Metals

Amazingly no, this isn’t how it works

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the mining company Anglo American over its alleged failure to prevent widespread toxic lead pollution in the Zambian town of Kabwe. The town hosted one of the world’s biggest lead mines for many decades and scientists have reported “alarming” levels of lead in people’s blood.

“The public environmental health disaster left behind by Anglo means there are more than 100,000 children and women of childbearing age in Kabwe who are likely to have suffered lead poisoning as a result of pollution caused by Anglo,” according to the filed legal documents.

Well, yes, lead mining might well do that. Especially when it started around the turn of the last century. You’re still advised not to eat the cabbages (which selectively absorb lead and cadmium) in Chilcompton for the same reason.

However:

The lawyers argue that Anglo American’s South African subsidiary is liable as it was responsible for the mine from 1925 to 1974 and that this was when the majority of the pollution was caused. Anglo had “a duty of care to protect existing and future generations of residents of Kabwe”, according to the legal documents.

Well, not wholly and entirely. The mine came before the people. But that’s not the major issue here:

The class action alleges that Anglo America is liable for substantial emissions of lead into the local environment due to deficiencies in the operation of the mine and for failing to ensure the clean-up of contaminated land. The mine was transferred to a Zambian state-owned company in 1974 and closed in 1994.

Transferred is a delicate word. It was nationalised. And that’s one of them things. You take over another company and sure, you get the benefits. You also get the costs. As vast numbers of companies have found out with, say, asbestos. You buy – just as a theoretical example you understand – some company in the 1980s which used asbestos in the 1950s and you’re responsible now laddie. You end up paying now for the damage caused by the pollution then.

That inheritance of liabilities doesn’t go away just because you’re a government….

Seriously people, at least try to get it right

The US government has sunk $25m in to a London-based mining group that specialises in producing rare earth metals, as it attempts to loosen China’s stranglehold on the global flow of minerals like cobalt and lithium.
The investment in TechMet will go towards developing a mine in Brazil that produces nickel and cobalt – both essential ingredients for mobile phones, electric vehicles, and batteries.

Nickel and cobalt – and even lithium – are not rare earth metals. It’s like describing a book as a dance. Sure, both arts or entertainments but we do still distinguish more finely.

Rare earths are lanthanum to lutetium plus yttrium and scandium. Nowt else.

The Cornish lithium thing

Jim asks:

Any comment on this similar venture:

https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/cornwalls-lithium-potential-global-significance-4523338

There is lithium in them thar hills, yes. That sort of tin/tungsten mineralisation is commonly associated with lithium presence. The same is true over in the Ore Mountains which are geologically rather similar.

The difference is that as the mountains wear down and the tin/tungsten ore is released (in both of those places, Cornwall and Krusny Hory, the “mining” started as panning in streams) the lithium is soluble and so runs away. So, the vast piles of cassiterite (the same tin ore) already separated out by water action at Bangka and Belitung will not be lithium containing.

So, there’s lithium in the rock. If there’s hot water – that geothermic stuff – that’s oozing through the rock then yes, that will be enriched in lithium. So, the Cornish claim is that it’s nice and rich in lithium. Rich I don’t know, but the base idea is true. There is a similar find/claim over in those Ore Mountains/Kruzny Hory.

And a major – perhaps majority, not sure – source of lithium is brines. Salty waters that are coming up from these sorts of geothermal water complexes in Chile and Bolivia and stuff.

So, yes, logically it all pins together. And there are other Cornish sources. I’ve seen papers on extraction from the slurry ponds of china clay pits. China clay being this same rock – well, -ish – which has been worn down by erosion. Volumes recoverable from the china clay slurries might not be worthwhile even as it’s definitely possible.

What I haven’t got a clue about is whether this is viable. Is the Li there? Sure. What will it cost to get it out? Dunno.

I can even proffer an idea for an ambitious type. That same mineralisation runs across central Africa from Congo over into Madagascar. All that columbo-tantalite – coltan to NGOs – is closely allied with the same sort of geological set up. In fact, I’d insist that there’s lots and lots of lithium in them thar hills. Vast chunks of it even.

It might even be cheaper to extract it from Cornish brines, who knows?

Elon Musk’s lithium plan

To extract from lithium bearing clays by mixing with salt and water, the lithium comes out in solution, whoo, that’s easy!

Can’t say I really believe it. That lithium does come out in brines is obvious as that’s a major source, extraction from brines. But I tend to think that that’s a result of geological timescale processes, not factory ones.

Of course, I know absolutely nothing about this it just doesn’t seem “right” to me.

Idiots

Tata Steel has been pushing for hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money from the government’s Project Birch fund to convert Port Talbot from blast furnaces to electric-arc furnaces, which are powered by electricity rather than coal. In return, ministers have been offered a stake in the plant.

The future of the steel industry — in particular Britain’s ability to make molten iron and steel from iron ore and coal — hinges on those talks.

If arc furnaces are installed then we lose that ability to make virgin steel. Thus obviating the argument for subsidy.

Oh FFS

Exploiting lunar resources and building a staging post to Mars are now a key part of America’s geopolitical strategy. The “barren” moon is really a commodity sweet shop – with significant deposits of gold, iron, magnesium and titanium….

Iron’s $100Iron’s $100 a tonne to any realistic level of accuracy. Titanium dioxide is $500 a tonne – it’s turning it into metal that costs the cash. Magnesium’s a couple of dollars a pound here on Earth.

Anyone think that Moon to Earth transport costs – forget the costs of the system to enable that – are ever going to get that low?

Quite, it’s valueless for whatever we do down here. Sure, there’s a value to what is done up there, building stuff to go further. But that’s a very different value calculation for it depends on what we’re going to carry on and do up there by going further. There never will be a payoff (Helium 3, possibly, excepted) to shipping minerals or metals from there to here. Never.

Orbiting solar panels, shipping down electricity by microwave link, that sounds pretty cool. But physical shipment down? Naaah. Never.

OK, so this is bollocks then

The largest proven reserves of rare earth
elements like indium, tellurium, dysprosium, and
neodymium are found in China’s Inner Mongolia
province.

He means the Bayan Obo mine. Which isn’t, as far as I understand it, a source of indium or tellurium. Nor, actually, dysprosium, at least not in any major sense for that last. It does produce neodymium. So, we’ve a 25% success rate in claims here.

Oh, and tellurium and indium are not rare earths. And come from copper slimes and zinc sulfides respectively.

Or, it’s bollocks.

Further bollocks:

In 2019, some 20,000 tons of copper were
mined, and world reserves stood at about
870,000 tons.24

Footnote 24 takes us to here:

(Data in thousand metric tons of copper content

Propaganda always works better if it’s at least vaguely grounded in knowledge.

No they’re bloody not

Seriously Telegraph, get a grip:

Chinese accused of manipulating steel market to make a killing on the London Metals Exchange

The allegation is about nickel.

The centre of City metal dealing is facing pressure to launch an investigation into the nickel market after it was rocked by a supply shock last year.

Sources told The Sunday Telegraph the European steel association ­Eurofer is among those urging the London Metal Exchange (LME) and Financial Conduct Authority to investigate the nickel market after stockpiles plunged late last year, when Indonesia brought forward an export ban on nickel ore.

A particular steel company is alleged to be involved – by dint of having its own nickel mine in Indonesia – but the allegations simply aren’t about manipulation of the steel market.

That’s point 1, that it’s nickel, not steel.

Point 2 is that the LME does have steel contracts, yes. And nickel’s an input into steel, yes. But the nickel price is only a major input into stainless steels. A useful but not conclusive definition of stainless being steel with a high nickel content.

The LME doesn’t run contracts on stainless steel. Manipulating the LME steel market through nickel is unlikely then.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to know this. But I do expect a journalist writing about the metals market to at least research it enough to get it right. More fool me, eh?

Not 100% convinced myself

Scientists and archaeologists have analysed slagheaps left by the copper mines in Edom, an area encompassing parts of what is now southern Jordan and Israel. They found signs that mines in different parts of the region made the same advances in smelting techniques at the same time in the 11th century BC, just before the age of the biblical Kings Saul, David and Solomon.

You know, knowledge being a non-rivalrous and often enough non-excludable good.

Sure, being part of the same political organisation will aid in the spread of such knowledge. So, for example, the turn of the 19th/20th century saw advances in gold extraction from ore. Likely this did spread through the Empire, from S Africa to Oz perhaps, faster than it did to Siberia or the US.

But not entirely convinced that you’d be able to measure that speed from slag heaps……

Is this the JP Morgan cornering the silver market thing?

I’ve not been paying attention to this as I regarded it all as just another conspiracy take. That JP Morgan – and or some traders – were cornering the global silver market. That they’d watched the Bunker Hunts and worked out how to do it successfully. It’s one of those things that’s been on the investment boards for ages.

Thing is, is it actually true?

Two current and one former precious metals traders at JPMorgan Chase have been charged with manipulating futures markets in what prosecutors described as a massive, multi-year conspiracy run out of the bank.

The US Justice Department said three men ripped off market participants and even clients as they illegally moved prices for gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

Prosecutors allege that over eight years and thousands of unlawful trades the men engaged in activities that resulted in them being charged with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy, including racketeering.

Is that what this is? Or are we talking about something more like Libor? Where people were fiddling the fix by a couple of basis points to favour their own futures positions?

The difference. If it’s an attempted corner then the price has been out by tens of dollars an ounce – which is the wilder claim I’ve seen. If it’s like Libor then it’s a cent at most out, and either way on any particular day. Anyone know more about this case?

I write a letter

Sirs,

Ruth Maclean tells us (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/27/russians-have-special-status-politics-and-mining-mix-in-guinea) that the Rusal owned Friguia complex in Guinea “mines bauxite and refines it into aluminium.” Sadly not so, the plant produces alumina. A few letters difference might not seem like much but the transformation of alumina, the oxide, into aluminium, the metal, requires the addition of some $1,000 worth of electricity per tonne produced. This is not something normally done in an energy deficient African economy.

yours etc

An interesting question

One I don’t know the answer to:

Blast furnaces such as the one at Scunthorpe make steel from scratch and, once shut down, are more or less impossible to replace. Greener, less energy-intensive electric arc furnaces, of which the UK has four, can make steel by recycling scrap. At present, though, they do not achieve the quality levels that a blast furnace can, at least not without incurring great expense in removing impurities.

And the ability to make such high-grade steel domestically is crucial to a nation’s defence capability. Steel is used in aeroplanes, ships, guns, tanks – more or less everything the military uses. If Scunthorpe were to close, the UK would be left with one blast furnace, at Port Talbot in Wales, which does not make the same products.

They’re right about the difference between a blast and arc furnace. Sorta right about the quality – the big change in modern steel is how much closer an arc can now get to the quality of blast furnace steel.

But military steel? High quality? Not really sure about that at all. Anyone know?

They’ve got this so wrong

It’s actually sad to see scientific organisations descending to this level of idiocy:

The European chemists organisation – EuChemS – has just added to the torrent of environmental drivel with their new periodic table. They’re trying to tell us which elements are going to run out when and thus tell us all that we’ve got to recycle. The entire process is bunkum because they’ve not understood the first thing about the supply of minerals. They simply do not know the meaning of mineral reserve that is.

Sigh.

This could be interesting

Suppliers to the steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s rapidly growing empire have warned they are struggling to get credit insurance and are owed substantial sums.

Five companies that supply goods and services to parts of the Gupta Family Group (GFG) Alliance’s British operations told The Sunday Times they were struggling to secure payment from the steel, commodities and energy conglomerate.

He’s been spending a fortune in borrowed money buying up marginal metals assets. Credit insurers refusing to insure is the first sign that it’s not working.

Easy enough to do

A MARRIED couple from Shropshire were “groomed” into supplying parts for Iran’s nuclear programme, a court has heard.

Paul Attwater, 65, and Iris Attwater, 66, smuggled prohibited aircraft parts from their company Pairs Aviation to Alexander George, 76, in Malaysia who supplied Iranian aviation firms.

Concluding that the couple had been “very, very naive”, Judge Michael Grieve QC yesterday handed the couple suspended sentences after Mr Attwater insisted he had no idea the parts he was exporting had a military application.

What might have a military application – “dual use” items – can have a very wide definition. I know this very well indeed.

Way back when it was Iraq, not Iran, that was the concern. There’s a specific alloy that is used only in Soviet style nuclear plants. Western use a different alloy, each is only used in nuclear. We had a nice little business buying the Soviet stuff as scrap – usual destination was aluminium alloys for boy racer car wheels. All entirely legal and kosher.

However, if we’d sold the tubes, as tubes and so not as scrap, to people who then put them into the Iraqi nuclear program (can’t recall if there ever was one but at the time all thought that….) then that was a possible 20 year sentence.

To the point that there was a stash of such tubes in Cyprus which we made repeated attempts to buy as scrap, at the scrap price. Never got anywhere as it appears that this was, even if a real stash, a temptation being monitored, to put it lightly, by security types to see who would buy as tubes and try to ship to Iraq. I’ve seen at least one trial reported where people did try to buy as tubes and ship.

Have also dealt with radiation hardened chips for rockets and satellites. If they went into Soyuz to go to the space station then that’s fine. If they got diverted to military use then potential 20 years jug time again.

That is, exactly the same item can be entirely legal or horribly not so dependent upon who is the buyer. And no, you don’t get to claim ignorance of the end user. Strict liability applies here, if the bad guys get it then you’re guilty. The sentence might mitigate, the jury might, but not liability.

It’s an interesting area of business. Ahem.

Science being another thing The Guardian doesn’t understand

A newly identified group of materials could help recharge batteries faster, raising the possibility of smartphones that charge fully in minutes and accelerating the adoption of major clean technologies like electric cars and solar energy, say researchers.

The speed at which a battery can be charged depends partly upon the rate at which positively charged particles, called lithium ions, can move towards a negatively charged electrode where they are then stored. A limiting factor in making “super” batteries that charge rapidly is the speed at which these lithium ions migrate, usually through ceramic materials.

There are many different battery technologies, all of which do involve ions*. Most of which do not involve lithium. Thus lithium ions – despite being part of one battery technology – are not common to all battery technologies.

Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified a group of materials called niobium tungsten oxides through which lithium ions can move at astonishingly high rates, meaning much faster charging batteries.

Well, yes, that is interesting.

Another advantage of these alternative materials is that they are cheap and straightforward to make. “These oxides are easy to make and don’t require additional chemicals or solvents,” said Griffith.

That’s interestingly wrong. A major source of Nb being that coltan which produces the Ta for mobile phone capacitors. You know, all that blood minerals stuff all over again? Yes, there are other sources but still. And it’s not cheap. The Ti (note, the oxide, not the metal) is hundreds of $ per tonne, yup, that’s cheap. We can divert the stuff we use in white paint if we desire. But the Nb? Definitely dollars per pound, perhaps tens of $ per lb. Not exactly what we do call cheap.

And if we’re to get it from Ta containing minerals (not an absolute necessity) we’ve got significant processing pollution (using hydrofluoric acid is not for the faint of heart and yes, we do have to) and again significant radioactive residue (there’s always Th in them thar hills).

Oh, and reprocessing Nb and Ti mixtures isn’t easy. OK, my experience is with the metals but still….

*OK, possible to argue here but good enough.

Ah, yes, I have mixed Ti and W, haven’t I? Sigh, still, this was worth what you paid for it then.

Sorry, this amuses

Russia’s FSB security services raided a top space research centre Friday as part of an investigation into staff alleged to have passed secret information on Moscow’s hypersonic missile programme to the West.

Some 20 years back work on the US hypersonic missile was done in Moscow. I know, I organised it.

OK, it was minor enough, producing hafnium carbide for the lining of a scramjet engine but still…..

There’s an interesting point to this

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has taken the unusual step of issuing an arrest warrant for the boss of a Kazakhstan-based mining company.

The SFO said that Benedikt Sobotka, chief executive of Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), failed to turn up for questioning in London last month, prompting it to take the “rare but necessary” action of issuing a warrant.

ERG is the successor company to ENRC, the miner that was listed on the London Stock Exchange between 2007 and 2013, before returning to private hands following a string of corruption allegations and boardroom battles over “Soviet”-style corporate governance.

So, let us say that Kazakh mining is corrupt. Just as a postulate you understand. Those who successfully invest there should make good profits then, yes? As good profits would only be normal profits, risk adjusted.

As compared to the normal story that making good mining profits in a corrupt place is evidence of ripping the government off.

Now replace Kazakh with DRC or Tanzanian. For that second argument is being made there, isn’t it?