Articles in Category: Environment

The United Nations Environmental Program predicted that between 2007 and 2020, the amount of e-waste exported to India will jump by as much as 500%, and between 200% and 400% in South Africa and China.

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E-waste is an informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life.” Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are common e-waste products. Processing and recycling them is proving to be a major challenge for Indian authorities. To add to the export of e-waste, recent studies have revealed that about 1.8 million metric tons of e-waste are being generated within India, itself, annually. That figure is likely to climb to 5.2 mmt by 2020 at the predicted annual compounded rate of 30%. But only about 2.5% of this e-waste gets recycled, experts say.

E-waste figured in a major way on the agenda of a huge convention on non-ferrous minerals and metals in India’s steel city of Jamshedpur, last week. The delegates deliberated the challenges posed by the non-ferrous industry including the generation of e-waste. Read more

The U.K. is far from alone in recognizing that in order to achieve any meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, nations have to embrace renewable energy and nuclear power. For those energy generation technologies without obvious natural benefits, like hydro-electric power, it isn’t a case of one technology or the other.

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Both renewable and nuclear energy require essentially subsidized energy tariffs to make them viable. In the case of renewables it is feed-in rates and the provision of back-up power for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine that add to the carbon footprint. Britain’s proposed Hinckley Point nuclear project has an index-linked, guaranteed feed-in tariff at $121.54 per megawatt/hour (£92.50 MWh) for 35 years in order to make the $21.02 billion (£16 billion) project for two reactors with a combined output of 3.26 gigawatts viable. Compare that to recent auctions for solar projects which went at around $104.10/MWh (£79.23/MWh) and that number gets close to the price of natural gas before back-up power is factored in.

Carbon Emissions Flourish Elsewhere

Of course, many countries in the world are doing no more than paying lip service to reducing carbon emissions. India, for example, has its sights set on bringing onstream as much new generating capacity as possible to meet rising population and industrial demand. As anyone who has spent time in the sub-continent will know, reliable electricity supply is a still a luxury for many of the massive country’s regions.

Nuclear may be thought of as yesterday's technology, but its emission-less power generation makes it attractive. Source: Adobe Stock/mandritoiou.

Nuclear may be thought of as yesterday’s technology, but its emission-less power generation makes it attractive. Source: Adobe Stock/mandritoiou.

A 1.3 billion and rising population lives there so it should come as no surprise that — although new solar and wind is being added at breakneck speed including some 36 gw of renewables or 15% of its demand, not shabby by any means — India is planning to add another 69 gw of coal-fired power generation as well. New capacity will be progressively better technology, but much of the existing coal infrastructure is of low efficiency and, therefore, particularly polluting for every KWh produced. Where Japan manages efficiency levels around 40%, the U.S. is said to be around 35%, but India struggles to meet just 25%. Read more

In its future energy scenarios report, the U.K.’s network operator, the National Grid, said even its most optimistic scenario suggests it will miss the European Union’s15% energy consumption from renewable sources 2020 climate target for member-states by at least two years.

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“While we believe the electricity sector can achieve its contribution to the 2020 renewable target, we believe the progress required in the heat and transport sector is beyond what can be achieved on time. As a result, none of our scenarios achieve the 15% level by the 2020 date. Our (most optimistic) Gone Green scenario is the earliest to reach this, meeting the target by 2022,” the report stated.

Renewables_Chart_July-2016_FNL

Our Renewables MMI fell 2% to 53 this month as it still traded in the narrow range it has fluctuated in for much of the year, but the U.K.’s situation mirrors that of many industrialized nations and shows just how difficult it has been to reliably grow renewable energy markets without burning coal or natural gas as backups. Despite the best of intentions, the U.K. simply cannot make its 15% energy reduction targets and the Leave campaign took full advantage of that fact last month when it promised citizens that it would get an independent U.K. out of such deals. But can it? Really?

Can the UK Escape EU Climate Deals By Leaving?

Withdrawing from the E.U. will certainly give the U.K. an easier route on heat and transportation policies in the short-term. The island nation will no longer be obligated to hit the 15% reduction target for 2020 whether it actually leaves two years from now or later.

But when it comes to renewable electricity, long lead-times to build new wind and solar farms (particularly wind in the U.K.) mean most of the projects needed to hit the E.U.’s 30% reduction goal for 2030 have already been granted planning permits and government money has been spent on their contracts. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle for almost all of the U.K.’s 2020 goals and even for some of its 2030 goals. It’s going to be really hard to put that genie, economically, back in the bottle.

The U.K.’s Own Goals Are More Ambitious in the Long Term

There’s also the fact the U.K.’s own unilateral Climate Change Act actually imposes even tougher requirements for cutting carbon emissions. Under the Act, the U.K. must cut its carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050. Again, whoever is Prime Minister and in charge of the National Grid can push the 15% 2020 goal and even the 30% 2030 goal set by the E.U. further off, but that 80% 2050 goal will only hang more ominously over the U.K. like a figurative sword of Damocles if politicians decide to do that.

The 2008 Climate Change Act also requires the government to set legally binding “carbon budgets,” which have already been set up. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.K. over a five-year period. The committee provides advice on the appropriate level of each carbon budget. The budgets are designed to reflect a cost-effective path to achieving the long-term objective of an 80% reduction by 2050. The first four carbon budgets have already been put into legislation and run through 2027.

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The early implementation of regulations makes it even more difficult for any future government to get out from under the U.K.’s own 2050 targets as utilities, local governments and the federal bureaucracy has already appropriated money to achieve its short-term goals. So, the possibility of a repeal of the 2008 Climate Change Act is highly unlikely, as well, although some are vocally advocating it just as they did Brexit when that idea was called “bonkers” and we all know how that turned out.

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A recent article in Engineering News-Record, examined new trends in building materials. One of them was new uses for cross-laminated timber combined with metals.

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“For us, right now, the real exciting stuff is in the mixing of materials,” Charlie Carter, American Institute of Steel Construction vice president and chief structural engineer, told ENR. “Steel has always done that, of course. A big innovation in mixing materials that I see coming is the wood industry pushing cross-laminated timber.”

Steel Moment Resisting Frame with CLT infill wall. Illustration courtesy of Earthquake Spectra.

Steel Moment Resisting Frame with CLT infill wall. Illustration courtesy of Earthquake Spectra.

Putting wooden CLT panels into a steel moment resisting frame, then putting them both on a concrete topping, is becoming  very competitive with a typical flat-plate concrete standard floor, according to ENR.

The hybrid system combines ductile behavior of the steel moment frame with lighter and stiffer CLT panels. Like many recent innovations in building materials, hybrid  CLT/SMRF systems were driven by green building codes.

In major Canadian cities, to meet urban housing demand using renewable materials, tall wood-based buildings are increasingly considered. In 2009, the British Columbia Building Code was amended to increase light wood-frame buildings heights from four to six stories.

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This article in the journal Earthquake Spectra further explains how the CLT/SMRF system can satisfy the seismic compliance requirements of building codes while still qualifying as a sustainable building material.

Our coverage was dominated this week by the implications of the U.K.’s vote to leave, or Brexit, the European Union.

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So many questions still need answers, despite metals markets essentially calming down as the week went on. What will any future deal with the E.U. look like? What does this mean for metals markets? Can Tata Steel sell its U.K. assets without a pension bailout that was being discussed before the vote? Is China taking advantage of the situation by devaluing the yuan again while nobody’s looking? Will U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage get through his gloating speech to the European Parliament without being booed and hissed out of Brussels?

We told you it could happen. Source: Adobe Stock/Stephen Finn.

We told you it could happen. Source: Adobe Stock/Stephen Finn.

Actually, we know the answer to that one, he got through it with some help from European Parliament President Martin Schulz asking for order, but not before he blamed his fellow ministers of parliament for “exporting poverty to the Mediterranean” and “bringing the Lisbon Treaty in through the back door.”

To try to answer all of these questions, as best we can, we’re holding a webinar on July 13th with MetalMiner Co-Founders Lisa Reisman and Stuart Burns. They’ll discuss all of the issues for metals, North American manufacturing and trade that Brexit presents.

Non-Brexit News

Alcoa LogoAlcoa, Inc. settled on Arconic, a truly Tronc-worthy new name for its value-added automotive and aerospace business.

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Alcoa, Inc. — whose spin-off will now be Alcoa, Corp. — revealed the new name in a securities filing and did not even have the decency to apologize and say “sorry guys, Google was already taken.”

Indonesia’s Dirty Coal Mines

Indonesia’s tropical coal mining sector is winding down production due to low global prices and poor production, but the island nation might be sitting on an environmental time bomb as few of the country’s mining companies have the resources to properly clean up the sites before they pull out. Almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape. Nothing to snark at here.

A federal judge has ruled the federal government cannot set rules for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public lands and, no matter what the U.K. decides in its EU Brexit vote, gold’s bull run is likely over.

Judge Tells Interior Dept. it Can’t Set Fracking Rules

A federal judge in Wyoming made permanent a temporary block of an Interior Department rule setting stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, a blow to President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda in the sunset of his administration.

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U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl issued a ruling late Tuesday invalidating the regulation, saying the Interior Department lacked the authority to issue it. The same judge last year issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rule until he made a final decision.

The rule, issued by department’s Bureau of Land Management in March 2015, applies to oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which produce 11% of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. and 5% of the oil, according to government data. The government can appeal the ruling.

Brexit Vote Likely to End Gold’s Run

No matter if the U.K. votes to stay in the European Union or leave, Gold’s sharp gains on uncertainty over its membership are likely to come to an end after Thursday’s referendum.

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Prices hit their highest since August 2014 last week as the $5-trillion a year gold market rose with other “safe” assets, such as German bunds, the Swiss franc and Japan’s yen.

Brazilian mining company Vale SA will not financially support Samarco, a joint venture with BHP Billiton, if the company is not able to resume operations, Vale’s head of investor relations said on Thursday.

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Rogerio Nogueira told analysts at an event in Sao Paulo that he did not believe Samarco would need financial support, but that in the event its mine was unable to get permission to restart — there was a major disaster at the dam last year when a tailings dam failed last year —  Vale would not fund Samarco. The joint venture’s iron ore mine closed in November.

Vale received a favorable decision this week when a Brazilian judge ruled it would not have to defend itself against a $5.7 billion civil suit in the matter.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has officially started an inquiry into the hacking and theft of trade secrets from U.S. Steel Corp., allegedly by Chinese hackers. China’s largest steel-producing province has ordered production cuts due to air pollution.

ITC Launches Hacking Probe

U.S. regulators on Thursday officially launched an investigation into complaints by United States Steel Corp. that Chinese competitors stole its secrets and fixed prices, in the latest trade spat between the two countries. The International Trade Commission said in a statement that it has not made any decisions on the merits of the case.

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The commission identified 40 Chinese steel makers and distribution subsidiaries as respondents, including Baosteel Group, Hebei Iron and Steel Group, Wuhan Iron and Steel Co Ltd., Maanshan Iron and Steel Group, Anshan Iron and Steel Group and Jiangsu Shagang Group.

U.S. Steel has accused Chinese hackers of stealing proprietary data to manufacture and sell dual-phase 980, a high-strength automotive steel alloy.

Tangshan Orders Steel Cuts

China’s top steelmaking city of Tangshan has ordered mills in and near the area to cut production for five days from Friday to ease air pollution, according to a notice from the local government.

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It was not clear how much capacity is affected but Tangshan is the biggest city in Hebei province, which accounts for more than 20% of China’s steel output.

In a blatant case of posturing ahead of inevitable compensation negotiations, lawyers —acting on behalf of Brazil’s public prosecutors — are said to have lodged claims totaling $44 billion ($155 billion Brazilian Reais) against mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton for the collapse of a dam at their Samarco joint venture last year.

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Needless to say, shares in both companies promptly tanked about 6% even though the prosecutor’s office has a habit of claiming big and settling small. As a measure of just how absurd the figure is, the Financial Times states the 155 billion Reais claim is equivalent to twice Vale’s market value and, if enforced, would bankrupt the company leaving no one to clear up the environmental mess. You can bet the funds would disappear into government coffers, not for the clean-up.

Demands as Negotiation Starting Points

By comparison, the FT reports UBS analysts and others who pointed to the 2011 oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro — that prompted prosecutors to claim $11 billion in damages from Chevron and its drilling partner Transocean — was eventually settled for only $42 million.

Indeed, if Brazil was to genuinely pursue the claim through to its logical settlement it would end up shooting itself in the foot. Samarco is a 50/50 joint venture and so would be the settlement costs but, where Vale is a wholly Brazilian company with 154,000 employees in the country, BHP is listed in London and Sydney with comparatively little else at risk in Brazil.

BHP has already written down its Brazilian asset from $1.2 billion to zero, meaning if it walked away it would lose nothing more, according to Reuters.

Samarco Disaster vs. BP Oil Spill

There is no disputing the dam burst was a disaster and there is widespread belief it could have been avoided. The torrent not only killed 19 people but also obliterated Bento Rodrigues, a town of 800, inundated another larger town with mud, and polluted almost 1,000 km (600 miles) of the Rio Doce.

According to Reuters, the disaster killed fish, contaminated water used for agriculture, and left at least 250,000 people without running water for weeks. It was always going to be expensive but BHP and Vale had already agreed to pay a government-estimated $5.6 billion (R20 billion Reais) over 15 years to cover and repair damages and the firms had thought that was an end to the claims process.

Comparisons have been made with claims against BP over their gulf oil spill naturally enough, but in reality there is little to link them. U.S. prosecutors had BP over a metaphorical barrel with its extensive investments in the U.S. market and could take them to the cleaners with impunity. Arguably, they would not have done the same to a U.S. company.

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Brazil would lose more in the long run doing the same to Vale than they would in ensuring the firm survives and, effectively, clears up the mess. So, while I don’t knowingly hold shares in either company I would be more likely to sell them over anxiety about the firm’s medium-term future in an oversupplied market than the damage overzealous prosecutors are likely to do their profits.

The broad commodities rally even helped our normally moribund Renewables MMI increase at least a little (2%) this month.

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The sub-index is still range-bound but it’s in the upper portion of the range we’ve seen it inhabit for the last year.

Renewables_Chart_May-2016_FNL

The steel plate products in the IndX were mainly responsible for the increase. Magnetic rare earth electric motor metal neodymium and silicon actually saw their prices decrease this month.

Rather than bore you with my regular disclaimer on how difficult it is to gauge what exactly is going on at the U.S. consumer level with renewables, due to rebates and subsidies, let’s talk about recent initiatives that could move the needle on solar.

The Department of Energy recently announced $25 million in available funding through an effort called Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE) to help software developers, solar companies, and utilities accelerate the integration of solar energy into the grid.

How to Capture Solar Power?

It’s been a long-term gripe from many in the power generation business that solar, at least here in the U.S., has been great for homeowners and businesses using crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels to feed energy directly into their appliances, laptops, lights and TVs, but much more difficult to transfer it back into the nation’s grid.

$25 million might seem like a lot, but it’s actually a rather small sum considering how long this problem has confounded some of the greatest engineering minds out there.

The initiative specifically seeks to develop software and hardware platforms for utility distribution system planning and operations that integrate sensing, communication, and data analytics to help utilities manage solar and other distributed energy resources on the grid. Its products will, supposedly, be data-driven, easily scaled-up from prototypes, and capable of real-time monitoring and control.

We’ve been promised similar systems in the past so we’re not holding our breath or anything. Still, the expected 10-15 solutions developed with the new funding will be field-tested by utilities to demonstrate their performance and value in real-world operating environments so there’s some rigor to the program.

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As always, we’ll monitor what comes out of this program and how the solutions could impact metals markets for products such as steel plate and silicon.

What This Means for Metal Buyers

While the broad rally has visited steel, the Renewables MMI is still rangebound.

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