits in the world; and up to 75% interest in the Sconi Scandium-Cobalt Project in Queensland, Australia’s largest, and one of the most advanced, scandium mining projects.

“Australian Mines plans to become the world’s largest scandium supplier producing from a primary deposit, resulting in cost-effective and reliable production,” says managing director Benjamin Bell.

I did some work 12, 14, years ago on one of those projects under a different owner and it’s nice to see that they’re still using my rhetoric.

The two projects have been bouncing around the junior mining companies and groupuscules for all that time. And they’ve both got the same basic problem. It’s is undoubtedly possible to extract scandium from either or both of these projects. It’s a piece of piss actually. But the economics are hard.

Current global market for scandium is some 15 tonnes a year. And there’re plenty of Chinese (and now Russian again) sources to supply that. OK, so, perhaps coming in with a more reliable supply and maybe lower operating costs would allow someone to clean up. Sure.

However, each of these projects needs to be producing in the 40 – 80 tonne a year range in order to be economic. That’s just a result of the technology and the deposit. So, either of the projects comes to market and they’re producing, at minimum, 3 x global consumption. And the way this all works they come to market with that in their first year too. To make the plant work you’ve got to be running it at full pelt.

Currently scandium oxide is around $2,000 a kg. The production costs from these projects will be in the $1,400 to $1,600 range. And again, they must run at full pelt to achieve that.

What happens to that $2,000 price when there’s 3 x global consumption on the market?

This isn’t a problem which putting both projects into one company solves either.

And this is the thing I pointed out to them that decade back as well. Incremental production might well work (although I wasn’t able to make my attempt do so). But the leap to volume, I just can’t see it working economically.

Not a huge amount to worry about, this radioactive sinkhole in Florida

A sinkhole has opened up at a fertilizer plant in the US, causing about 980 million litres of radioactive water to leak into one of Florida’s main underground sources of drinking water.

The sinkhole, which is about 14 metres in diameter, collapsed beneath a pile of waste material called a “gypsum stack”.

Sitting on top of that stack was a storage pond containing phosphogypsum, which is a radioactive byproduct resulting from the production of phosphate.

Well, yes and no. The by product isn’t made radioactive by the process. You dig up the earth, take out the bit you want and what’s left over is radioactive. Because the original dirt is radioactive.

And it leaking into the ground water —- the radioactivity has been sitting there above the aquifer for a few million years now. The bits that are radioactive and water soluble have probably leached through anyway. And an aquifer also isn’t a big pool of water, it’s soused rock. Meaning that there’s rather a lot of filtration that goes on.

Can’t see it as being a major problem really. Except for the hysteria, obviously.

From memory the radioactivity is thorium and uranium. So, very akin to having a bit more granite around.

Oh dear God….

What a time to be an iron ore miner. Not a substance, perhaps, that gets the pulse racing, but as the key ingredient in steel, and therefore a primary material for the building industry, it’s one that can tell us much about the health of the global economy, and of the miners that supply it.

Iron ore futures hit a two-year high today on the back of a rally in steel prices, amid reports that Chinese ports hold less of the material than previously thought. In the last eight months, the metal has turned from a six-year low of $38 a tonne to around $60. While it’s not quite party time for the iron ore majors – five years ago, the metal was changing hands for $180 a tonne – it’s a far better situation than any of them expected to be in last December.

The ore is not the metal, the metal is not the ore.

It is the iron ore price which is $38 or $60, not the metal price.

Seriously folks, try to just get the very basics right…..

The LME is an odd market

The Chelmsford site includes a reconstruction of the ring, the central open-outcry trading floor where metal prices are set by dealers throughout the day.

Umm, no, not really. Here’s the list of trading times.

Each metal is traded in 5 minute bursts in said ring two or three times a day. it’s an interrupted market, not a continuous one.

A thought occurs too. There are proposals that the equity markets should move to something like this. The US ones anyway. something to do with the terror of HFT. What I’ve not seen though is anyone proposing this who then looks to the LME and says “See! It solves our problem!”. Which I’m not sure it does because the LME also whines a lot about HFT.

This is wrong too:

It is a moot point when international metals trading began in the UK. The LME points to the AD43 Roman invasion of Britain and the subsequent exploitation of copper and tin ore.

We’ve recorded instances of 1000 BC Cornish tin ingots being found in sunken Phoenician boats…..not that Cornwall was really part of Britain then as it still isn’t. Odd folk those over the Tamar…..

That New Scientist piece

These bodies are thought to be rich in resources that
are increasingly hard to find on Earth: platinum, for instance, and
rare-earth elements such as yttrium and lanthanum.

Lanthanum? Hard to find?

It sells for half its cost of production.

Given that we dont know much about the precise composition of most
asteroids, we have to rely on estimates of their monetary value. The
Asterank database, owned by Planetary Resources since 2013, collates
data from NASAs Jet Propulsion Lab and Harvards Minor Planet Center.
By its reckoning, the five most easily reached asteroids are worth
between $8 billion and $95 billion.

They’re worth nothing.

What’s the cost of mining them? Higher than the revenue you say? They’ve a negative value then, don’t they?

Cosmic cartels could also be a problem: the high costs of entry to the
business plus a lack of regulation could create monopolies on an
unprecedented scale. If you could put a factory in space and have it
print copies of itself, output could grow exponentially until you have
an industry millions of times bigger than any industry on Earth, says
Metzger. So space enterprise could vastly enrich a few at the expense
of the rest, fuelling inequality.

Eh? If you can make a Von Neuman factory then absolutely every single sodding human being is as rich as Croesus about 6 months later. What fucking inequality?

News to me I admit

Most people have no idea what’s in an iPhone. Yttrium and praseodymium don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but they’re part of what make smartphones so small, powerful, and bright.

Not sure I know where those two are used in an iPhone. Can’t think of where or why either.