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George Today

Actually, he\’s quite fun today. Airships. Sure, I\’ll get behind that, however, one teenise technical detail he\’s missed:

A new generation of solar panels relies on gallium and indium, whose global supplies appear close to exhaustion.

Erm, no. Not even close. Both are extracted as by products from other mining processes. Both require only the addition of a capture circuit to those existent processes. We most certainly don\’t have capture circuits on all of the plants that could support them.

Now these are rough numbers, pulled from memery. But there are some 35 Bayer Process plants around the workd. These are the plants that take in Bauxite and spit out Alumina (aluminium oxide). Gallium can be captured from this process: but, while I\’m not certain of the number, I\’m almost certain that less than ten of the plants have such capture circuits.

There\’s also all of the red mud (the waste from this process) of the past 50 years or so of the global aluminium business lying around in ponds that can be processed to extract gallium should anyone want to do so.

And no, no one at all goes mining for Gallium (or indeed Indium) so to claim that supplies are near exhaustion is, umm, a little odd.

Update. This file.  Global reserves of gallium are some 1 million tonnes. Global production is around 100 tonnes.

Meaning that we\’ve got some 10,000 years\’ supply  just in the rocks we know about.

Close to exhaustion that ain\’t.

A New Element

You know, this makes so much damn sense it\’s amazing that no one thought of doing this before.

If we think (as many do) that the actinides and  above become stable near or around element 120, then instead of sweating buckets trying to make them, why not go and look and see if there are traces of those stable elements out there?

Et Voila!

We find them.

Simple ideas, eh?

Thallium Poisoning

A slightly odd report in The Guardian about a case of thallium poisoning in Iraq.

Thallium is a highly toxic soft radioactive metal that was once widely used in rat poisons and insecticides.

It ain\’t, I\’m afraid, radioactive. There may or may not be radioactive isotopes (I\’ve not bothered to look that up) but the commercial material itself is not radioactive.

There\’s also one other thing about this. The individuals may well have been poisoned by thallium. But not, perhaps poisoned by thallium, if you get my rather odd meaning.

"This is a disturbing incident," said Mohammed Abbas, a police official. "The use of thallium in this way appears to show that someone in Adhamiya is reviving the techniques of the mukhabarat [the Saddam-era secret police].

"What happens if al-Qaida gets the know-how? We are urgently trying to discover how much thallium is out there and who would know how to utilise it."

This information is a little out of date but certainly there was (perhaps still is) a thallium based cockroach poison. And yes, it was (perhaps is) popular in the Middle East. So while it is indeed thallium poisoning, the cure for which is Prussian Blue, from the point of view of the poisoner it\’s not so much that, it\’s adding cockroach "chalk" (that\’s the form the insecticide comes in) to the food. It\’s not a matter of "know how" really.

AE Bullion

American Elements has launched something called AE Bullion. This post should be considered as a warning not to actually buy any of their products.

Los Angeles based American Elements announced today the launch of AE Bullion™. The new product group will mint certified high purity coins and bars from approximately sixty advanced, rare and less common metals for short and long term physical investment. Metals include rhodium, tellurium, indium, hafnium, scandium and the 14 rare earth elements; all metals which have experienced dramatic world price increases in 2007.

Coins and bars will be minted from assayed materials produced by American Elements\’ AE Metals™ high purity refining group. Coins will be available to hedge funds, currency reserves and exchange traded funds (ETFs) in order to establish tradable securities and to allow for exposure and controlled risk to commodity and industrial demand fluctuations. Also, private investors, collectors and hobbyists can now take direct physical title and possession to these metals with risk exposure equivalent to movements in the world spot price.

Portfolios of different elemental metal coins and bars may also be structured allowing for strategic risk allocation and indexing across a basket of metals. American Elements will offer bonded short and long term warehouse inventory services for AE Bullion™ coins to investors, funds and collectors who do not wish to take physical custody of the metal or lack secure storage or warehouse capabilities.

This is a terrible idea, seriously awful, from the investors point of view. The first and most important point is that these metals don\’t have liquid markets. Taking scandium for example: as regular readers will know I make my day job living dealing in the material. But in over a decade I\’ve never actually sold the metal itself to anyone. The oxide, yes, the oxide when made into a aluminium master alloy, yes, but not the metal. I would be astonished if the global market in 2007 was more than 1 kg of the metal in total. The same goes fo many of the rare earth metals (some do indeed have markets, others, ytterbium etc, not. I once had a piece of lutetium and the only thing I could manage to do with it was sell it to someone who prepared elements for collectors.). Further, even where there are markets fo them, no one ever buys them piecemeal. Long term supplpier contracts are the order of the day. Hafnium as coins and bars also strikes me as rather silly: a typical Hf metal purchase would be 500 kg to 5,000 kg. Piddling about with an ounce or two in a coin simply won\’t happen.

Rhodium is something that might be worth speculating in but there\’s already a mechanism to do that. Open an account at Johnson Matthey and get on with it.

This has overtones (and no, I\’m not making an accusation here of it being the same) of a program that went on a decade ago, with indium and germanium. An investment boiler house was selling these "vital electronic metals in short supply" by the ounce to impressionable retail investors in the US. They were paying $ hundreds an ounce to take physical possession of material worth, at that time, $10s per ounce. Usual hard core telephone sales techniques.

Prices did indeed rise but not enough to cover the marketing mark up: and anyway, with these metals it\’s an industrial market. Buyers are the big electronics companies and they pick up a tonne or two at a time.

The basic point is that these metals are really not for the private investor as there are no liquid markets. And even when there are, they\’re not in the sort of quantities that a private investor would be dealing in. With the exception of rhodium (where, as noted, there is already a mechanism) this just isn\’t a sensible place to go speculating.

Disclaimer: yes, I do deal, or have done, in several of these metals. Yes, I would benefit if a private market was created to speculate in them. Yes, I still think it\’s an extremely bad idea that you shouldn\’t go anywhere near.

There was in fact a scandium metals futures market in Moscow in the early-mid 1990s. It collapsed after about 50 trades as there was no terminal market. This idea will face very much the same problems.



Mainstream Minerals Corporation

Just a minor point for Mr. Google and anyone who might have received the press release from Mainstream Minerals Corporation:

New 40 ft intersection with a grade of 13.54 g/t Gallium (Ga), 21.50 g/t Scandium (Sc), 12.98 g/t Rubidium (Rb), 20.27 g/t Cerium (Ce), 8.25 g/t Lanthanum (La), 12.03 g/t Yttrium (Y), 1.83 g/t Ytterbium (Yb), 3.23 g/t Selenium (Se), 6.76 g/t Lithium (Li), 3.58 g/t Cadmium (Cd), 4.28 g/t Niobium (Nb), 2.25 g/t Hafnium (Hf), 38.57 g/t Cobalt (Co), 79.29 g/t Vanadium (V), 83.61 g/t Strontium (Sr), and 96.53 g/t Zirconium (Zr).

Those concentrations of rare earths are what is commonly known as "dirt".

All these metals have significant economic and strategic value and depending on purity and lot size, individual powders refined into metal may range in price from US$15.00 per kilogram for lanthanum metal, to US$30,000 per kilogram (US$30.00 per gram) for scandium metal. Some of these metals like Rubidium, which is not actively traded, have sold for as much as US$58.20 per gram.

Worth noting that scandium metal is also not "actively traded". I would be astonished if more than 10 kg a year was sold annually, globally.


Commerce Resources Corp

Just a quick note for any thinking about investing in a company called Commerce Resources Corp.

In the company\’s press release here they seem to have  made a small error.

Rare earth oxides, which are processed into powdered form, may range in price from US$3.00 per kg, for cerium oxide to US$15,000 per kg for scandium oxide.

That\’s an at least ten times over estimation of the price of scandium oxide. For bulk uses (ie, anything over about 100 kg a year) perhaps 30 times.

Not wildly important, I know, but perhaps Mr. Google will help bring this to the attention of anyone searching for information on the company.