Articles in Category: Environment

The terrible Samarco mining disaster was caused, according to owners BHP Billiton and Vale SA, by design flaws in the dam that burst and Chinese steel mills may have more customer demand after the G20 summit ends.

Samarco Disaster Caused by Design Flaws

The deadly collapse of a tailings dam last November at the Samarco mine, owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton, was caused by drainage and design flaws, a report into Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster showed on Monday.

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The 76-page report commissioned by the companies responsible for the spill, which killed 19 people, attributed the dam burst to a chain of events dating back to 2009, but did not assign blame or highlight specific errors in corporate or regulatory practice.

Chinese Steel Mills Could Get Unexpected G20 Boost

When Beijing ordered hundreds of industrial plants to close ahead of China’s first-ever G20 summit next week, the government wanted to spruce up the host city of Hangzhou and ensure world leaders would gather under clear blue skies.

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In doing so, China’s leaders may have given the nation’s stricken steel mills an inadvertent leg-up, helping to restore profitability after a years-long downturn caused by weak prices as a global glut swelled and local demand slowed. Some Chinese steel plants are turning in the best margins in at least three years.

Renewable energy technology has been split into two camps since it became a reality around the turn of the century.

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On the one hand there are the passionate environmental believers for whom the inflated subsidies were an irrelevance in the face of saving our planet, and on the other were naysayers for whom the arguments about global warming were a plot by the far left to raise taxes or run some kind of tree-hugging environmental agenda at the expense of business and consumers.

Neither polarized position was fair, of course, and the quiet majority in the middle have watched the technologies become progressively more efficient and costs fall dramatically while the extremes of global warming horror stories have been discredited, but the hard science of gradually rising carbon levels has been widely accepted.

Who Cares Why The Temperature is Rising?

In the process, a wider acceptance has gained ground that global temperatures really are rising and whether it is part of a natural cycle or man-made is not a risk we can afford to take. Ultimately, action to reduce carbon emissions will be cheaper than many possible downside scenarios if left unchecked and most people would accept we are making a mess of our environment and really should behave more responsibly.

Meanwhile, politicians have been plowing our taxpayer money into supporting wind, solar and a number of other “renewable” technologies, with some degree of success. Costs for the major energy sources — solar and wind — have fallen, partly as a result of technology improvements and partly due to economies of scale, to the point now where private firms are signing up to invest in major wind projects for a tariff of just $100 per MegWatt/Hour (€90 per mw/h). Indeed, in Europe all the extra power capacity added since the mid ’90s has been renewable.

Source: Telegraph Newspaper

Source: Telegraph Newspaper

The biggest hurdle renewables now have to overcome is not the cost of production, but the curse of intermittency. Where does the power come from when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine? Read more

A new space has opened up for India’s scrap metal recycling business. The government has given its go-ahead to a “state-of-the-art” auto shredding and recycling plant, which has been in the pipeline for about a year.

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The automotive scrap shredder/recycler is the result of an agreement signed with the state-run metal scrap trading firm MSTC (formerly Metal Scrap Trade Corporation) and Mahindra Intertrade, a part of the diversified $17.8 billion Mahindra Group. Mahindra, incidentally, is a well-known auto major in India, too.

Potentially Huge Market

India’s scrap market is estimated to be in the range of about $1.8 billion, and most of the scrap required by the country, about 5-6 million metric tons, is imported.

Scrap Recycling Yard

India will soon receive its first state-of-the-art automotive recycling yard. Source: Adobe Stock/Robert Hainer.

In a thriving auto market, such as India’s, there’s no formal disposal method for end of life vehicles right now, thus the new joint venture has a ready-made market. The JV will start off with a single unit, but will soon expand across India. The idea is to save India precious foreign exchange rupees, in addition to creating jobs. Every ton of new steel manufactured from scrap will help save iron ore, coal, electricity and limestone from being produced. Read more

The decision to set up a modern, state-of-the-art auto shredding/recycling plant in India could not have come at a more opportune time. Many Indian provinces, led by New Delhi, are starting to come around to the view that older vehicles, especially those running on diesel, need to be banned.

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Older cars pollute more than the ones that adhere to the India’s latest “Bharat Stage” (pollution control) norms. The Mahindra/MSTC joint-venture is also planned to be able to scrap ships and machines.

India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently asked the New Delhi local government to deregister diesel cars 10 years or older. That’s a large chunk of the approx. 8.5 million cars registered in New Delhi, which would end up being either sold outside New Delhi or totally scrapped.

The number of cars sold in India was expected to grow from 2.2 million vehicles back in 2010 to 10.6 million units by 2020. At present, about 28 million vehicles are said to be over 15 years old and ready for the scrap heap.

India’s Cash for Clunkers

The Indian Government was actively contemplating better policies in the organized and mandatory vehicle recycling business when this project came along. India had the potential to become one of largest car recycling regions, according to SteelMint Events, and the rise of recycling-friendly legislation was one of the topics to be discussed at the Scrap Recycling – Emerging Markets conference to be held in September in New Delhi.

The vehicle scrapping policy is formalized in legislation as the Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Modernization Plan (V-VMP). The bill is currently in its draft stage but, when passed, it would apply to all vehicles, regardless of engine type, bought on or before March 31, 2005. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) submitted the draft policy to the Ministry of Finance for approval. The government also recently proposed offering consumers an incentive of $375 for any passenger car handed in for scrapping to boost recycling rates.

When the policy is implemented, analysts predict about 28 million older, polluting vehicles will be taken off the roads. So, while automakers moan the NGT’s order on diesel cars in the short term, in the long-term, companies such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. are very happy that the policy means sales of more cars.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. is India’s largest car maker. It believes the local car market will reach 5 million units in annual sales by 2020, making the country the fourth-largest market in the world, if the V-VMP is passed.

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The automaker’s forecast is in line with the central government’s Auto Mission Plan II that forecasts the passenger vehicle (PV) market to more than triple to 9.4 million units by 2026 from 2.8 million now if the economy grows at an average rate of 5.8% a year. If the economy grows at an average yearly pace of 7.5%, the size of the passenger vehicle market is forecast to rise to 13.4 million units, making it the world’s second-largest after China.

Olympics organizers on Monday rushed to fix bad wiring, broken plumbing and other problems in the athletes’ village in Rio de Janeiro after several foreign teams complained that accommodations were dirty and in disrepair less than two weeks before the start of the Games.

Entirely Expected

Here at MetalMiner, we often write about the quirks of Olympic construction and the graft, price inflation and other things that come along with them. We also document how major steelmakers often set up new operations just to provide products for events such as World Cups and Olympics. Brazil is definitely the rule and not the exception.

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We even scraped together a World Cup of industrial metals to see which metals were gaining the most from World Cup demand back in 2014 when Brazil was rushing to get stadiums, athlete accommodations, hotels and businesses done in time … as opposed to today when just Rio is rushing to get stadiums, athlete accommodations, hotels and businesses done in time.

Construction_yoders_550_030116

Can we do Olympic construction better? Choosing cities years ahead just makes prices escalate faster anymore. Photo: Jeff Yoders

Why isn’t Olympic construction ever done on time, on budget and up to the quality standards that International Olympic Committee member-countries demand anymore? Sochi wasn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination but, aside from the study in hubris that was Bob Costas’ pink-eye broadcasts, it’s looking like Rio’s problems dwarf Sochi’s. Yes, Rio, you made Sochi look good. Why is each Olympics worse than the last? And more costly? Read more

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.