From feet of snow this time in January, I believe that today, Friday, we are going to have temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit. We may also have had snow earlier this week, but the daffodils are out, as are the crocuses. And the trees are starting to leaf beautifully in Central Park. New York itself is just chock-a-block with tourists from every nation, here for the holiday weekend.
The seesaw of good news/bad news about Iran seems set to continue.
As many of you may have seen, Iran was in the news again this week with the seesaw of good news/bad news about the country here in the U.S. seemingly set to continue. I wrote in last month’s edition of The Crucible about the really quite exciting possibilities that may exist in Iran for miners, refiners etc. Now the news is that the U.S. Justice Department is charging seven alleged Iranian hackers with attacking both the U.S. financial system and servers for a dam up in Rye, New York, just northeast of us here in Manhattan. Moreover, in this instance, the hackers are specifically tied to the Iranian government.
The path to normalization in relations between the two countries is obviously going to be very long and, it seems, somewhat arduous, with, as a consequence, more likely than not, shadows being cast on its re-developing relations with other countries.
What’s going on in the world of batteries and, more especially lithium?
International geopolitics aside, what’s going on in the world of batteries and, more especially lithium? Currently essential for both energy storage systems and electric vehicles, I’ve been hearing recently that demand is outstripping supply: hardly good news for Tesla and others.
With 85% of supply seemingly in the hands of just four producers, Albemarle (Rockwood), FMC, SQM and Tianqi, and the likes of Luther Kissam, CEO of Albermarle, saying that: “From a lithium standpoint, we’re pretty well sold out”, the question is Whence any new supply? Is it going to be from brines (Argentina etc.) or hard rock – spodumene (Australia]?
In North America, anyway, the search for new supply over the past several years has not been all that propitious. Simbol Material’s attempts to extract the metal from geothermal brines by the Salton Sea in California cannot be described as a success. Similarly unsuccessful, RB Energy’s (formerly Canada Lithium Corp) attempts to extract it from hard rock at its $350 million Quebec Lithium mine came to an end when the company filed for insolvency towards the end of 2014.
For companies here in the U.S., it is conflict minerals time again.
For companies here in the U.S., it is conflict minerals time again. Marking the third year of conflict minerals reporting, Form SD filings are due on May 31st. Following the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s rejection, in November 2015, of petitions from both the SEC and Amnesty International to rehear (again) the National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC case, the SEC has, now, no recourse other than to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court – something that it has not yet done. And, indeed, the deadline for making this filing was, once again, extended, this time from March 9th to April 7th. Who knows what it will do?
Two scientific titbits from very different parts of the U.S.: From Penn State University came news that its, and U.S. Department of Energy, researchers had found an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way of extracting, through advanced ion exchange methods using ammonium sulfate, rare earth elements from coal. One particularly interesting aspect of their work was that the coal byproducts they used had either been discarded or, because of their poor quality, been consigned to the refuse heap. A way for coal miners to add further value to their activities?
And then there was news from Minnesota that the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth had, together with a Canadian company, developed proprietary technology that enables them to remove impurities like magnesium oxide from locally-mined ilmenite deposits and “produce ultra-pure titanium dioxide products that can be directly used as high-value pigments or…feedstock for titanium metal production.” It will be interesting to see if this technology can be used elsewhere, or whether it is only really of any use in conjunction with locally-sourced ilmenite with specific impurities.
And, on that last scientific note, from a very mild New York, I remain, with very best wishes for the coming spring to MMTA members everywhere.
Tom Butcher, March 28th, 2016
©2016 Tom Butcher