Articles in Category: Environment

Greece’s highest court overturned its government’s decision to stop Eldorado Gold‘s mining operation and Johnson-Matthey has lifted its estimate of last year’s platinum market deficit.

Eldorado Gold Wins Greece Gold Mine Appeal

Greece’s top administrative court has annulled the government’s decision last year to revoke Eldorado Gold‘s mining license, according to court documents published on Wednesday. The Canadian mining company had appealed to Greece’s top court to overturn the ban on its plans to develop gold mines in a forested area of northern Greece, in a case widely seen as a test of the new leftist government’s approach to foreign investment.

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Eldorado has put about $700 million into the project since 2012 and planned to invest another $1 billion to develop two mines at Skouries and Olympias sites in Halkidiki. Greece’s government initially revoked its permit in August, saying the tests for a so-called flash-melting method the company planned to use to ensure there would be no environmental damage did not take place on the spot, but rather outside Greece.

Johnson-Matthey Lifts Platinum Estimate

Johnson-Matthey has lifted its estimate of last year’s platinum market deficit after a surge in Japanese bar investment late in the year, though it cut its expectations for the palladium market shortfall.

Speaking at ETF Securities‘ annual investment conference on Wednesday, JM’s general manager for market research Peter Duncan said he expected deficits for both metals to persist this year, although he admitted this may have little impact on prices.

The company lifted its estimate for last year’s platinum market deficit to 702,000 ounces from 652,000 ounces in November, which Duncan cited in the earlier presentation. He credited the change to both an upswing in investment and a 13% drop in recycling.

Platinum hit its weakest point in more than seven years on Wednesday at $812.09 an ounce.

This is part two of a series on the potential of lithium for energy storage and the investor reaction. See part one first if you missed it.

California is said to have ordered its electricity firms to offer 1.3 gigawatts of non-hydroelectric storage capacity within five years, more than double the 0. 5GW of batteries plugged into grids around the world today.

It remains to be seen how popular Tesla’s “Powerwall” electricity storage devices will become, but as the price comes down through competition and technology improvements they will prove popular in countries where solar panels can supply domestic power economically such as Australia and the southern US, or where power supply is intermittent as in India or South Africa.

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So, the market is looking good for lithium even though the technology still needs considerable improvement to achieve truly large-scale uptake. As the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago is quoted in the Economist as saying, large-scale batteries need to offer hundreds of miles of driving range, be rechargeable in minutes instead of hours, and provide power at costs comparable with natural gas before they can take off. In the meantime, though, supplies of lithium are not, as was the case with rare earths, held in the stranglehold of one country. As this graphic courtesy of the Economist shows, supplies are already well established from several stable, developed mining countries.

Lithium_sources

Source: US Geological Survey.

Lithium minerals have been used for years in the ceramics and glass industry according to the US Geological Survey, so extraction is not a new technology and nor is the supply chain undeveloped.

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When US lawmakers voted to extend lucrative federal subsidies for renewable energy as part of the $1.15 trillion spending deal last month, wind and solar companies celebrated as they looked forward to passing those savings along to customers and reducing their own production costs.

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But are some renewable technologies more promising than others?

You can install PV panels on our roof, collect a tax credit and bring down your own electricity bill. A wind turbine? Not so much. Source: Adobe Stock/rob245.

You can install PV panels on your roof, collect a tax credit and bring down your own electricity bill. A wind turbine? Not so much. Source: Adobe Stock/rob245.

For solar, this is an unqualified windfall as the consumer products manufacturers such as SolarCity and SolarWorld make, mostly silicon photovoltaic panels, can qualify homeowners, banks and other end users for tax credits, but the picture is still murkier for far more costly and technically challenging wind power.

Solar’s Sweet Deal

The legislation allows solar power companies to keep claiming federal tax credits at 30% of the price of a solar array. The credits, which apply to home solar kits as well as big commercial installations, will be good through 2019. After that, though, the credit will begin to drop, declining to 10% in 2022. It will remain at 10% unless legislation eventually eliminates the credit before or after 2022. Read more

Home sales unexpectedly fell last month and China has required its industries to report greenhouse gas emissions.

Home Sales Fall

The National Association of Realtors‘ index of pending home sales fell 0.9% in November after rising 0.4% in October.

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The median projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg anticipated a 0.7% increase for November.

China Requires Carbon Emission Reporting

China issued national standards for industrial firms to report their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the country’s plan to launch a national carbon market in 2017.

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The new standards, issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on Wednesday, will enable the China to create a statistical system for greenhouse gas emissions and support the establishment of a national carbon trading scheme.

We sometimes indulge our more geeky side and cover topics that, while metals related, are never going to significantly move the needle on metals consumption, pricing or supply and demand. We reserve the right to be geeky.

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While a recent development recently discussed by Mark Shackleton, Professor of Finance and Associate Dean Postgraduate Studies at Lancaster University definitely falls under the “geeky” heading, it could, one day, potentially move the needle for tin demand if the economics permit.

Carbon Capture and Carbon Taxes

One of the biggest dynamics in the next 10 years will be how legislators approach carbon emissions. If they seek to control emissions by putting a significant price on carbon, it will have profound implications for the metals industry, along with just about every energy-consuming activity out there.

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A new report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and produced by GTM Research forecasts that US Solar installations will more than double next year, reaching 15.4 gigawatts of solar power installed in 2016.

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Worldwide, growth in solar installations is expected to rival the boom occurring in the US. Berlin-based research firm Apricum forecasts that 54 GW will be installed worldwide in 2015, with new capacity additions reaching 92 GW by 2020. The largest market for the most common type of panels, solar silicon photovoltaics will be China, with 180 GW of total capacity installed by the end of 2020, followed by the US (83 GW) and Japan (57 GW).

Solar Panel array

Photovoltaic solar array at the National Renewal Energy Laboratory.

As 2015 ends this week, US installed capacity of photovoltaics stands at 7.4 GW, an improvement over 6.3 GW last year.

Part of the reason for the surge was purchases made by individuals and utilities to beat the scheduled expiration of the federal investment tax credit at the end of the year. That all changed when congress passed a long-term extension of the wind and solar tax credit as part of its omnibus spending deal earlier this month.

Established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the wind/solar investment tax credit provides a tax credit of 30% of the value of solar projects. Annual solar installations have grown by at a compound rate of 76% since the act was implemented in 2006. Under the new scheme, the 30% solar tax credit will extend through 2019 and then decline gradually to 10% in 2022. After 2022 the credit will be eliminated for residential solar installations and will continue at 10% for commercial ones. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that the move by congress will add an extra 20 gigawatts of solar power over the next five years.

Solar silicon prices have remained stubbornly low and, while this extension won’t necessarily help them rise, it will spur utilities and homeowners to adopt them for electricity generation. The low prices, in this way, are a feature of expanded adoption and a not a bug as the generous discounts, on top of low prices, will make solar a cheaper alternative to other low-price power supply technologies such as natural gas.

The extension of the tax credit through 2019 is a boon to photovoltaic manufacturers and wind/solar energy suppliers who were quick to celebrate the long-term extension as an important step toward their goal of developing clean energy at an affordable cost through the development of solar projects.

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“This is a game changer for our company and will finally allow us to plan with certainty our growth and expansion over the next several years,” said John Billingsley, Chairman and CEO at Dallas-based Tri Global Energy. “Tri Global Energy plans aggressive expansion of both our wind and solar divisions into diversified geographical areas across the US.”

Today in metals, a judge has frozen the Brazilian assets of mining giants BHP Billiton and Vale SA and a frontrunner has emerged in the sale of Tata Steel’s UK operations

Tata Steel UK Has a Suitor

Investment firm Greybull Capital has emerged as a favorite to buy Tata Steel‘s struggling UK-based unit, in a move that could offer some relief to Britain’s troubled steel sector, Reuters reports.

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Judge Freezes BHP, Vale Mining Assets

A judge in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais has frozen the Brazilian assets of mining giants BHP Billiton and Vale SA after determining their joint venture, Samarco, was unable to pay for damages caused by a burst dam at its mine last month. In a ruling issued late on Friday, the judge ruled that Vale and BHP could be held responsible for the disaster at the iron ore mine in the state of Minas Gerais, for which the government is demanding 20 billion reais ($5 billion).

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One of the biggest drivers of metal production, and by extension price, in the year ahead could be pollution.

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Sounds a little far-fetched, doesn’t it? Yet, two of the biggest players in the metals markets, China and India, are the two most polluting major economies in the world. For now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India is putting on a brave face, in spite of a recent World Health Organization study of 1,600 urban areas around the world that found India has 13 of the world’s 20 most-polluted cities.

Modi’s Dilemma

The study measured by average ambient PM2.5 levels — a measure of small particulate carbon particles in the air with critical links to lung disease. Modi claims India should not be subject to the same rules as everyone else, because it has so much catching up to do in terms of industrialization and raising large parts of its population out of poverty. Read more

Recently, we welcomed the voice of Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association, to MetalMiner’s digital pages, in an op-ed titled, “The Challenges Are Real, But the US Aluminum Industry Can Still Thrive” — and naturally, our devil’s-advocate nature forces us to ask, can the entire US aluminum value chain still thrive?

Mainly because the US industry is doing its darndest to become more green, while those in other countries…not so much.

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“North American aluminum’s carbon footprint has fallen by 37% since 1995 and achieved a 26% reduction in energy intensity over the same time period,” Brock wrote in a different op-ed. “We also know that aluminum can improve the environmental performance of other products through lightweighting and recyclability advantages.”

steel coil processing machine inside of steel plant

Can primary aluminum production survive this low-price environment? Source: Adobe Stock/icarmen.

However, she continues, “Aluminum production in China is the most carbon intensive in the world, with its coal-based smelters emitting significantly more greenhouse gases per ton of aluminum than its North American and European counterparts. In fact, a ton of aluminum produced in China is nearly twice as carbon-intensive as that same metal produced here in North America. Given the rapid expansion of high-carbon aluminum production in China, many of the efficiency and emissions reduction gains made by the global aluminum industry over the last several decades are being offset.”

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In light of more than 20 states finally being able to lodge formal lawsuits against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan a month ago, the National Mining Association has commissioned Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) to drill down into the costs of complying with the rule — for industrial users, commercial user and consumers alike.

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From a high level, EVA expects a “$214 billion increase in wholesale electricity prices, double-digit wholesale electricity price increases in 46 states, and $64 billion to replace lost power capacity serving 24 million homes.”

EPA Clean Power Plan Cost in Pictures

In a visual nutshell, here is what EVA projects the costs of the EPA Clean Power Plan to look like:

Source: Energy Ventures Analysis

Clearly, many of the hardest-to-be-hit states are also the most manufacturing-intensive. Source: Energy Ventures Analysis

US map of electricity prices under EPA CPP

Ouch for the Rust Belt. Source: Energy Ventures Analysis

US map compliance costs power capacity replacement

Source: Energy Ventures Analysis

What This Means for Industrial Manufacturers

According to EVA:

“The consequences for costs are evident in the looming price increases for electricity. EVA’s analysis projects that by 2030, when the CPP is fully implemented, the wholesale price for electricity will spike electricity prices nationwide by 21.2 percent above the non-CPP base case.

Commercial and industrial consumers of electricity will naturally experience the same price increases, which are likely to be passed on to consumers in increased prices for goods and services. Furthermore, the greater natural gas demand by the power sector will increase natural gas prices that will be felt beyond the power sector. Residential, commercial and industrial natural gas consumers’ bills would increase by $6-8 billion/year under the EPA Clean Power Plan to recover higher gas commodity purchase prices. In addition, if the industry requires additional investment in pipeline capacity to meet the power sector’s growing gas demand, these costs would also be passed onto consumers.”

Read the complete report for more context, analysis and, most importantly, EVA’s methodology.

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