Articles in Category: Product Developments

The Rare Earths MMI held steady with its September number, 18, as the bearish commodities environment continued to keep prices of the magnetic and specialty metals low.

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The index has trended in its low range for more than a year, now, as substitution and outright low demand have plagued the once high-flying trace elements used by cell phone producers and in military and industrial uses.

New Extraction Processes

Domestic producer Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp. was recently awarded a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) research contract by the US Defense Logistics Agency’s Strategic Materials Division.

The Defense Logistics Agency is the Department of Defense’s largest logistics combat support agency, providing worldwide logistics support in both peacetime and wartime to the military services as well as several civilian agencies and foreign countries.

TRE recently successfully completed the first phase of a new separation process development, using the K-Technologies, Inc. (K-Tech) Continuous Ion Chromatography (CIC) methodology. The process allows TRE to remove light rare earth elements, lanthanum and cerium, from a leach solution in a straightforward, low-cost manner. The resultant aqueous product stream can be processed to make a commercially marketable mid/heavy rare earth mixed concentrate.

The Light and the Heavy of It

The heavy rare earths are the ones that are most desirable for end users and can’t be readily substituted. The light rare earths have become so unprofitable that domestic producer Molycorp, Inc., operating under bankruptcy protection, ended production at its Mountain Pass, Calif., light rare earths mine in late August. It will now only source the heavier minerals from its operations in China and Estonia.

This is certainly an interesting product development, but it won’t impact rare earths prices for some time, if at all. As we have said before, the rare earths market has been oversupplied ever since China removed export quotas on its producers, the bulk of the industry, and it’s difficult to predict a price turnaround without major shutdowns overseas or a shift in the muted demand picture.

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Until there is significant change in the market it’s difficult to predict much change, at all, in rare earths prices. They are holding at an all-time low but the upside isn’t thrilling, either, having charted below 30 on the MMI since June 2014. Without a significant change in the market, perhaps curtailed Chinese supply, it’s difficult to recommend rare earths investment.

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Mints have begun rationing sales of silver coins as supplies dry up due to low, low prices and the London Metal Exchange is set to launch its first contracts with position limits.

Silver Coins Running Low as Prices Fall

The global silver-coin market is in the grips of an unprecedented supply squeeze, forcing some mints to ration sales and step up overtime while sending US buyers racing abroad to fulfill a sudden surge in demand.

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The US Mint began setting weekly sales quotas for its flagship American Eagle silver coins in July because it can’t meet demand, and the Canadian mint followed suit after record monthly sales in July. In Australia, the Perth Mint sold a record of more than 2.5 million ounces of silver this month, nearly 4 times more than in August, and has begun rationing supply of a new line of coins this month, a mint official told Reuters.

LME Premium Contracts Will Have Position Limits

The London Metal Exchange‘s new premium contracts, scheduled for launch in November, will come with position limits, a first for an LME contract.

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Reuters’ Andy Home writes that the LME is proposing to give itself the authority to introduce position limits “as a general power rather than a power specific to premium contracts.”

With an eye on looming, broader regulation in financial markets, that represents a major shift in the way LME trading has been regulated. Position limits have long been anathema to a market that, as Home writes, “has come to epitomize Britain’s light-touch oversight of wholesale markets.”


Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp. was awarded a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) research contract by the United States Defense Logistics Agency’s Strategic Materials Division.

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The Defense Logistics Agency is the Department of Defense’s largest logistics combat support agency, providing worldwide logistics support in both peacetime and wartime to the military services as well as several civilian agencies and foreign countries.

The DLA Strategic Materials Division is charged with maintaining cognizance of worldwide strategic and critical materials’ supply chains from the source to final assembly and evaluating the capability of these supply chains to support national defense and essential civilian industries, and developing mitigation solutions when access to materials are insufficient to provide support for national defense and emergency response.

In May, Texas Rare Earths successfully completed the first phase of its stage 2 separation process development, using the K-Technologies, Inc. (K-Tech) Continuous Ion Chromatography (CIC) methodology. By doing this, K-Tech removes the light rare earth elements, lanthanum and cerium, from purified pregnant leach solution (PLS) feedstock in a straightforward, low-cost manner. The resultant aqueous product stream can be processed to make a commercially marketable mid/heavy  rare earth mixed concentrate.

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“Removing the low-value lanthanum and cerium at an early stage with minimal separation effort bodes well for the overall efficiency and economy of this process and also provides us the option of making a marketable, praseodymium/neodymium plus mid/heavy rare earth concentrate,” said Dan Gorski, CEO, Texas Rare Earths. “We intend to examine the economic possibilities of producing and marketing such a concentrate. However, our primary objective over the short term is to use the CIC process to further refine the mid/heavy concentrate and to produce individual high purity rare earth element products that meet all commercial specifications.”

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on scrap recycling in India, come back tomorrow for part 2.

The downturn in the Chinese economy has claimed another unwitting victim – the scrap metal industry. Already, in the US, scrap dealers are looking to fill a huge export demand gap left by China’s absence as a buyer.

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It’s not as if this has been an overnight development. US exports of ferrous scrap to China (excluding stainless) peaked at 5.5 million metric tons in 2009, and they have fallen every year since.

The fall in iron ore prices forced US scrap exporters to look for new markets to send their metal. Next in line for ferrous exports were India, Turkey, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

After China’s export demand fell even more this year, all eyes turned to the one place with enough population and development to make up that gap: India, the World’s largest democracy. Read more

Why are automakers not embracing stainless steel in structural applications to reduce overall weight and create safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles?


In addition to helping Marty and Doc get back to 1985, the DeLorean was innovative, practical and sported an attractive brushed stainless steel body.

Usually when you think of stainless steel in cars, the exhaust system, the trim or the DeLorean DMC-12 from the “Back to the Future” movies come to mind.

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The unpainted stainless body panels of the DeLorean made for a unique looking sports car/time machine, sure, but that seems to have done nothing for the mainstreaming of stainless steel use in the manufacture of passenger cars. Read more

As many expected, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates at record lows, due to, it says, a weak global economy, low inflation and instability in international financial markets.

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“Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement released at the conclusion of its two-day meeting this week.

Thanks A Lot, Global Equity Meltdown

In a press conference following the statement’s release, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said “the situation abroad bears close watching.”

I’ll say. We’ve been closely watching bears abroad (particularly in China) for some time now. Will this mean a continuation of the low metals prices we’ve seen lately? Only time will tell, but the Fed’s reticence comes after another week of falling metals and other commodities prices. Since the recovery here in the US has always seemed fragile, many say there is no sense in raising interest rates now that global equities markets have fallen sharply in the last month.

One Less LME Ring Trader

Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase & Co. dropped out of the London Metal Exchange‘s open outcry ring this week, bringing the ring-trading tradition down to 9 members.


“Hey, you! I know you!” The LME’s one ring rules all trades. Image: The Wall Street Journal

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JPMorgan Chase is quitting open outcry trading on the London Metal Exchange after reducing its commodity business.

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The move will reduce the number of financial institutions trading in the LME “ring” to 9, including Societe Generale SA, Sucden Financial Ltd. and INTL FCStone Inc.

Traders in London

Ring trading on the London Metal Exchange suffered a blow when JP Morgan Chase opted out of it this week.

It is the latest move, announced by the LME on Monday, to raise questions about the future of open outcry trading on the LME after most other markets have shifted to all-electronic formats.

The LME is the only exchange in Europe continuing the open outcry practice. During the rings on the LME trading floor, a circle of padded red-leather seats, traders use hand signals during bursts of intense trading in copper, aluminum, lead, nickel and zinc.

The LME is the world’s oldest and largest market for industrial metals trading and it reaffirmed its commitment to open outcry rings in June, saying it would invest 1 million pounds in technology. At the time, it hoped to attract more ring-dealing members.

But on Monday the LME said in a members’ notice that JP Morgan Securities would change as of Tuesday from Category 1 to Category 2 membership, which allows electronic and telephone trading, but not ring dealing.

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The decline in LME members poses a risk to liquidity on the exchange, Stephen Briggs, an analyst at BNP Paribas SA in London, told Bloomberg News. Historically the ring has previously had 10 to 12 members.

It sounds like some benefit is finally coming out of the billions being spent around the world, but particularly in the US, on research and development in batteries.

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From automobiles to mobile devices the trusty lithium-ion battery has been an amazing enabler for new technologies but it’s limitations in terms of longevity, energy density and recharge rates are now a barrier to wider up-take of technologies such as electric cars and to faster roll out of developments in mobile communications.

While strides are, no doubt, being made in a replacement for the lithium-ion battery, it seems developments of the current model are bearing the most fruit. For example, replacing the graphite anode with more complex metal mixtures is proving more immediately practical. Two announcements in as many weeks suggest the next tangible step forward may actually be micro fuel cells.

Apple has filed a patent for a fuel cell it calls MagiSafe that could allow a Mac to run for days or even weeks an article says. The patent includes a number of potential fuel sources, all of which would be mixed with water. Fuel cells work by mixing a fuel, such as hydrogen, with an oxidizing agent, such as water or oxygen.

Apple’s patent lists boro-hydride, sodium silicate, lithium hydride, magnesium hydride, a hydrocarbon and compressed or liquid hydrogen and others as potential fuels. The idea is it would run alongside the existing battery recharging it as it goes along. When the fuel cell finally runs out of fuel it would be replaced (or at least the fuel container would be replaced) as a canister that slides out and a new one slots in.

Apple, of course, files lots of patents so it doesn’t mean a fuel cell-powered Mac is about to hit your local store any day now but the near simultaneous announcement by a British firm called Intelligent Energy in the Telegraph that it has made a working iPhone 6 prototype containing both a rechargeable battery and its own fuel cell technology, creating electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen and producing only small amounts of water and heat as waste, has more immediate promise.

The firm is reported to be claiming charge life of a week and recharging of the fuel cell would be via a slot, much like the current phone socket or lightning charger connection, on future phone models. The firm is said to be considering the cost of recharges.

For some people, a daily recharge is not a major issue, especially if, like my wife, you never turn the phone on in the first place. But others, not unlike a few of my colleagues at MetalMiner who are constantly using their phones, going a whole week without having to recharge would almost be a price-blind decision.

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Most fuel cells rely on PGMs of one sort or another or a mix thereof to catalyze the reaction but the tiny amounts required for mobile device fuel cells are unlikely to impact PGM demand anytime soon. Longer-term, however, the roll-out across the industry could be rapid if such technologies prove to be reliable and cost effective enough for wider uptake, at which point these and roll out applications for miniature fuel cells could create a step change in PGM demand.

India has lost a case against the US at the World Trade Organization over protection for local crystalline silicon and thin-film solar cells.

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The WTO ruled that India’s domestic content requirements under its new solar power program were inconsistent with international agreements. Indian officials have said they will appeal the ruling to the WTO’s dispute panel in the next two months.

Solar Panel array

Photovoltaic solar array, the kind US manufacturers would love to send to India.

The US alleged that India’s ambitious solar program discriminates against US crystalline silicon photovoltaic and thin-film solar panel manufacturers by requiring Indian producers to use locally manufactured silicon or thin-film cells and by offering subsidies to those developers who use domestic equipment. Read more

The AP ran an excellent investigative article recently about how, three years after California voters passed a ballot measure to raise taxes on corporations and generate clean energy jobs by funding energy-efficiency projects in schools, barely one-tenth of the promised jobs have been created, and the state has no comprehensive list to show how much work has been done or how much energy has been saved.

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Many predicted that the the Clean Energy Jobs Act would be impossible to enforce or track when it was passed by one of California’s distinctive referendums in 2012. Proposition 39 was passed by a wide margin with little actual language in the law to define what a “clean energy job” even was or how the state government would allocate the money generated for those clean energy jobs.


Solar Panel array

Photovoltaic solar array at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

The clean energy jobs fund was filled by changing tax language in the state code to end breaks for large corporations. Read more