Oh good grief Guardian, seriously now……

Even you can do better than this:

A rare earth like neodymium begins life as a mineral encased in another mineral. Once pulled from the ground, the rock has to be crushed and cracked – a process that involves heating the material to break the chemical bonds that bind it together. After that comes “leaching”, where a chemical wash is used to dissolve the rare earth so it can then be gathered up as a concentrate. From there is refined into a pure oxide ready for manufacture.


Why not try getting someone who knows some science to write your science articles?

In which I am intemperate

An email correspondent writes to query a piece out there about molybdenum prices. They’re rising. They’re rising because China demand. So, what oogieboogie is China up to to drive the price of molybdenum up and thus murder us all in our beds?

My response is less than temperate:

That’s a particularly stupid piece.

The answer is in there he just doesn’t recognise it.

China’s steel production is booming. We can see it in the iron ore price. It’s a part of the Chinese stimulus plan through infrastructure. The major use of Mo (80% of total) is in FeMo for steel making. There is no mystery here.

More steel means more FeMo use means more Mo use.

Now, if China was buying up metallic Mo, the major use of which is in superalloys – ie those not containing iron – then we’d have an interesting question. But that ain’t what’s happening.

It’s all already sold

However, it is understood that officials are unsure whether a state rescue of Liberty’s UK steel operations is even possible as Greensill, which provided billions of financing for GFG, may have first call on its assets.

That is going to pose more than a little problem…..

Bankruptcy of the steel assets seems, to my mind, likely. But if they’ve been used as security then The Bloke from Oz owns them at least as an intermediate position……

I await the nation’s call, I am ready

The development of new technologies such as hypersonic missiles and laser weapons is to be given a boost from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with extra money, the Government has announced.

I have actually done some work on hypersonic weapons. Those Mach 5 and all rockets. Hmm, scramjets? The insides of those engines get very hot indeed. Which means you need hafnium carbide to line them. Which is not a usual material to have lying around.

So we made some for the Americans in Moscow. Nice little job too.

I stand ready when the nation needs me – although to be fair a Russian supply line might not be quite what they’re looking for…..


The steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta is racing to underpin his empire with taxpayer funding by furloughing hundreds of staff at his biggest British plant within 48 hours.

Liberty Steel will furlough workers at its operation in Rotherham and Stocksbridge on Thursday after speeding up initial plans to use the scheme from next week, sources said.

The bid to use the job retention programme comes amid reports that Liberty has missed payments to HMRC for VAT and staff income taxes. GFG Alliance, the owner of Liberty Steel, declined to comment on the tax claims in the Financial Times.

Mr Gupta’s operation is under massive pressure after the collapse of his financial partner Greensill, to which his businesses reportedly owe around £3.6bn.

In his first public remarks since Greensill crashed into administration on Monday, Mr Gupta said that Liberty is facing a “challenging situation” but insisted it has “adequate financing to meet its current requirements”.

Well, if you don’t pay your banker £3.6 billion then you might well have enough money.

This is all very Adam Smith. New ways to finance are easy enough to find. New people worth financing are rare.

An amusement

One of the world’s biggest commodity traders has fallen victim to an alleged fraud in which it paid $36m (£26m) for copper that was replaced with painted paving stones.

Worse, they paid out on the letters of credit (or some other payment method before inspection at least) and also the insurance was fake.

And to reach $36 million they did it on 4,500 tonnes, or 125 separate containerloads.

I’d be having a look at whether any of the clerks have a new gofaster motor tucked around the back or summat.


Even if we agree that both lithium volumes and also prices are going to rise significantly this does not mean that any specific lithium project is a goer. Firstly, it does rather matter how well the people running the project do so. It’s entirely possible, as we’ve seen with Altura, to have an operating mine, with customers and sales, even to be mostly covering or even exceeding operating costs with revenues and still go bust. Another way to make much the same point is that while mining a material may work that’s not really the point. In order to make a return for shareholders, it must be possible to cover the development costs as well as the operating ones. This is, as the perceptive will note, more difficult.

What lovely fun

A number of years back I was asked if I could go source a couple of tonnes a year of yttrium oxide. Didn’t work out but I was asked – it was to make the engine coating for a new and large jet fighter development program:

The heat coating on the engine’s rotor blades is failing at a rate that leaves 5 to 6 percent of the F-35 fleet parked on the tarmac at any given time, awaiting not just engine repairs, but total replacement.

Guess they didn’t find a decent supplier then.

Tsk, silly

He goes on to say that such bribes were just the way the business worked. That they were not only legal but even tax deductible. All of that is entirely true.

However, I don’t believe a word of it. He talks about picking up £500,000 in notes now and then to go pay. Nonsense. Everyone knows that it was $.

No, not really

Despite their name, the 17 minerals grouped under the rare earths label are not rare. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), they are roughly as common as copper. But, because rare earth ores oxidize quickly, extracting them is both difficult and extremely polluting.



It’s true that rare earth metals do oxidise pretty easily but the ores aren’t oxides and even if they were that wouldn;t be the reason they’re difficult to extract nor why that process would cause pollution.


Oh for fuck’s sake

The Times might want to start hiring people who actually know about financial markets to write about financial markets:

The metal rose by 1 per cent to $23,657 per tonne yesterday amid fears of a squeeze in supply, while the difference between the cash price and the price of acquiring tin in three months’ time is at its widest for at least three decades. The phenomenon, known as “backwardation”, indicates the likelihood of a supply shortage.

That’s horrendously confused. Yes, tin is in backwardation, that means the 3 month future is below the price of the current immediate delivery (or “cash”) market.

This means that tin is in short supply today as compared to where it is expected to be in 3 months time. Nowt to do with indications of likelihoods….

Quelle Surprise

Diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz has been convicted of paying bribes to gain lucrative mining rights and sentenced to five years in prison.

The 64-year-old and two co-defendants were found guilty in a Swiss court of variously paying or arranging ­payment of $8.5m (£6.2m) in bribes to Mamadie Toure, said to be a wife of the late Guinean president Lansana Conte, to secure rights to the iron ore-rich Simandou region in Guinea.

African mining rights involved bribery. Tsk, whatever next?


The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.

If they did use germanium – the best and most common source is the fly ash from coal fired power plants…….

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.