Archive | Cobalt, Critical, Strategic and Rare Earth Minerals and Metals

Northwest Territories Mining – The Drive Beyond Diamonds: Whati Road Could Deliver Polymetallic NICO Mine and More – by John Curran (Aboriginal Business Quarterly – Summer 2017)

For the entire issue:

There’s no denying the importance of the mining sector for the NWT’s economy, but at the same time this key industry has become completely dependent on a single commodity in recent times: Diamonds. Over the years, gold, lead, zinc, silver, tungsten, radium and many other minerals have been mined around the territory, but those days are currently in the rearview mirror. As the recent downturn has shown us, economic dependence on a single item plucked from the ground is never good – even something as lucrative as diamonds.

When prices for rough gems dropped a couple of years back and NWT mines were forced to trim operating costs, the territory has been suffering through the miners’ belt-tightening ever since. Despite the decline, diamond mining remains the dominant industry in the NWT.

“Resource projects, such as the diamond mines, provide the GNWT with a significant portion of corporate income tax, fuel tax, and property tax revenues and the projects’ employees provide payroll tax and personal income tax revenues,” said Andrew Livingstone, Senior GNWT Cabinet Communications Advisor. “Over the past three years, diamond mines contributed 41 per cent of the GNWT’s corporate income, fuel, property and payroll tax revenue.” Continue Reading →

Out of Africa for First Cobalt: Cobalt hunter ditches Congo J-V for northeastern Ontario – by Staff (Northern Ontario Business – September 18, 2017)

Only months after announcing it was buying into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), First Cobalt is pulling out to concentrate on its exploration work in northeastern Ontario.

The Toronto-headquartered cobalt hunter announced Sept. 18 that it will not complete its “strategic alliance” on seven cobalt exploration properties in the DRC. Instead, the company said it will focus on its flagship property in the historic Cobalt mining camp.

It’s Greater Cobalt Project, includes an option for the former producing Keeley-Frontier mine, a high-grade mine that produced over 3.3 million pounds of cobalt and 19.1 million ounces of silver from 301,000 tonnes of ore, as well as a joint venture on a fully permitted cobalt refinery in the town of Cobalt. Continue Reading →

Rare Earth Metals Electrified by China’s Illegal Mining Clean-Up (Bloomberg News – September 7, 2017)

Rare earths are booming again as a clampdown on wildcat miners in China crimps supply in the world’s biggest producer while the clean energy boom bolsters their use in everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines.

Prices for “light” rare earths including neodymium and praseodymium have exploded in recent months as traders and consumers snap up material that’s becoming scarcer. China’s shutting down illegal producers as the industry is swept up in the same kind of government clampdowns that have shaken other metals markets in 2017. Among many other applications, the elements are needed to make magnets used in motors and turbines.

“The prices of light rare earths still have upside for the longer term,” Alice Mu, a Beijing-based analyst at researcher Argus Metals, said via Wechat message. “There are shortages emerging from the supply side as China’s government shuts down illegal mines, purchases for state reserves, and implements tighter environmental policies.” Continue Reading →

How green are the batteries?: Electric car revolution boosts business for big Arctic air-polluter – by Thomas Nilsen (The Baren Observer – September 7, 2017)

Nornickel eyes sharp increase in demand for nickel and copper as tens of millions of electric cars hit the roads over the next few years. Nickel prices leap to new heights, increasing 36% over the last two months. Copper, another key metal for electric car batteries, has seen prices climb by nearly 20% since mid-summer.

That is very good news for Nornickel, one of the world’s largest suppliers of both nickel an copper. With factories on the Taymyr Peninsula and in the Murmansk region, the company’s directors are smiling all the way to the bank. And back. With workers’ salaries to be paid in rubles, and sales abroad in dollars, Nornickel is benefiting from Russia’s turbulent economy with low currency rate.

Nornickel now wants to expand sales to the electric car industry. Recently the company signed an agreement with BASF on possible supply of raw materials for future battery material production for lithium-ion batteries in Europe. Continue Reading →

The battery revolution: balancing progress with supply chain risks (RCS Global – August 2017)


For the full report:

The lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is set to fuel a revolution in electric vehicles (EV), home energy storage and even the powering of entire cities. Yet, increasing demand for the Li-ion battery is revealing and amplifying a wide spectrum of risks associated with the materials that make up the battery itself.

As new battery technology transforms consumer markets, there is a growing realisation that the transition to electric is not without social and environmental impact in the countries where battery materials – specifically cobalt, lithium, nickel, graphite and manganese – are mined and chemically processed into battery grade materials.

These risks present significant reputational, legal, compliance and commercial concerns for major industries harnessing the battery revolution including automotive, electronics and utilities infrastructure. For local communities, the risks represent impacts that could exacerbate or even cause environmental and social problems ranging from air pollution to child labour to conflict. Continue Reading →

Protecting livelihoods is key to mining the DRC’s riches – by Nelson Alusala (Institute For Security Studies – September 6, 2017)

Conflict minerals can only be properly regulated if communities’ welfare is part of government planning.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the potential to become Africa’s richest economy, going by the quantities of its natural resources. At the centre of the riches are over 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1 100 types of minerals and precious metals.

But despite the DRC’s wealth, the livelihoods of ordinary citizens remain dismal. With barely any government structures in some of the country’s remote communities, people have learnt to fend for themselves. The country’s human development index dropped steadily from 105th in 1980 to 176th out of 188 in 2014. And with election uncertainties this year, the general situation in the country could worsen, according to the African Economic Outlook.

Research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) among the mining communities in South Kivu reveals critical issues at the centre of the economic well-being of such people. These small-scale or informal miners live in villages, most of them hardly accessible. Continue Reading →

COLUMN-Boom, bust and boom again for rare earths? – by Andy Home (Reuters U.K. – September 1, 2017)

LONDON, Sept 1 (Reuters) – All commodity markets are prone to boom and bust cycles. But few have been as spectacular as that experienced by rare earths at the turn of the decade. Prices of such exotic components of the periodic table as dysprosium and terbium increased by multiples over 2010-2011 before collapsing just as quickly.

Five subsequent years of low-scale range-trading have seen rare earths slip off the collective investment radar, their place taken by new “hot” metals such as lithium and cobalt. But now they’re back. Or at least a couple of them are.

The prices of neodymium MYSTL-GANZ-NEDO and praseodymium oxide MYSTL-GANZ-PRAS are going stratospheric again, up by over 80 percent since the start of the year. As ever with rare earths, this is all about what is happening in China, the world’s dominant producer of these critical materials. Continue Reading →

Revisiting Rare Earths: The Ongoing Efforts to Challenge China’s Monopoly – by Mayuko Yatsu (The Diplomat – August 29, 2017)

Despite current cost-effectiveness, it is not sustainable for the United States to rely on Chinese rare earth elements.

At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing held in May 2017, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and the acting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo expressed their strong concern over the United States’ excessive dependence on foreign-produced rare earth elements and its potential impact on national security.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the United States relied 100 percent on imported rare earth elements in 2016, and more than 70 percent of those were from China. The Department of Defense is estimated to require 800 tons of such elements each year, and Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) addresses a vulnerability in the Department’s acquisition system in a recent bill.

Despite concern from Congress and the CIA, it was only one and half months after the hearing that a U.S. court ruled in favor of allowing a consortium of rare earths suppliers (including a Chinese mining company) to purchase the Mountain Pass mine in California — the only ready-to-be-operated rare earths mine in the United States. Continue Reading →

Water woes may leave green-car hopes high and dry – by Antony Currie (Reuters/ – August 28, 2017)

NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Water problems could leave the burgeoning market for green cars high and dry. Ford is the latest to ramp up its electrification efforts with a planned joint venture with China’s Anhui. Trouble is, the industry relies heavily on the Democratic Republic of Congo for cobalt to make electric vehicles’ lithium-ion batteries.

Players like BHP Billiton need secure water supplies for their cobalt-mining operations. They also are big consumers of electricity, which is produced mostly by hydropower. With the Congo River running near 100-year lows after two years of drought, blackouts are a big risk.

Wastewater – the theme of the World Water Week conference that kicked off in Sweden on Sunday – is another problem. Adding untreated industrial sludge back into the river basin would make a bad situation worse: the majority of Congolese already lack access to safe drinking water. Continue Reading →

It’s Party Time for the Metals No One Knows About – by Thomas Biesheuvel and Mark Burton (Bloomberg News – August 24, 2017)

It’s turning out to be a great year for minor metals. Rechargeable-battery ingredient cobalt has gained 83 percent, while ruthenium, used in the chemical industry and electronics, is up 63 percent.

The latest star is vanadium, an obscure silvery-grey metal thought to have been used to harden steel as far back as the Crusades. The metal, which is also used in energy-storage batteries, has surged 67 percent since mid-July, according to Metal Bulletin data.

Much of vanadium’s rise has been driven by policy changes in Beijing. The China Iron & Steel Research Institute has proposed increasing the amount of vanadium required in construction steel, which would boost consumption, according to VTB Capital and SP Angel research. The new standard is expected to be announced in September. Continue Reading →

Eager for red-hot cobalt gains, investors think small – by Nicole Mordant (Reuters Canada – August 24, 2017)

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Institutional investors hoping to profit from cobalt, this year’s high-flying metal, are buying into companies that are smaller than their usual fare to gain exposure to an industry supplying the burgeoning electric car market.

Prices for cobalt CBD0, a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, have spiked 83 percent this year on forecasts that demand will double in the next decade as consumers switch to less-polluting cars. Nearly all cobalt, which prolongs battery life, is mined as a by-product of copper and nickel, making it difficult for investors to get direct exposure.

Much like the recent boom in lithium, another battery ingredient, cobalt’s surge has resulted from heady forecasts for ownership of electric vehicles. UBS in May said it expected them to account for 3.1 percent of global car sales in 2021 and 13.7 percent in 2025, up from 1 percent this year. Continue Reading →

Is child labor the price for e-cars? – by Helle Jeppesen (Deutsche Welle – August 23, 2017)

Whether in cars, laptops or smartphones, cobalt is in nearly all batteries. The biggest supplier is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where human rights are often violated in the mines.

Young men, armed with only torchlight and tools climb down in a deep, dark hole, without helmet or security gear. The path becomes even smaller as they go further down in the unsecured tunnel. To remove the cobalt, the young miners use chisels and hand hooks and then place the gem rocks into bags, which are then pulled up by another miner above ground.

The rights group Amnesty International witnessed this scene during a research trip in Kasulu, the former Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These mine workers are known in the DRC as Creuseurs, loosely translated as the diggers.

The mining work is divided among everyone. Men dig for the rocks in the tunnel, women wash the rocks in the river, and children are tasked with separating the cobalt from the rock with their bare hands. Continue Reading →

Hunt for Next Electric-Car Commodity Quickens as Prices Soar – by Laura Millan Lombrana and Susanne Barton (Bloomberg News – August 23, 2017)

Niche metal cobalt is leaving bigger names like copper and lithium in its dust, triggering a hunt for new deposits from Idaho to Chile.

As one of the key components in the new breed of rechargeable batteries and with supply dominated by the Democratic Republic of Congo, prices have surged at four times the pace of major metals in the past year.

That’s caught the attention of governments, explorers and money managers, with annual demand set to increase 34 percent until 2026 as electric cars gain a bigger share of the global auto fleet, according to CRU Group.

Authorities in Chile, the top copper-producing nation, are embarking on a fact-finding mission with a view to restart cobalt production after a more than seven-decade hiatus. First Cobalt Corp. is merging with two other firms to create what it calls the world’s largest explorer of the mineral. Continue Reading →

OPINION: Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy – by Meghan L. O’Sullivan (Bloomberg News – August 21, 2017)

Countries that dominate the export of rare-earth minerals will be the petrostates of tomorrow.

In another sign that the age of fossil fuels is waning, the California State Senate has passed a bill to commit the state to use 100 percent renewable energy for power by 2045. Other states and cities — including Massachusetts, Chicago and Atlanta — intend to make similar switches. Proponents highlight a bevy of ways in which the Age of Renewables will improve our lives: lower carbon emissions, cheaper electricity rates, new abilities to bring power to impoverished nations … and independence from the economic and political entanglements of volatile global oil and gas markets.

Yes, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about a shift toward renewables. Unfortunately, an escape from energy geopolitics is not likely to be among them.

Americans and Europeans in particular are familiar with the geopolitical downsides of a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Even though energy embargoes are extremely rare, and hardly ever in the interest of the producers, the specter of the 1973 Arab oil remains. For many in Eastern Europe, the 2006 and 2009 gas cut-offs to Ukraine by Russia are an equally disturbing memory. Simply the threat of such actions carries political weight. Continue Reading →

Rare earths make electric comeback after bust – by Henry Sanderson (Financial Times – August 16, 2017)

After a spectacular bust in 2012 and several years of stagnant prices, rare earths mined mainly in China are making a comeback.

The expansion of electric vehicles and the renewable energy industry are partly behind this year’s renaissance for the 17 minerals, which are also used in smartphones and consumer electronics. Back in 2010 their soaring price caused such angst in Washington over China’s stranglehold on the market that the subject earned a subplot on the House of Cards TV series.

Additional mining capacity, as well as end users turning to alternatives, triggered a dramatic price collapse in 2012. Five years on and it is the role of rare earths in permanent magnets used in electric vehicles and wind turbines that has reignited interest. Continue Reading →