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Just a little though about miners

I’m testing something elsewhere but still a little point about the mining of minor metals.

Clearly, supply anything and you’ve got to be slightly worried about all the other suppliers. OK, you’re a wheat farmer and one more wheat farmer doesn’t;t change very much. An entire country getting it right for the first time in a century – Ukraine exported wheat under the Tsars, does independently, but couldn’t under the Soviets – does make a difference.

So, with many minor metals it doesn’t take much to upset the price applecart. China restricted rare earth exports in 2010, Lynas and Molycorp both opened up and both effectively (Lynas only needed a recapitalisation) the one killed the other. The market might have supported one but not both that is.

So, graphite, hot new thing for the battery market. But how many people are going to go mining for it? Which might be a problem for one of those miners, Tirupati Graphite:

How many other people are prospecting for, financing, opening graphite mines? Note that this one mine is 5 to 7% of global demand. Tirupati’s profitability is going to depend upon how many other people also add 5 or 7% of global demand to global production.

You don’t need that many mines each at 5% of global d[production to rather change that supply and demand calculation, do you?

4 thoughts on “Just a little though about miners”

  1. It was a surprise to realise anyone still mined graphite!
    I thought it was all made by pyrolytic deposition: nuclear usage, because you need to get all the boron out (see Werner, that was your mistake!) and for batteries, because you want to deposit a thin film on a substrate.

    Digging lumps out of the ground! How 19th century. For pencils?

  2. “For pencils?”

    And cannonball moulds. That’s one reason we beat Napoleon (apparently): we had graphite, he didn’t.

  3. The Hazer Process produces hydrogen and graphite from natural gas so the economics of mining graphite could be risky.

  4. So the intelligent miners (e.g. Mark Cutifani) look at whether they can make an acceptable profit (i.e. one greater than the cost of capital) when the median competitor is a break-even. Then they are still OK if an unexpected competitor appears between date of sanctioning of project and the mine coming on stream. Admittedly this does not necessarily work if the unexpected project can produce more than 50% of world demand at a low price but that’s the economic equivalent of Hiroshima so you’re presumably financially dead anyway.

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