Renewables/GOES MMI: Rio Tinto to invest $2.9M toward recovery of tellurium as byproduct of copper smelting

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The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up 4.2% for this month’s MMI reading, as Rio Tinto announced plans to build a new tellurium plant and cobalt prices are surging.

March 2021 Renewables MMI chart

(Editor’s note: This report also includes the MMI for grain-oriented electrical steel, or GOES.)

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Rio Tinto to build tellurium plant

Miner Rio Tinto recently announced plans to build a tellurium plant at its Kennecott mine in Utah.

Tellurium is used in solar panels in the form of cadmium telluride, a semiconductor.

“With abundant natural resources, Utah is ideally positioned to help supply the critical minerals essential to maintain American manufacturing competitiveness,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a prepared statement. “Rio Tinto’s smelter at Kennecott is one of only two that is capable of producing copper and other critical minerals. The new tellurium plant is another valuable contribution to critical mineral independence and energy security in the U.S.”

Rio Tinto plans to invest $2.9 million to set up the plant.

“The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy,” Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director Gaby Poirier said. “Adding tellurium to our product portfolio provides customers in North America with a secure and reliable source of tellurium produced at the highest environmental and labour standards with renewable energy. Rio Tinto is committed to using innovation to reduce waste in our production process and extract as much value as possible from the material that we mine and process.”

In addition to tellurium, the smelting process at Kennecott yields gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium.

Cobalt price gains

The cobalt price on the LME has surged of late.

LME cobalt rose to $52,775 per metric ton Wednesday.

Since the beginning of the year, the LME cobalt price has jumped by 60%.

Glencore reports preliminary 2020 results

Glencore, one of the world’s top cobalt miners, reported its preliminary results for 2020.

Adjusted EBITDA reached $11.6 billion, flat compared with the previous year.

Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg emphasized the miner’s role in the ongoing transition toward greater uptake of renewable energy.

“As the world focuses on the pathway to recovery from Covid-19, it is clear that meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement has taken on even greater urgency,” Glasenberg said. “While innovation and technological advances have transformed how we live and work, the commodities needed to enable this have not.”

Furthermore, in terms of cobalt, the miner reported a stronger 2020.

“Metals $1.7bn (+53%) reflects supportive market conditions and absence of cobalt market challenges experienced in 2019,” the miner said in its preliminary results report.

GOES

Meanwhile, the GOES MMI, which tracks grain-oriented electrical steel, dipped slightly for this month’s reading.

March 2021 GOES MMI chart

The GOES price fell modestly over this past month, dropping 0.4% to $2,268 per metric ton.

Meanwhile, in other electrical steel news, AK Steel is getting a name change.

Last year, Cleveland-Cliffs acquired AK Steel, which is the US’s lone producer of electrical steel.

Neil Douglas, president of IAM Local 1943, told the Dayton Daily News that AK Steel will get a name change to match that of owner Cleveland-Cliffs.

Furthermore, in its Q4 2020 and full-year 2020 financial results released last month, Cleveland-Cliffs CEO, President and Chairman Lourenco Goncalves touted the transformational impact of the company’s acquisition of AK Steel and ArcelorMittal USA.

“Without question, 2020 was the most transformational year in our Company’s 173 year history,” Goncalves said. “We completed two seminal acquisitions, AK Steel and ArcelorMittal USA, that transformed us from an iron ore miner into the largest flat-rolled steelmaker in North America.”

Actual metals prices and trends

The US steel plate price jumped 9.8% month over month to $1,079 per short ton as of March 1. Meanwhile, the Chinese plate price rose 10.0% to $826 per metric ton.

In addition, Japanese plate fell 1.8% to $826 per metric ton.

Lastly, Korean plate rose by 2.0% to $711 per metric ton.

However, as noted above, the GOES price fell 0.4% to $2,268 per metric ton.

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