Metals, metals

Bit of a pity here. Someone’s just written a book on how terrible the environmental damage is of getting all those metals for renewables. At which point we get told this:

As these rare elements are distributed in tiny quantities, vast piles of ore need to be dug up, processed and refined to produce minuscule amounts. For a single kilo of gallium – used in energy-efficient light bulbs – 50 tonnes of rock needs to be excavated, according to Pitron.

They mean LEDs but. The actual amount of rock dug up to gain a kg of Ga is zero. Because no one at all goes mining for Ga. It would be a very silly thing indeed to do.

What you actually do is go collect Ga. Bauxite is the ore for alumina, the extraction method is to boil in caustic. Sorta. As part of that process the Ga in the bauxite comes out into solution and can be collected by a doohickey on the side of the tank.

You don’t process bauxite for Ga, you process it for alumina. Whether or not you collect the Ga you’d still be boiling the bauxite. So, the amount of bauxite boiled to gain gallium is zero.


Local ownership, oh yes

The question is, why would you want to own this?

The Goro mine owned by Vale is the world’s fourth-largest nickel ore producer and a key economic driver for New Caledonia, employing 3000 people. But it has had a difficult history, benighted by protests, arson attacks and environmental damage. It has also struggled to make money for Vale, despite millions in investment.

We get why you want the mine to exist Jobs, royalties to government and so on. But own it?

A bid for the mine by local company Sofinor, from the northern province of New Caledonia, in partnership with Korea Zinc Co, garnered support from pro-independence parties and Kanak customary leaders who argue majority ownership of the mine should rest with New Caledonians.

Why do you want to own it if it doesn’t make a profit for the people who own it?

So, how do we tell this is bollocks?

Lead levels are more than 1,000 times the US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standard and levels of other heavy metals such as aluminium, iron and manganese are above the international average.

Well, if someone tells us that aluminium is a heavy metal then we’re entirely, wholly and absolutely certain that they’ve no clue of the subject under discussion.

Manganese too but given that even I had to look it up (atomic number 25) we’ll give them a pass on that one. Iron isn’t normally thought of as a heavy metal but again, we can offer a pass. In one manner we can think of it as the halfway point. Yes, it’s only 26 out of 92 and counting however, it is the last one made by straight fusion in stars, we have to go to weirder manufacturing methods after that.

It’s a dirty river, no doubt, but this isn’t true, or at least not across time:

Rotten river: life on one of the world’s most polluted waterways – photo essay


Despite the filth, fishing is still widely practised along the river. The catch, contaminated with heavy metals and microplastics, is sold and eaten as much in areas adjacent to the river as on the tables of Jakarta. The number of fish species in the Citarum has decreased by 60% since 2008.

The Thames reached the point that there was – slight rhetorical exaggeration – nothing larger than an amoeba living below Teddington Lock.

But that claim about aluminium is all we need to know that we’re being preached at by the ignorant.

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.


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:

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.


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.


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

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


Ruth Maclean tells us ( 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.


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.