London Metal Exchange and Fastmarkets to set lithium price benchmark

The London Metal Exchange (LME) is partnering with Fastmarkets to develop the reference price for its planned lithium futures contract, which will help analysts and executives to get a full sense of the global market for the key ingredient in the making of the batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs).

Unlike for copper or other metals used in the making of EVs, there currently is no traded price for lithium.

“In recent years there has been unprecedented price volatility in the lithium market, driven particularly by explosive electric vehicle (EV) battery demand,” the exchange said.

Unlike for copper or other metals used in the making of electric vehicles, there is no traded price for lithium.

The move, it added, comes after industry players, including producers, end-users and several leading automotive firms, urged the LME to develop effective lithium price-risk management tools.

“This global strategic partnership will develop a definitive roadmap aimed at providing a pricing mechanism for lithium that can be utilized throughout the supply chain and will support the development of risk-management tools for the industry,” Fastmarkets said in a separate statement.

Last year, the LME asked companies that assess prices of battery-grade lithium to submit proposals to supply a reference for cash-settled contracts it planned to launch  in the fourth quarter of this year.

Today, however, the exchange only said it would continue “to gauge appropriate timing” for a launch.

Currently, producers negotiate contracts with buyers, but the terms of the deals are not made public.

The LME, the world’s oldest and largest market for industrial metals, said it selected Fastmarkets because their prices were used widely across the industry.

The agency already provides the global benchmark for the cobalt market — another key battery raw material.

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DeepGreen closer to mining battery metals from the sea after $150m injection

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, a start-up planning to extract cobalt and other battery metals from small rocks covering the seafloor, has secured the bulk of the $150 million it needs to carry out its first feasibility studies.

The financing, provided by Switzerland-based offshore pipeline company Allseas Group, is a welcome sign of progress for the deep sea mining sector, which has been stalled due regulatory uncertainty and environmental concerns.

Unlike other seafloor mining companies, including pioneer Nautilus Minerals, the Vancouver-based explorer doesn’t want to drill, blast or dig the bottom of the ocean. DeepGreen’s main goal is to scoop up small metallic rocks located thousands of metres below the surface in the North Pacific Ocean.

Unlike other seafloor mining companies, the Canadian start-up doesn’t want to drill, blast or dig the bottom of the ocean, but to scoop up small rocks containing cobalt, nickel and other battery metals.

Its exploration focus is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a mineral-rich, 4,000-kilometre swath of the Pacific that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico, where billions of potato-sized metals-rich rocks lie in a shallow layer of mud on the seafloor.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey.

Companies exploring or already developing projects to mine the seafloor argue the extraction of those deep-buried riches could help diversify the sources currently supplying metals needed for electronics and evolving green technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and solar panels.

Academics and scientist, however, are concerned by the lack of research on the possible impacts of high seas mining. They fear the activity could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurized darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment.

Not enough studies

Last year, the European Parliament called for a ban on seabed mining until the environmental impacts and risks of disturbing unique deep-sea ecosystems are understood. In the resolution, it also urged the European Commission to persuade member states to stop sponsoring and subsidizing licenses to explore and exploit the seabed in international waters as well as within their own territories.

Shortly after, an international team of researchers published a set of criteria to help the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, protect biodiversity from deep-sea mining activities.

So far, it has granted 29 licences to governments and companies, authorizing them to explore in international waters.

Nautilus, however, is the only company that has gone beyond the exploration stage and has gotten close to open the first polymetallic seabed mine off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Its Solwara 1 project, however, has been slowed by funding issues and local opposition.

Anglo American (LON:AAL) sold its 4% stake in Nautilus a year ago, as part of efforts to retain only its most profitable assets. And, in March, it had to delist from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Epiroc rolls out 6th Sense for smarter mining

Epiroc presents 6th Sense, a new approach that combines digitalization and automation to boost customers’ performance.

There is a growing need for the mining and infrastructure industries to look to digital technologies to enhance productivity, sustainability and safety. 6th Sense is the Epiroc way to optimize customers’ processes by connecting machines, systems and people using automation, information management and system integration. With 6th Sense comes a great focus on system connectivity, using interoperability to unlock the full potential of automation for production gains at lower operating costs.

“6th Sense is a formula we have developed for getting the right solutions in place and achieving operational excellence in mining and infrastructure operations,” said Helena Hedblom, VP mining and infrastructure. “The name 6th Sense implies that the solution brings something extra and that is just what it does, providing a significant advantage such as track and respond to real-time working conditions and equipment needs.”

One example of Epiroc’s focus on automated and productivity enhancing solutions comes from the Hollinger mine in Timmins, Ontario. Together with partner Newmont Goldcorp, Epiroc has put the world’s first fully autonomous SmartROC D65 surface drill rig in production. The operator can be positioned remotely and perform other tasks while the drill rig completes a full drill pattern autonomously. Besides increased operator safety, this boosts productivity due to Global Navigation Satellite System accuracy, non-stop operations and less wear and tear on drilling tools, reducing production costs and improving reliability.

Another example is the new tele-remote e-tramming option for Epiroc’s popular range of Simba long hole underground drill rigs. The automation package includes functionalities to monitor, plan and automate drilling operations from onboard the rig or from a remote location. Not only is the tramming process faster and simpler, the e-tramming function also provides a safer work environment and reduces variability in performance.

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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Aramine says compact DM091HDE ideal for narrow veins

The miniDriller DM901HDE is the most compact drill rig for underground mines, according to its manufacturer, Aramine.

Completing the company’s equipment range for narrow vein mines, the DM901HDE has a diesel engine for tramming and an electric motor for drilling.

The DM901HDE has a low center of gravity which gives an optimal stability and despite its narrowness, its two front stabilizers offer perfect drilling conditions. Given its stability, this machine allows face and vertical drilling.

Aramine’s R&D department has selected from existing technologies to develop this fully autonomous drill rig. Drilling with the DM901HDE only requires a 400-V electric connection and a water supply.

The miniDriller is designed with modular elements so that it can be easily assembled and disassembled in a mine. Only 1,050 mm wide, 1,900 mm tall and 7900 mm long, it sneaks wherever Aramine’s L130 and L150 miniLoader go. Indeed, this new machine is ideal for sections between 6 and 12 m2.

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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Wenco moves into Brazil with TecWise partnership

Wenco International Mining Systems has created a new partnership with TecWise Sistemas de Automaçãon, a provider of technology and communications systems to the Latin American mining industry.

This new agreement makes TecWise the exclusive distributor of Wenco solutions in Brazil.

“We’re excited to enter the strategic Brazilian mine market in partnership with TecWise,” says Andrew Pyne, president and CEO of Wenco. “In line with our focus on growing our presence in Latin America, Brazil is a key strategic priority for Wenco, particularly as we collaborate with Hitachi Construction Machinery on their Solution Linkage for Mining platform."

“We have planned this collaborative entry into the Brazilian market for some time and we took our time to identify the right partner, which we found in TecWise. They will ensure our customers have knowledgeable, on-the-ground local support for Wenco solutions for the long haul.”

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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Danakali about to secure financing for potash project in Eritrea

Australia’s Danakali’s (ASX, LON:DNK) said Monday it was about to close debt financing agreements worth $200 million with two African financial institutions, which will allow it fund construction and growth of its flagship Colluli potash project in Eritrea.

The deals with African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) could be finalized “any day” and are expected to accelerate equity financing, executive chairman Seamus Cornelius said at Dakali’s Annual General Meeting.

Development of the 1.1 billion-tonnes potash project, a joint venture between the Australian miner and Eritrea’s state mining company, is expected to take 2 and a half years.

UN study says the Colluli potash project has the potential to significantly boost Eritrea’s economy and advance the country’s sustainable development agenda.

In the initial phase of operation, Colluli would produce more than 472,000 tonnes a year of sulphate of potash (SOP), a premium grade of fertilizer. Annual output could rise to almost 944,000 tonnes if Danakali decides to go ahead with a second phase of development, as the project has a possible 200-year plus mine-life.

Game changer

A United Nations report published in January suggested that Colluli could boost the economy of Eritrea, a country that until last year was on the UN’s sanctions list.

The independent study, commissioned and funded by the UN Development Program (UNDP), also said the project could “meaningfully” advance the north African nation’s sustainable development agenda.

The future looks rosy. Danakali already has an offtake agreement with EuroChem, one of the world’s top fertilizer companies, which has agreed to buy at least 87% of Colluli’s output for 10 years.

The project location has its pros and cons. On one hand, being so close to the Red Sea coast  by Eritrea's eastern border, makes it one of the world’s most accessible potash deposits. As mineralization begins at 16 metres, it is also the world’s shallowest. Additionally, its proximity to ports will provide easy access to Asian markets.

Colluli is also by the border with Ethiopia, with which Eritrea held one of Africa’s deadliest border wars. In June 2018, the ruling coalition of Ethiopia (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front), headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, agreed to fully implement the peace treaty signed with Eritrea in 2000, with peace declared by both parties in July last year.

Danakali’s potash project could be a game changer for Eritrea — UN

Colluli’s location. (Courtesy of Danakali.)

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Chile’s Codelco brushes off rumoured copper output drop

Chile’s Codelco, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, has dismissed reports of a predicted 40% drop in production over the next two years due to declining ore grades and the switch of its flagship Chuquicamata mine to underground from open pit.

Instead, the mining company says it’s following a detailed plan that will allow it to keep copper output at current levels of around 1.7 million tonnes a year over the next decade.

"Codelco's mine plan is based on existing mines and projects , which will progressively and systematically replace our current operations,” it said in a statement.

Media reports Thursday said production at Chuquicamata would drop to around 182,000 tonnes by 2021 from 459,000 tonnes this year.

State-owned miner says it’s following a detailed plan that will allow it to keep copper output at current levels of around 1.7 million tonnes a year over the next decade.

The fall would impact Codelco's total production by around 4%, the articles stated.

The state-owned copper miner said that since mining at the open-pit mine ends in 2020, which is when the underground section begins commercial operations, it will able to keep productive capacity unchanged.

The $5.6 billion-switch of Chuquicamata to underground cave mining from open pit, part of Codelco’s 10-year, $39 billion-overhaul of its core assets, is expected to extend the mine’s life by at least 40 years.

Annual production from “Chuqui” — as it’s often referred as — after it has fully transitioned to underground extraction is projected to be 320,000 tonnes of fine copper and 15,000 tonnes of molybdenum.

Codelco, which hands over all of its profits to the state, holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world's known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output with 1.8 million metric tonnes of production.

Chuquicamata and the nearby by Radomiro Tomic mines produced 653,000 tonnes of the company's total 1.8 million tonnes of output last year, which was almost 4% less than in 2017.

Production decline, together with lower copper prices and higher costs, saw the company's annual profits drop by a third last year to $2 billion, not counting paper losses worth almost $400 million, as it wrote down the value of its assets, including its Ventanas smelter and the open pit at its Salvador division.

Ugly trend

The world’s main copper producing nations have been showing output declines this year, according to the latest monthly bulletin from the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).

Global production declined 2.4% in February 2019, when compared to the same month last year, with 1,515kt (19,749ktpa) of contained copper produced globally.

Chile led the pack with output down 7.1 % y/y to 415.9kt (5,412ktpa) while Peru, the second main global producer, saw its output fall by 5.1% y/y to 176.1kt (2,296ktpa).

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Rio Tinto chooses Caterpillar for autonomous fleet at Koodaideri mine

A fleet of 20 autonomous Cat 793F trucks will soon be hauling ore at the Rio Tinto’s Koodaideri mine, currently under construction in the Pilbara region. They’ll be joined by four Cat autonomous drills, along with loaders, dozers, graders, water carts and shovels – making up Rio Tinto’s first Pilbara mine to be operated using mostly Caterpillar machinery.

The relationship with Caterpillar and regional Cat dealer WesTrac at Koodaideri will enhance Rio Tinto’s industry leading Mine of the Future program. All components of the mining value chain will be connected for the first time by making increased use of automation and digitization.

“Technology is rapidly changing our mining operations as we harness innovation to make our operations safer, smarter and more productive,” Rio Tinto iron ore CEO Chris Salisbury said. “This extension of our partnership with Caterpillar and WesTrac represents an exciting step for our business. We’re pleased to be partnering with Caterpillar and WesTrac to help make Koodaideri the most technology-enabled and innovative mine in our Pilbara iron ore network.”

The autonomous 793F trucks will be equipped with Command for hauling, an autonomous haulage solution that is part of the Cat MineStar suite of technology offerings for mining. Command has been proven in the Pilbara, with nearly 200 autonomous trucks in service and over 1.0 billion tonnes safely hauled. Mines have reported productivity increases over 30%.

Rio Tinto and Caterpillar have also agreed to study the potential for increased levels of automation of heavy mining equipment at the mine in the future.

Koodaideri has more than 70 innovations in scope including:

  • A digital replica of the processing plant, accessible in real time by workers in the field;
  • Fully integrated mine automation and simulation systems;
  • Advanced automation including an automated workshop; and
  • Numerous data analytics capabilities and control loops to optimize production and reduce downtime.

“The Caterpillar team is looking forward to working with Rio Tinto to apply our proven mining equipment and technology and to implement additional MineStar autonomy solutions at Koodaideri – a new mine designed to capitalize on leading edge technology,” said Denise Johnson, Caterpillar group president, resource industries. “We are excited to work together to advance Rio Tinto’s mine automation and digitalization program.”

The $2.6 billion mine will deliver a new production hub for Rio Tinto’s iron ore business in the Pilbara. Construction work has started, and first production is expected in late 2021. Construction features a processing plant and infrastructure including a 166-km rail line connected to the existing network. Once complete, the mine will have an annual capacity of 43 million tonnes, underpinning production of the Pilbara Blend, Rio Tinto’s flagship iron ore product. A pre-feasibility study into Koodaideri Phase 2, which could increase annual capacity to 70 million tonnes, is ongoing.

As mine construction advances, WesTrac will manage logistics of mining machine delivery and commissioning and will play a key role in implementing technology solutions. “WesTrac is excited to be part of the Koodaideri project and to work with Caterpillar to deliver ground-breaking equipment solutions to support Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future vision,” said Jarvas Croome, WesTrac CEO.

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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Sandvik creates first 3D printed diamond composite

Sandvik Additive Manufacturing has created the first ever 3D printed diamond composite. The stones lack sparkle, but are perfect for a wide range of industrial uses, says the company. The advantage is that the diamond can be 3D printed in very complex shapes, unlike mined or manufactured diamonds.

Sandvik says the difference between its diamond and natural or synthetic diamonds is that its process creates a composite. It is mostly diamond, but to make it printable and dense, it needs to be cemented in a very hard matrix material while keeping the most important physical properties of pure diamond. Once printed the composite diamond needs no further machining.

The diamond composite has been tested and found to have high hardness, exceptional heat conductivity, and corrosion resistance.

Another advantage is that material waste is minimized. The diamond powder in Sandvik’s process can be extracted from the polymer in the slurry after printing and then recycled for another print job.

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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