MMTA members Indium Corporation and RJH Trading played a key role at the GKZ-MMTA Forum, Europe – From Mine to Market, held in Dresden, Germany 28/29 September 2017. The Conference was a great success with a representative comment being: “Particularly interesting for me were the presentations about the metal markets, the pricing and the international influences on the metal prices.”
The conference integrated upstream and downstream processes including presentations by mine operators and developers, the mineral processing research project, FAME, which kindly sponsored the event, as well as the supply and demand in global markets, a look at those minor metals considered to have the potential to become major metals and an examination of metallo-archaeology, where Professor Ernst Pernicka from the University of Heidelberg closed the conference by reminding the audience that examining past metal usage offers a vision for future uses of metallurgy.
Organisers Maria Cox, General Manager of the MMTA, and Dr Wolfgang Reimer, Chief Executive of Geokompetenzzentrum Freiberg (GKZ) welcomed delegates to the forum and set out the themes for the day. Looking back at De Re Metallica, Wolfgang Reimer explained that representations of the mine and the market were, at the time, all representations of the local region. There existed a common knowledge that mining was the base of the economy, but this knowledge is being questioned today.
This local connection has disappeared, replaced by a global market, and this has been the most dramatic change in the industrial landscape in Europe. This is why we organised this event; namely, to demonstrate and understand this change, as well as to consider its impact on the continent of Europe.
The forum was opened by Peter Robinson, describing mining and production at British Fluorspar in Derbyshire, UK, posing the question: Is there a mining and production exit from Europe (a Prexit)? What might happen if Europe were to lose its raw materials base? As a European operational miner, ‘someone who digs holes in Europe’, British Fluorspar finds itself at the heart of this question. Despite some optimism surrounding new mines in Europe, there has been a significant decline when it comes to mining activity. The question posed by Peter Robinson: ‘Do we as a mature, modern, sophisticated society continue to produce our own materials or do we become dependent on imports for our industry and to support our economy?’
The conference key note address was given by John Meyer, a Senior Analyst and Partner with London based brokers SPAngel, who picked up on the theme and examined the investment markets in mining and metals, illustrating the great value that specialty metals add, and predicting their increasing importance. Meyer painted a picture of banks slowly pulling out of bulk metals in particular, and stressed the importance of Europe increasing manufacturing and trying to regain its global position. This can, he proposed, create opportunities for others. For example, from 2018, China will be setting ambitious targets to migrate to EVs, and will need 200 million vehicles to replace gas and diesel, in order to meet its emissions targets. China is using its supplies to draw in manufacturing, and export quotas to restrict metal exports to the EU and the rest of the world. Meyer predicts that the trend towards the financing of a wider range of metals will continue.
This was followed by Dr Marco Roscher, MD of Saxore Bergbau, highlighting the exciting potential for the Tellerhäuser Project to become a major European indium resource. A huge deposit at the heart of Europe with high ppm, Tellerhäuser also contains tin and zinc, and plans to create a processing plant in one of the large caverns within the mine itself, minimising environmental footprint and disruption to the local community. This presentation gave delegates a foretaste of the following day’s mine visit.
FAME Coordinator, Dr Chris Broadbent, Research Director of Wardell Armstrong International then passionately explained how FAME can contribute to the European production of minor metals. With centres of excellence diminishing, and a lack of education in mining, Chris Broadbent posed the question of where future skills will come from in Europe; not just mining skills, but smelting and processing, too. The industrial revolution was founded on the ability to produce steel and process material into metallic products. Smelting has completely gone, with nothing left to show that there used to be a world class facility, but those skills, engrained in generations, are rapidly lost and may soon be irretrievable.
This is where European funding (through Horizon 2020) can truly make a difference. Why did the EU want to put money into programmes such as FAME: to reinvigorate European mining and processing. FAME will be a success if it demonstrates an impact on GDP and jobs, regardless of whether it produces research – it is not an academic project; it is grounded in industry and the goal of making Europe a continent where things are made once more. It aims to raise public awareness, hopes to change attitudes within the public, and help maintain skills in Europe, which is almost completely dependent for raw materials.
The upstream session was concluded by an important presentation by Professor Markus Reuter, Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Resource Technology, Freiberg, arguing elegantly why smelter know-how is vital to Europe and in particular, how the circular economy is being jeopardised if pyro-metallurgical facilities and knowledge are lost in Europe. Using the example of Fairphone, the modular mobile phone maker, Professor Reuter demonstrated the importance of metallurgical knowledge to enable such an innovative approach to the circular economy. But whatever recycling model is adopted to recover valuable metals, whether modularity, dismantling or shredding and sorting, metallurgical knowledge is fundamental.
The afternoon proceedings focused on downstream integration with talks from Donna Vareha-Walsh, Director Metal Business Unit, Indium Corporation, offering an overview of how different market forces can impact supply and prices. Outlining the considerations at the heart of the trading function, from supplies of virgin material, recycling sources, political and economic influences, Donna Vareha-Walsh painted a complex picture and was able to reflect back to upstream players how their supply and pricing forecasts can be dramatically impacted.
Charles Swindon, MD RJH Trading Ltd examined the rising stars and ‘has beens’, concluding that in the right circumstances all current minor metals have the potential to become major metals, given their importance for our modern way of life and low carbon aspirations. Charles compared both China’s and India’s current trajectories to the European scramble into Africa in the 19th Century. China, he explained, needs to address the environment in order to maintain its economic growth, and will do what it needs to ensure its own security of supply, using its State Reserve Bureau to manage large stockpiles and control the supply of many minor metals. With the thirst for hi-tech goods showing no sign of slowing down, the future is bright for the minor metals, with obvious high flyers being the battery metals. Finally, closing the forum, Professor Pernicka gave his fascinating presentation “Milestones in Metallurgy – past, present and future”.
On the Friday, delegates made an underground visit to the Zinnkammern Visitor Mine, Pöhla to see at first hand Saxore’s Tellerhäuser Project and enjoy a miners’ lunch underground. However, for many the highlight was the opportunity to continue the discussions on Thursday evening aboard the 1892 Paddle Steamer, P.D. Krippen, where a delightful dinner and evening cruise along the River Elbe was enjoyed by the conference delegates.