By Tom Butcher, Independent Consultant
I trust all of you have had excellent summers, whether away on holiday in parts far (near), or at home. We’ve had a tolerable summer here in New York, with only couple of stinking hot weeks when the temperature went up to high 90°s F and the humidity remained not much below 100%. It is, however, and thank goodness, a little cooler now.
Back at the beginning of May I wrote you about what the, then, two leading presidential candidates thought of both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU.
Maybe I should not have bothered. As things currently look, each trade agreement now looks increasingly unlikely to be consummated. Here in the US, there has been a distinct shift in mood from the optimism at the start of the year that passage of TPP through Congress could be won, to pessimism that it would, now, fail to garner enough votes in either the House or Senate.
But maybe Clinton and Trump have, actually, contributed collectively to TPP’s impending demise. Whilst Trump’s position – virulently anti-TPP – hasn’t changed much since my previous letter, Clinton’s has hardened considerably. Indeed, a recent Wall Street Journal article reported that “…aides to Mrs. Clinton say she now plans to tear up the pact and start over.”
As for TTIP, well, European members probably know much more about it than I. But from what I can see, it, too, looks doomed – especially if Germany’s economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, is to be believed. And Brexit cannot have helped: on the one hand, the EU has lost the support of the UK as a member, and on the other, with the UK ex-Europe and not, therefore, accessible through TTIP, the deal might not look as attractive as it did to the US.
We shall have to wait and see on both.
To perhaps a more interesting topic. As you’ll already know, I like to keep my eye out for interesting scientific advances using minor metals. The result of some research, actually reported back in June, from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently caught my attention. I don’t often mention rare earths,
but the news from the DoE and its partners, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Eck Industries (based in Wisconsin), was, I thought, particularly interesting. Together they have developed aluminium alloys that are “both easier to work with and more heat tolerant than existing products.” But, the really interesting thing is that the alloys contain cerium.
This could be really good news, not only for those who use the aluminium alloys, but also for producers of rare earths. Since, according to Oak Ridge, cerium accounts for up to half the rare earth content of many rare earth ores, and nobody wants to buy it, this could create both a useful and valuable market for the metal. According to one of the researchers, a 1% penetration of the aluminium alloy market would “translate to 3,000 tons of cerium.”
The new alloys sound pretty attractive. They are low cost, they have exceptional high-temperature stability, they have reduced heat-treatment requirements and, significantly, they are highly castable. (This last is especially important as it is, I understand, more difficult to cast most alloys with exceptional properties.) With their high-temperature characteristics, used in internal combustion engines, the alloys could allow engines to run hotter and to be lighter, both ways to increase fuel efficiency.
I, for one, will be fascinated to see what happens with these new alloys.
And, on that optimistic note, I shall bid you farewell, whilst wishing you all the best from a rather pleasant New York.
©2016 Tom Butcher, August 31st, 2016
The Wall Street Journal: Diminishing Prospects for Trans-Pacific Partnership Cloud Obama Goals, http://www.wsj.com/articles/diminishing-prospects-for-trans-pacific-partnership-cloud-obama-goals-1471995574, ; August 23, 2016
Oak Ridge National Laboratory: New alloy promises to boost rare earth production while improving energy efficiency of engines, https://www.ornl.gov/news/new-alloy-promises-boost-rare-earth-production-while-improving-energy-efficiency-engines; June 3, 2016