Author Archives: Sohrab Darabshaw

ArcelorMittal and Liberian President George Weah have announced a 25-year commitment to stay in Liberia. Through the deal, the steelmaker will triple its iron ore production in the country and invest an additional $800 million. The steelmaker said it has invested $1.7 billion in the country over the last 15 years.

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ArcelorMittal invests in Liberia

ArcelorMittal logo

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The steel and mining company had initially signed a 25-year agreement with Liberia in 2005. It shipped the first iron ore from its Yekepa mine in 2011.

During the newly signed first phase of expansion, annual production would reach 15 million tons (MT), with the potential of reaching 30 MT a year, ArcelorMittal Executive Chairman Lakshmi Mittal said at the signing ceremony.

ArcelorMittal will provide the government with a total of $65 million from the production of 15 million MT of iron ore in three years. Since the end of a 1989-2003 civil war, the mining and agriculture potential of Liberia has attracted billions of dollars in resource investments. However, the country’s infrastructure remains underdeveloped and the majority of its 5 million people live in poverty.

Going green

Of late, the UK-headquartered ArcelorMittal has been in the global headlines for its determined drive on the “green steel” and clean energy fronts, joining the trend of steelmakers foraying into green hydrogen and increasing the footprint in renewable power generation.

Just last week, Germany pledged to offer funding of $65 million toward of ArcelorMittal’s investment of 110 million euros ($131 million) in a hydrogen plant powered by renewable electricity.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schultze said Berlin would pay 55 million euros — subject to EU approval — toward a new direct reduced iron (DRI) plant. The plant will use green hydrogen to reduce iron ore in a CO2-free steelmaking process.

By 2025, ArcelorMittal Hamburg’s Chief executive Uwe Braun expects his company to produce 100,000 tons of DRI for steelmaking with green hydrogen from the plant.

ArcelorMittal invests in Indian solar power

Elsewhere, in India, ArcelorMittal plans to invest in solar energy in the Indian provinces of Rajasthan & Gujarat.

According to a report by pv magazine, Group Chairman Lakshmi Niwas Mittal met representatives of the local governments in Rajasthan and spoke of setting up a 4.5 GW solar park at an investment of about U.S. $2,586 million (Rs 19,000 crore) in the province. The plant is to be set up by ArcelorMittal arm HPCL-Mittal Energy Limited.

In another meeting with the Gujarat officials, Mittal also expressed his intention of investing about U.S. $6,809 million in Gujarat’s solar energy, wind energy and hydrogen gas production sectors.

ArcelorMittal currently produces DRI using grey hydrogen, which comes from natural gas. In a green hydrogen system, the hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy sources, like wind or solar power, and then run through an electrolyzer.

ArcelorMittal would have achieved its goal of expanding output to 15 MT per year would have been accomplished much earlier, but the Ebola outbreak in 2014 disrupted its expansion plans in Liberia, for which it declared force majeure.

ArcelorMittal said the project will generate more than 2,000 new jobs during the construction phase.

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Diplomatic relations between China and Australia have been strained over the past year.

However, that does not seem to have affected trade between the two nations.

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China-Australia trade

China and Australia flags

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After posting record exports in May and June 2021, Australia recently announced a new record in July. Exports of iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas exports all rose strongly, giving Australia a record trade surplus, plus a boost to mining profits and tax revenue.

“Non-rural goods rose $2,275m (7%), driven by other mineral fuels, metal ores and minerals and coal, coke and briquettes,” the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported.

“The increases in other mineral fuels and coal, coke and briquettes were driven by LNG and thermal coal, respectively. Increased exports to Northern Asian countries coincided with an unseasonably warm northern summer.

“The increase in metal ores and minerals was driven by iron ore on the back of strong demand from China.”

In July, total exports, including services, reached a record of A$45.95 billion.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the trade surplus climbed to A$12.1 billion (US $8.91 billion) in July. The surplus reached an already high A$11.1 billion in June.

Overall, exports were up 5% because of strong demand from Asian countries for LNG and thermal coal, combined with higher prices for iron ore, Reuters reported.

Imports rose 3% to $33.8 billion, largely due to a sharp increase in parts and accessories for telecommunications equipment.

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One of India’s foremost steel companies, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., has announced plans to invest U.S. $2.4 billion to increase capacity over the next six years as recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic boosts steel demand.

“Domestic steel prices have recovered from the lows of the COVID-induced volatility and are increasing spurred by improving demand prospects,” the firm said in its August investor presentation.

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Jindal Steel to ramp up capacity

India

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The steelmaker will increase its total capacity to 15.9 million tons (MT) by March 2025 from 8.6 MT, it said in an investor presentation recently. According to the statement, the company plans to more than double pellet production capacity to 21 million tons by 2024.

On Monday, in a statement to the stock exchanges, the steel company announced that its board had approved fundraising measures that include issuing non-convertible, senior, unsecured, fixed rate or LIBOR notes worth U.S. $1 billion.

JSPL’s plan includes raising money as part of its long-term goal of becoming debt-free and increasing production capacity to 15.9 MT by FY 2024.

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While the world looks on with growing concern at the political play unfolding in Afghanistan with the takeover of the Taliban, another sidebar to this developing story that is slowly creeping into public consciousness is the vast treasure-trove of minerals in that country, and how the Taliban government will exploit it.

One estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) given years ago had pegged the worth of Afghanistan’s untapped mineral resources at U.S. $1 trillion. Some Afghan officials have said the actual figure could be three times more.

Afghanistan on a map

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Afghanistan’s mountains contain a wide range of critical resources, including: copper, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, chromium, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum and marble.

However, even before the U.S. entered its borders 20 years ago, Afghanistan had struggled to tap those reserves.

Two decades later, the situation is not very different.

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Continuing with its acquisition of the U.S. natural gas assets, the Bangkok-based Banpu has now agreed to purchase a combined cycle gas-fired power plant in Texas.

According to Forbes , Banpu, controlled by billionaire Isara Vongkusolkit, will buy the power plant for U.S. $430 million.

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Banpu looks to the future

mergers and acquisitions

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For some time now, Banpu has been investing in sustainable projects as it steers a new course.

Last year, it established Banpu Next, which includes its energy technology businesses. Those include electric vehicles, renewable energy plants and electric ferries.

The company may not exit the coal mining business altogether for another decade or so because of the continued demand for coal. However, it has said it will no longer invest in new coal assets, preferring to put money into renewable energy.

In an interview with CNBC, Chief Executive Somruedee Chaimongkol — sometimes referred to as “Asia’s first lady of coal” — said the firm wanted to make half of its earnings from green energy by 2025.

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Demand for cobalt is rising globally because of its use in electric vehicle batteries.

As such, China Molybdenum (CMOC) is planning to invest as U.S. $2.51 billion to further augment output from its Tenke Fungurume mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Reuters reported, citing the company’s announcement.

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China Molybdenum to make $2.5B investment in DRC

China Molybdenum website logo

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CMOC is the second-largest global cobalt feedstock producer after Switzerland’s Glencore. Its TFM mine producing 15,400 tons of cobalt & 182,600 tons of copper in 2020.

The new project will come up at its Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt mine (TFM) in the Congo. China Molybdenum has an 80% stake in Tenke Fungurume, one of the world’s largest copper-cobalt deposits. The DRC’s Gecamines owns 20%.

News agency Reuters reported the Chinese firm had stated in a filing that the investment will go toward building three ore production lines. As a result, average annual copper output at the mine would rise by 200,000 tons. In addition, cobalt output would rise by 17,000 tons.

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The world’s largest steel producer and exporter, China, is actively contemplating adding more curbs to halt environment pollution which, most likely, will reduce its steel output and dampen exports.

That’s good news for some of China’s neighbors steel-producing rivals, India and Japan.

Stop obsessing about the actual forecasted steel price. It’s more important to spot the trend

Steel cuts

Chinese steel factory

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The China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) warned on its Wechat channel last Sunday of impending cuts in crude steel output along with government-led environmental checks.

Daily crude-steel output at major mills fell 5.6% in the first 10 days of July from June, Bloomberg reported. These were at steel plants in Shanxi, Hubei and Hebei provinces, and mills including China Baowu Steel Group and HBIS Group.

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While the rest of the world is trying to com to grips with the European Union’s proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) – which calls for the levying of charges on non-E.U. products in relation to their embedded carbon footprint — China, on the other hand, is currently grappling with a slightly different energy-related issue.

A massive heat wave in some parts of the country coupled with a shortage of coal because of China’s spat with chief supplier Australia has sent coal prices soaring.

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China to ramp up coal production

coal pile

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Now, China, the world’s biggest consumer of coal, plans to add almost 110 million tons (MT) per year of advanced production capacity in the second half of this year to meet the rising demand of coal.

This Economic Times reported China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said that around 400 MT of coal mining capacity is under review for the government’s approval. Another 70 MT capacity is also under construction, and would be launched in a phased manner.

What’s more, China’s state planner has asked power plants to build their coal inventory to the equivalent of at least seven days of consumption by July 21. News agency Reuters said the Chinese government was trying its best to ensure electric supply to the coal-fired plants amid surging power consumption from industrial and residential users.

In the first half of 2021, China has already added over 140 MT of coal mining capacity.

Eleven provinces registered record-breaking power load a few days ago, the Economic Times reported, as the heat wave led to higher use of electricity. In the first six months of 2021, power consumption rose by 16% from a year earlier, the report added.

Old coal

While simultaneously augmenting coal capacity, the NDRC has come down on outdated coal capacity. Where once there were 10,000 coal mines in China in 2015, now there are about 5,000. The NDRC has been urging coal miners to set up advanced mining capacity and ramp up output.

China’s average daily coal consumption has gone up to over 2.2 MT at key power plants in at least eight provinces in China as of July 15, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post quoted the NDRC, which said China will release over 10 MT of coal from its state reserves.

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China’s efforts to curb carbon emissions from the steel manufacturing process have slowed down its steel production.

But only to a degree.

However, a new report now shows that almost all the major steel mills in its steelmaking hub, Tangshan in Hebei province are back online.

A report by industry portal mysteel.com, citing its field survey, said the furnaces were firing again — albeit at 70% — according to this news report.

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Tangshan steel mills come back online

Tangshan steel plant

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In fact, Tangshan’s mills contribute about 14% of China’s raw steel output. Furnaces are running at a lower rate because of China’s stringent new emission standards. Only those mills meeting these conditions are going full blast, according to the news report.

China remains the world’s No. 1 steel producer with over 1 billion tons of crude steel production. However, Beijing has been trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions to meet the country’s pledge to bring its emissions to a peak before 2030.

In the first five months of this year, the country’s crude steel output reached 473.1 million tons, the World Steel Association reported. The five-month output total marked an increase of 13.9% year over year.

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India’s steel story continues to grow in 2021. New plants are being commissioned and major steel companies are reporting growth in production, too.

India’s leading producer, Tata Steel, for example, has reported in the current quarter of fiscal year 2022, production of 4.62 million tons against 2.99 million in the same period last year.

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India’s steel highs and lows

India

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In March-April 2020, India’s steel capacity utilization plunged as a result of the nationwide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But now, things are changing for the better, according to production reports, uptake reports and analyst forecasts.

The World Steel Association (WSA) reported India’s production rose by almost 47% in May this year.

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