Australia to host battery research centre

Australia's Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, announced the approval of a Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre at Curtin University. Andrews also said her office will commit A$25 million in funding.

The centre, known by its initials CRC, is a national collaboration between 58 industry, government and research partners, together pitching in additional A$28 million. Companies such as Tianqi Lithium, BHP Nickel West, Cobalt Blue and Pilbara Metals are among the partners.

According to Curtin authorities, the goal is to address existing gaps in the country's capacity to respond to a predicted growth in the battery industry by creating opportunities in all the areas connected to the sector, from mining and processing to manufacturing and deployment in households, businesses, and communities.

Glencore’s Murrin Murrin nickel-cobalt mine in Western Australia. Photo by Glencore.

“The Future Battery Industries CRC will investigate opportunities for greater efficiencies in the extraction and refinement of battery minerals, including facilitating the steps beyond mining and concentrate production to cathode production and the manufacture and testing of battery components and systems," Future Chair Tim Shanahan said in a press release. "Given Australia’s abundant resources of battery minerals and world-class resources sector, the potential to promote the nation’s premium-quality, ethically sourced and safe battery minerals and metals through forensic-accredited and traceable sources will also be investigated, paving the way for Australia to position itself as a global leader in the international battery value chain."

Curtin data show that exports of lithium, just one of Australia’s energy materials, have risen from A$117 million in 2012 to A$780 million in 2017, and are expected to rise to A$1.1 billion by 2020.

Reacting to the announcement, the Minerals Council of Australia issued a statement saying the initiative is crucial for the country's future.

In the group's view, growing interest in renewable energy will continue to see higher demand for the minerals that are used in battery manufacturing and this places Australia in a privileged position given the country's vast deposits of lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements.

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Japan’s Mitsui injects $30m into Sigma’s lithium project in Brazil

Japan’s Mitsui & Co. will invest $30 million in Sigma Lithium Resources’ (TSX-V: SGMA)project in Brazil, as demand for the metal used in the batteries that power electric vehicles is set to continue growing, keeping the market tight.

The funds, together with a $40 million debt offering Mitsui granted Sigma, will allow the Canadian miner to begin building a processing plant at its Grota do Cirilo asset, a hard rock lithium project in the south-eastern Brazilian province of Minas Gerais.

Grota do Cirilo is expected to produce 240,000 tonnes of battery-grade spodumene concentrate per year, beginning in 2020.

The trading house is pre-paying Sigma $30 million for up to 55,000 annual tonnes of future battery-grade spodumene concentrate, over six years. The off-take deal can be extended for five years and gives the Japanese firm the right to buy a supplementary amount of 25,000 tonnes a year over 72 months, which can also be renewed for five years.

“We are very pleased to welcome Mitsui as our new strategic offtake and funding partner,” Sigma chairman and chief executive officer, Calvyn Gardner, said in the statement. “Both of our companies share the same vision regarding the growth in the battery metals value chain as well as commitment to supply the world with clean energy.”

Grota do Cirilo is expected to produce 240,000 tonnes of battery-grade spodumene concentrate per year, beginning in 2020. The output will be shipped to China, where it will be converted into lithium hydroxide, the type of lithium used by Tesla in its car batteries.

If Sigma goes ahead with an expansion project that would increase output to 440,000 tonnes a year, Mitsui could buy more material, but it’d have to provide extra funding.

That level of output would place Sigma among the largest lithium suppliers in the Americas.

Prices for the white battery metal have largely stabilized this year, following the extended slide seen in 20‌18. According to Roskill’s outlook released this week, prices have held up thanks to a mix of growing demand and disruptions that have impacted additional supply.

Shares in the company, which listed in Toronto a year ago, were up 2.5% on Friday at C$1.64. They had closed at C$1.60 on Thursday.

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American Manganese’s lithium-ion battery recycling technology granted patent

The United States Patent and Trade Mark Office issued today patent No. 10,246,343 for American Manganese’s (TSX.V: AMY) lithium-ion battery cathode material recycling technology.

In a press release, the Surrey, British Columbia-based company indicated that the granting of the patent constitutes a milestone as it provides legal protection of its flagship technology.

“It is extremely exciting to have the opportunity to potentially contribute to the sustainability of future global electrification,” – Norm Chow

“When developing this technology, we looked at current methods of recycling waste lithium-ion batteries and discovered high heat smelting to be the primary method,” said Norm Chow, inventor of AMY's technology, in the media brief. “Because active cathode materials are oxides, the first thing that came to mind was the comparison to steelmaking. Since smelting iron ore in steelmaking generates a considerable amount of CO2, we were compelled to develop an alternative process with a sustainable focus. During research development, we applied Near Net Shape manufacturing principles with the goal of efficiently recycling cathode material and generating products as close to the final form as possible, with minimum processing steps.”

In Chow’s view, the granting of the U.S. Patent confirms that his firm’s research is both novel and inventive.

Comparing traditional mining for lithium with the company’s technology, the executive highlighted major differences such as the fact that the extraction of all cathode metals is done from lithium-ion batteries as opposed to having to mine different ores and go through the processes of smelting and refining with solvent extraction and electrowinning, re-dissolving the metals with acid and crystallizing them to make metal sulfates. The new approach -he said- entails the precipitation of base metal oxides and lithium carbonate and its output is base metal oxides and lithium carbonate with a stoichiometric make-up of metals, ready for battery manufacturers to utilize.

“Instead of relying on acquiring and developing mines in high-risk jurisdictions to supply the growing demand for battery materials, AMY aims to have its patented urban mining technology provide a sustainable and geopolitically friendly supply of battery materials,” Chow suggested.

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Australia launches Critical Minerals Strategy 2019 focused on innovation and tech

The Federal Government of Australia launched today the Critical Minerals Strategy 2019 aimed at putting emphasis on what politicians call “the industries of the future.” In their view, these sectors include agritech, aerospace, defense, renewable energy and telecommunications.

“We have some of the world’s richest stocks of critical minerals and while the market for some of our minerals such as lithium is relatively mature, other minerals markets such as cobalt remain largely underdeveloped in Australia,” said the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham from Kemerton, the area where Albemarle’s lithium processing plant is being built.

In Birmingham’s view, Australia needs to work a little bit harder on attracting and locking-in domestic and overseas investment to get projects off the ground. “That’s why a key part of this strategy is about how industry and government agencies such as Austrade can work together to promote our potential to the world to attract more international investment, particularly in downstream projects and greenfield opportunities,” he said.

The Strategy reinforces the work of the A$100.5 million Exploring for the Future initiative, which is aimed at helping explorers target new mineralization by using high tech to observe the deepest roots of mineral systems all the way through to the surface.

The plan also supports the work of the MinEx Cooperative Research Centre, a 10-year research program whose goal is to develop and deploy the next generation of drilling technology and which will receive A$20 million in the coming years.

The 2019 action plan contemplates that the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction consumes all of its A$34.45 million in funding by 2021 as it works on developing energy-saving and resource-expanding technology that will allow lower-grade ores to be economically and eco-efficiently mined.

The Critical Minerals Strategy also backs the Major Projects Facilitation Agency, which provides a single entry point for major project proponents seeking tailored information and facilitation of their regulatory approval requirements.

For Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, government funding for innovation, skills and investment promotion is valuable, but she believes more needs be done. “Investment in the next wave of base metal and critical commodity mines and processing plants is not guaranteed, as Australia faces growing competition to attract international capital. The resources industry needs to convert this potential into lasting economic benefits,” she said in a media statement.

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Scientists find new way to power electric cars using cobalt

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell developed a technique that uses only water, carbon dioxide and cobalt metal particles that have surface nanostructures measuring billionths of a meter in size, to produce hydrogen on demand at relatively low temperature and pressure and to use to power the next generation of electric vehicles.

According to David K. Ryan, the project's principal investigator, hydrogen can be used in fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity at up to 85% efficiency.

“Other investigators have used all kinds of methods to produce hydrogen, such as electrolysis, natural gas reforming and even metals such as zinc, iron and nickel with acids, but not catalytically with cobalt," Ryan said in a media statement. "The carbonate is involved in the reaction but it doesn’t change or get consumed; it just helps facilitate the conversion of the cobalt metal to cobalt oxide, and this conversion produces the hydrogen and carbon dioxide.”

Chemistry Prof. David Ryan, right, and graduate student Ahmed Jawhari examine a prototype of their invention that produces hydrogen gas cleanly and efficiently. Photo by University of Massachusetts Lowell.

The scientist explained that the experimental setup consists of a stainless steel canister filled with cobalt. A carbonate solution made from carbon dioxide and water is pumped through the canister and then warmed up to about 150 degrees. The solution is also compressed to about three atmospheres, or 45 pounds per square inch, which is about the same pressure as in a car tire.

“Under these relatively low-temperature and modest-pressure conditions, we were able to produce hydrogen efficiently, to nearly 70%. Subsequent work has allowed us to produce hydrogen at greater than 95% purity,” Ryan said.

The researcher explained that in an electric car, the hydrogen from the canister can go directly to the fuel cell, where it is mixed with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce electricity and water. The water can then be looped back into the canister and mixed with the carbonate to form the catalytic solution. The electricity produced by the fuel cell can be used to power the canister’s pump, heater and compressor, as well as the car’s electric motors, rechargeable storage battery and headlights.

“This process doesn’t store any hydrogen gas, so it’s safe and poses no storage or transportation issues. Once you stop the flow of the carbonate solution or release pressure in the reaction chamber, the hydrogen production stops, so hydrogen is produced only as needed,” Ryan said.

The experts suggested that once the cobalt metal in the canister is used up – that is, converted to cobalt oxide – the car driver can swap out the canister with a new one every 300 to 400 miles. The cobalt in the old canister can then be regenerated, using a renewable energy source such as wind or solar.

“So instead of going to a gas station to get a fill-up, you can go to a ‘refueling’ station and get a new canister. You can also bring extras for long trips,” Ryan said.

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Delrey to acquire vanadium property in Newfoundland

Delrey Metals (CSE:DLRY) signed this week a non-binding term sheet with respect to the right and option to acquire an 80% interest to certain mineral licences that comprise the Four Corners project in western Newfoundland, Canada.

"The project shows strong drill defined vanadium mineralization at the Keating Hill Zone, with a potential strike length in excess of 4.5 kilometers"

In a press release, the Vancouver-based miner said the negotiation is being carried out with Four Corners Mining Corporation/Triple Nine Resources. There are also discussions about the possibility to establish a joint venture.

In order to move forward with the deal, Delrey has agreed to pay the optionor an aggregate cash payment of $450,000, issue an aggregate of 12,000,000 common shares in the capital of the company, and incur an aggregate of $5,000,000 in exploration expenditures.

Four Corners is a 5,157-hectare property located 25 kilometres east of the town of Stephenville. The area is host to vanadium enriched titaniferous magnetite mineralization which, according to its current owners, shows encouraging historical evidence for significant and consistent vanadium accumulations.

Close up view of massive magnetite containing high vanadium and titanium. Photo by Four Corners Mining Corporation/Triple Nine Resources.

The companies involved in the project say independent interpretation and modeling by SJ Geophysics demonstrates that five target zones could potentially host in excess of 10 billion tonnes of mineralized rock.

“This latest acquisition provides further exposure for Delrey and its shareholders within the battery metals sector, which are driving the global change in energy storage," Morgan Good, President and CEO of Delrey said in the media brief. "Vanadium has historically been used mainly in the steel industry, but more recently demand from redox flow battery development has quickly expanded the requirements globally. Vanadium redox batteries are rapidly being established as the method of choice for large scale, long term, wind and solar produced energy storage where space is abundant.”

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Bacanora Lithium extends footprint in Germany with new licence

Exploration and development company Bacanora Lithium (LON:BCN) is expanding its footprint in Germany after securing this week another five-year exploration licence in the Erzgebirge (meaning Ore Mountain) region of Saxony, Germany.

The company’s 50%-owned subsidiary Deutsche Lithium will conduct exploration on the Altenberg Licence, which covers around 42 square km.

The new licence completely encloses Bacanora’s Zinnwald lithium proposed mine, and the company believes that the new acreage could significantly add to life-of-mine of the project.

Altenberg is part of the same geological formation Zinnwald, an area that was explored and mined historically for tin, tungsten and lithium.

Bacanora is once again talking to potential investors for its project in Mexico, which would be the country’s first lithium mine.

The miner, best-known for the Sonora lithium project in Mexico, is currently working on the feasibility study for Zinnwald, which is expected to be completed in the second quarter of the year. Bacanora is evaluating the production of higher value downstream lithium products for the European automotive and battery sectors.

The company has been talking to financial advisors and potential strategic partners about potentially spinning off Deutsche Lithium and listing it separately to help fund the construction of  Zinnwald.

Growing its German asset is just one of Bacanora’s latest milestones in the past two years. In 2015, the firm and its joint-venture partner Rare Earth Minerals (LON:REM) signed a conditional agreement with Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) to supply the electric cars and energy storage products company with lithium hydroxide from the Sonora project.

In May 2017, the company secured an $11 million investment from Blackrock. Earlier in the year, it inked a long-term supply deal with Japan’s Hanwa Corporation, which will see the Tokyo-based trader acquire up to 100% of the output coming from Sonora. And in November, it secured access and surface rights for the touted Mexican project.

The company, however, is yet to secure financing to begin construction at Sonora, which is expected to produce 35,000 tonnes of the coveted commodity per year. The plan is commissioning an initial 17,500- tonnes lithium carbonate operation and starting production in the second half of 2021.

The operation will process lithium clay, which is softer and cheaper to treat than the hard rock typically mined in Australia and China.

The market seems to have renewed confidence. Though Bacanora’s shares are down more than 70% since they started trading about a year ago, at a time when lithium prices were close to historic-high levels, the company's stock jumped 47% last week, after announcing it was in discussions with potential investors.

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Chinese electric vehicle makers are gorging on nickel

Battery metals tracker Adamas Intelligence says Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers deployed 253% more nickel in passenger EV batteries in January this year compared to 2018.

The Dutch-Canadian research company which tracks EV registrations and battery chemistries in more than 80 countries says the jump is due to an ongoing shift from lithium iron phosphate (LFP) to nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) cathodes.

The average EV registered in China in January 2019 contained nearly double the mass of battery metals/materials as the year prior

First generation NCM batteries contained around a third cobalt with a chemical composition of 111 – 1 part nickel, 1 part cobalt and 1 part manganese, but NCM batteries with higher nickel content (622 and 523 chemistries) have become standard in China.

According to Adamas is now the the largest market for passenger EV battery nickel, ahead of Japan and the US, which were the two largest markets in January 2018. Nickel used in car batteries jumped 88% in Germany and 54% in the US year on year.

The EV boom is China is only accelerating and Adamas says despite being a seasonally-slow month in January 2019, 3.27 GWh of passenger EV battery capacity was deployed in the world's largest car market, an increase of 439% over January 2018 levels:

Even more remarkable, from January 2018 through January 2019, the sales-weighted average passenger EV battery capacity in China increased by a staggering 95%, from 14.9 kWh to 29.1 kWh, meaning that the average EV registered in China in January 2019 contained nearly double the mass of battery metals/materials as the year prior.

The price of nickel is up more than 20% in 2019 as stocks held in warehouses around the world registered with the London Metal Exchange fall to multi-year lows.

Continue reading at Adamas Intelligence.

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Amnesty accuses electric vehicles makers of using unethically sourced minerals

Amnesty accuses electric vehicles makers of using unethically sourced minerals

Up to 20% of the DRC’s cobalt is mined by hand, often by children with picks and shovel. (Image: Screenshot from Congo Cobalt Mines
Video | YouTube.
)

Human rights advocate Amnesty International has accused the electric vehicle (EV) industry of selling itself as environmentally friendly while most of the batteries they produce use polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.

In a report published on Thursday, the rights group says manufacturing batteries can be carbon intensive, while the extraction of minerals used in them has been linked to human rights violations such as child labour.

Amnesty has outlined a vision for battery production that can result in ethical and sustainably produced batteries within five years. That process involves extraction, ethical manufacturing, reuse and recovery of batteries, and a prohibition on deep-sea mining.

The group called on companies to publicly disclose information about how human rights abuses and environmental risks are being prevented, identified and addressed throughout the lithium-ion battery’s life cycle.

Group argues that unregulated industry practices for the extraction of minerals used in lithium-ion batteries have led to human rights abuses and environmental damage.

Some leading companies — including Apple, BMW, Daimler, Renault, and battery maker Samsung SDI — have already published supply chain data. Amnesty wants others to do the same.

“The massive global corporations that dominate the electric vehicle industry have the resources and expertise to create energy solutions that are truly clean and fair,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said in a statement.

“With demand for batteries soaring, now is the time for a drastic overhaul of our energy sources that prioritizes protection of human rights and the environment,” Naidoo said.

Automakers are investing billions of dollars to ramp up EVs production. German giant Volkswagen, for one, is spending $50 billion to refocus the company on the making of EVs, autonomous vehicles and new mobility services.

The Wolfsburg-based manufacturer plans to raise annual production of EVs to 3 million by 2025, from 40,000 in 2018.

Eyes on the DRC

Market estimates see demand for cobalt, a key battery metal, reaching 200,0000 tonnes per year by 2020. The problem, says Amnesty, is that no country legally requires companies to publicly report on their cobalt supply chains.

Amnesty accuses electric vehicles makers of using unethically sourced minerals

Courtesy of CRU Group.

More transparency could help improve working conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which generates more than 60% of the world’s cobalt.

Much of the country’s production is sent to China to be processed by multiple companies before it is used in batteries. In addition, up to 20% of the DRC’s cobalt is mined by hand, often by children with picks and shovels, as a previous Amnesty International investigation showed.

That research linked those mines to the supply chains of many of the world’s leading electronics brands and electric vehicle companies.

Amnesty said it is collaborating with Greenpeace to identify and map human rights and environmental impacts of EV battery production.

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Nickel demand growing thanks to EV boom: Western Areas

One of Australia’s largest high-grade nickel producers, Western Areas (ASX: WSA), reported a significant increase in inbound off-take inquiries for nickel sulphide concentrate post current contract periods.

According to the company’s Managing Director, Dan Lougher, this new trend is primarily linked to the accelerating electric vehicle battery sector.

Addressing the second day of the Paydirt 2019 Battery Minerals Conference in Perth, Lougher said some of the new inquiry was driven in part by the company’s second largest offtake partner, China’s largest stainless steel producer, Tsingshan.

“Players looking to lock in new long-term contracts will be doing so at a time technological changes in the battery space are favouring the new NCM 811 classification (Nickel, Cobalt, Manganese) which research indicates will be the fastest growing battery combination by 2025,” Lougher said. “These battery cells offer better energy density, allowing fewer and/or lower weight batteries in cars – but they will require even more nickel.”

Nickel. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The executive noted that the need for nickel is starting to rise at a time when its price is too low to incentivize new project development, something that can take up to three years. In his view, this means that supply markets are likely to diverge and split between stainless steel, a sector that consumes 72% of world nickel production, and EV demand, which currently accounts for 4% of total global nickel consumption but has been growing by 30-40% a year.

“In addition, nickel supply pressure is being exacerbated by non-ferrous alloys which command 10% of total global markets but are booming due to strong growth in aerospace industries and a recovery in oil and gas investment internationally,” Western Areas Managing Director said.

According to Lougher, all these demand pressures should call for higher nickel prices. He said one particular force pushing for a higher price tag is the fact that the chemistry for lithium-ion batteries favours nickel sulphide styles but very little of the known nickel sulphide ore bodies worldwide are left to be developed.

“This lack of these ore bodies was already an issue for the nickel industry so if EVs are to become a reality in day-to-day motoring, then higher nickel prices will be required. The new demand nickel units will have to be sourced increasingly from nickel laterites which are victim to higher processing costs,” he said.

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