Articles in Category: Environment

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, China’s trade activity with respect to aluminum and copper slowed in August, Nucor announced Chairman and CEO John Ferriola will be retiring at the end of the calendar year and residents of an Arizona town expressed staunch opposition to a proposed aluminum recycling plant.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

China’s Aluminum Exports, Copper Imports Fall

China’s imports of copper and exports of aluminum fell in August as the trade war with the U.S. escalated with the most recent exchange of tariffs.

China’s copper imports fell 3.8% in August compared with the previous month, Reuters reported, while aluminum exports fell 4.3% compared with July totals.

Nucor CEO to Retire

Nucor Chairman and CEO John Ferriola will retire at the end of this year, the company reported.

Ferriola has served as chairman since 2014 and CEO since 2013.

Nucor’s Board of Directors elected Leon J. Topalian, 51, to be president and chief operating officer, effective Sept. 5, 2019. Topalian will succeed Ferriola as CEO on Jan. 1, 2020.

Residents Oppose Proposed Arizona Aluminum Recycling Plant

Locals in the Arizona farming town of Wenden have come out in opposition to an aluminum recycling plant proposed for the town, azcentral.com reported.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

According to the report, residents urged officials from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality not to grant an air-quality permit for the proposed Alliance Metals plant.

Before we head into the Labor Day weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner:

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

Iakov Kalinin/Adobe Stock

The U.K.’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has issued a call for evidence to help inform a planned £250 million Clean Steel Fund.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

According to the BEIS, the fund will “support the UK steel sector to move to a decarbonisation pathway compatible with net zero.”

The government is seeking evidence to help it develop the “detailed design” of the fund, including feedback regarding potential “barriers to realising clean steel ambitions” and “the opportunities to be gained in overcoming these.”

The U.K. has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% — compared with 1990 levels — by 2050, pursuant to the Climate Change Act of 2008.

According to the BEIS, the primary goals of the proposed Clean Steel Fund are to help facilitate the transition to “lower carbon iron and steel production” to help the sector reach net zero emissions (per the Climate Change Act) and to maximize “longevity and resilience” in the sector by “building on longstanding expertise and skills and harnessing clean growth opportunities.”

“We also intend to establish a new £100 million Low Carbon Hydrogen Production Fund, to support the deployment of low carbon hydrogen production at scale,” the BEIS said. “This could enable a pathway to lower carbon steel production and support broader efforts to decarbonise industry.”

UK Steel, an industry group that champions U.K. steelmaking, responded positively to the call for evidence.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

“Today’s announcement of the Clean Steel Fund is extremely positive news for UK steelmakers and the whole of the UK’s decarbonisation efforts,” UK Steel Director General Gareth Stace said. “The fund is a vital step towards further reducing our carbon footprint here in the UK and will cement our position in a future low-carbon world.”

The BEIS’s 22-page call for evidence document can be found here.

Following a decade of hype, there remains huge debate about the viability of carbon capture as a solution to carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

A recent article in the Financial Times lays out both sides of the argument. On the one hand, there is the one put forward by the coal lobby, broadly drawing on the work of coal miners in the form of Coal21, an industry body in Australia backed by 26 mining groups (including BHP, Anglo American and Glencore). On the other hand, there is a more disparate group of academics, research bodies and NGOs who rubbish the miners’ position as untenable.

Coal21, however, is pouring a considerable amount of money into research, lobbying and, most controversially, marketing in an effort to influence the debate in its favor.

The industry club has invested $4 million in advertising to promote the prospects for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a solution to coal’s carbon emissions. That comes in addition to some $400 million BHP has pledged over five years to reduce its emissions and those of its customers.

Meanwhile, Glencore, the world’s largest coal exporter, is building a pilot plant to capture and store carbon emissions from a nearby coal-fired power station in the Surat basin in Australia, funded in part by Coal21. The plan is to capture some 200,000 tons a year of carbon, but commercial projects in Canada and the U.S. are said to be running at 50% efficiency, at best (in one case, little more than 5%). Glencore will need new technology if it hopes to reach the 90% efficiency CCS plants are headlined to achieve.

Even then, grave doubts remain as to their economic viability for coal-fired power generation.

Source: Financial Times

CRU research is cited by the FT estimates the technology is only viable if the carbon dioxide (CO2) can be sold to other industries as a commercial source of CO2. Generally, it is either simply stored underground or used to boost oil field production by pumping sequestered CO2 back into oil reservoirs.

Without the value generated by selling CO2 to other industries, the cost of the technology needs to fall by 50% to make pure CO2 storage economical, the Financial Times reports. Cynics suggest miners’ focus on CCS as a solution has more to do with countering what they see as an increasingly negative view of coal use as the consequences of rising CO2 levels is more widely accepted.

Coal miners may be facing a losing battle, regardless of public perceptions.

The article reports that in many parts of the world, solar, wind and battery storage produces electricity at lower cost than coal, not to mention the advantages of lower CO2 producing natural gas and the latter’s greater flexibility to provide swing production to balance renewables’ lower predictability.

Although huge sums have been poured into CCS research and multiple pilot plants have been set up around the world, the technology is still less efficient than necessary and more expensive to operate than required if it is to be economical (certainly for coal-fired power generation).

But there are other industries where large quantities of CO2 are generated. The arguments for CCS may be on a firmer footing for industries like cement, steel, and oil and gas.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

If the technology can be further refined to reduce emission from these industries, that would be a huge gain — but for coal-fired power stations, CCS looks like a lost cause.

Chris Titze Imaging/Adobe Stock

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell four points this month for an August reading of 101.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Glencore Shakes up Cobalt Market

As covered by MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns, Glencore announced it would halt production by the end of the year at the world’s largest cobalt mine: Glencore’s Mutanda operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Last week, the miner reported its adjusted EBITDA for the first half of the year came in at $5.6 billion, down 32% on a year-over-year basis, with CEO Ivan Glasenberg citing “a challenging economic backdrop.”

Among the challenges has been a plummeting cobalt price. As a result, the miner announced it will move toward pausing production at its Mutanda copper and cobalt mine.

“However, our African copper business did not meet expected operational performance,” Glasenberg said. “We have moved to address the challenges at Katanga and Mopani with several management changes as well as overseeing a detailed operational review, targeting multiple improvements to achieve consistent, cost-efficient production at design capacity.

“Our teams have identified a credible roadmap towards delivering on the significant cashflow generation potential of these assets, at targeted steady state production levels. At Mutanda, we are planning to transition the operation to temporary care and maintenance by year end, reflecting its reduced economic viability in the current market environment, primarily in response to low cobalt prices.”

So, what kind of impact will the removal of Mutanda’s cobalt — making up a whopping 20% of global supply — have on the market? Burns explained Glencore’s closure of zinc mines in 2015 is credited with the recovery of that market, so there is precedent for the maneuver.

In addition, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution hasn’t taken off perhaps as much as expected.

“Cobalt demand has traditionally been driven by its use as an alloying element, but it is increasingly being seen as part of the lithium battery demand story because of its role in production of advanced batteries,” Burns said. “The electric vehicle (EV) market, though, has failed to match up to its hype this decade. Although both lithium and cobalt prices have risen as a result of battery makers securing their supply chain, the reality is supply is perfectly adequate.”

GOES

Meanwhile, the GOES MMI, which tracks grain-oriented electrical steel, picked up six points for an August reading of 197.

The U.S. GOES price hit $2,719/mt as of Aug. 1, up 3.2% from the previous month.

A.K. Steel, the lone remaining electrical steel producer in the U.S., announced its second-quarter earnings late last month. The firm brought in net income of $66.8 million in 2018, up from $56.6 million in Q2 2018.

Shipments in its stainless/electrical segment were down, however, coming in at 198,400 tons in Q2 2019, down from 221,500 tons in Q2 2018. For the first six months of the year, shipments amounted to 405,000 tons, down from 422,200 tons in the first half of 2018.

Meanwhile, German firm Thyssenkrupp, also a producer of electrical steel (with plants in Germany, India and France), has announced it will continue to move forward with realignment plans amid disappointing quarterly results.

For the quarter ending June 30, 2019, the firm’s adjusted EBIT came in at €226 million, down 32% from the €331 million for the same quarter in 2018.

In addition, the firm revised its full-year 2018-2019 forecast down to €0.8 billion from the previous forecast of €1.1 billion-€1.2 billion.

In addition to improving performance, the firm cited its planned partial IPO of its elevator business in 2019-2020 and efforts to improve organizational efficiency as part of its realignment efforts.

“The most important portfolio measure is the planned partial IPO of Elevator Technology,” the company said. “This will allow thyssenkrupp to sustainably strengthen its capital base and make the value of its elevator business visible. By retaining a majority interest, the Group will also continue to profit from future value growth. With the expected proceeds, the Group will increase its financial leeway for necessary restructuring and securing the future of its businesses.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Japanese steel plate fell 0.4% month over month to $790.22/mt as of Aug. 1. Korean steel plate fell 5.4% to $564.33/mt. Chinese steel fell 1.2% to $611.40/mt.

U.S. steel plate dropped 9.8% to $781/st.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

Chinese neodymium dropped 13.7% to $55,911.60/mt. Chinese silicon fell 0.3% to $1,495.82/mt. Chinese cobalt cathodes fell 0.3% to $96,574.60/mt.

freshidea/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, the latest round of U.S.-China trade talks wrapped up Wednesday, steel companies are not reducing emissions fast enough and analysts cut their copper forecast for fourth-quarter prices.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

U.S., China Conclude Talks in Shanghai

Trade negotiators from the U.S. and China wrapped up yet another round of trade talks this week in Shanghai.

In a statement, China’s Ministry of Commerce described the talks as a “constructive and deep exchange on major trade and economic issues of mutual interest,” Reuters reported.

According to the report, the Ministry of Commerce also said the two sides agreed to meet again in September.

Steel Industry and Carbon Regulations

As the global focus on climate change intensifies, steel companies are not reducing their emissions quickly enough, according to a new report by CDP cited by CNBC.

According to the report, steel companies are not doing enough to avoid a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, a fact that could have an impact on their bottom lines.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

In Europe, for example, the carbon price has tripled since last year, according to the report.

Copper Price Forecast

Analysts polled by Reuters were bearish on the copper price this year, recently forecasting an average fourth-quarter LME price of $6,291 per ton.

The fourth-quarter price forecast for copper marked a 5.4% decline from a previous forecast in May.

India’s solar energy production plan seems to be growing stronger, so much so it has even received global recognition.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said in a recent report that India was producing the cheapest solar power in the world, the India Times reported.

In 2018, India recorded a 27% decrease in solar prices in 2018, plus a drop of as much as 80% in the setup costs between 2010 and 2018, which, according to IRENA, was the most of any country. Canada, on the other hand, had the highest production cost for this form of energy.

Late last month, a delegation from the European Union visited India and, along with the latter’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, launched standard operation procedures and monitoring tools for Indian solar parks.

India is banking on such solar parks to achieve its target of 100 GW from solar energy by 2022, according to the Press Trust of India. The E.U. and India have been collaborating to develop climate-friendly energy sources, which includes solar energy.

The standard operating procedures were developed under the E.U. program and have been prepared for development, implementation, construction, operation and maintenance of solar parks (including an operation and maintenance manual and a health and safety manual for solar parks), per the Press Trust of India.

In its onward march on the solar energy front, at least 20 global power and renewable energy companies have shown interest in a 7.5 GW solar power park planned in the Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir. Interested companies include: Siemens, ABB, Power Grid, Adani Transmission, BHEL, and L&T Construction, as well as project developers like Hero Future Energies, Mahindra Susten, and Tata Power Solar.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

India’s consistent investments in renewable energy over the last few years have been geared toward meeting its Paris climate agreement commitment to bring 175 GW of renewable energy online by 2022.

Ezio Gutzemberg/Adobe Stock

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the metals storylines here on MetalMiner:

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

Jason/Adobe Stock

Not surprisingly, the most alarmist headlines were run by the most biased of news channels: the BBC.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Long advocates of left-wing sympathies, the Beeb — as the BBC is affectionately known in the UK — has for many years also been leading the charge on environmental issues. Not that we have any problem with having an environmental conscience — anyone watching the rapid the bleaching of the world’s barrier reefs can’t help but feel a part of themselves die in the process — but we would much rather see the BBC reporting on sound scientific data than listen to them pushing one political angle, like some mogul-backed, partisan media outlet.

So when a BBC article shouts “UK Parliament declares climate change emergency” you expect it is possibly hyperbole. What does the statement even mean, you may ask. Are we about to be inundated by a monsoon, fry in a heatwave, be washed away in a tsunami or blown away in a typhoon?

Apparently desperate to address something other than Brexit, the British government appears likely to commit the U.K. to an even tougher carbon emissions target than it already has — indeed, tougher than any other major economy in the world.

According to the Financial Times, the proposals build on the 2008 Climate Change Act, which targeted reducing emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. The U.K. is on track to achieve this, having made steady progress in the interim with emission levels falling more than 40% over the last 29 years.

But the last 20% will be the hardest if the U.K. seeks to achieve zero emissions. The rest of Europe has signed up to similar targets, but exempted certain key industries (such as agriculture, aviation and shipping).

True zero emissions represent a significant challenge, whatever politicians may say.

It will require a sweeping overhaul of energy use from homes to transport to even what we eat. It involves a pledge to phase out diesel and electric cars by 2040, quadruple energy supplies from low-carbon sources such as renewables and supplement a hydrogen economy where natural gas is currently used (80% of British homes are reliant on natural gas for heating and/or cooking).

Heavy carbon-emitting industries will have to adopt carbon capture technology, which has to date proved less than satisfactory and expensive to operate. Nevertheless, the government has already invested some limited funds in pilot projects and has undertaken to do more.

The tough ones will be aviation (an alternative to fossil-fueled jet engines is a long way off), shipping (which is moving to 0.5% low sulfur fuel but still remains a massive source of carbon emissions) and agriculture, which is probably the worst offender.

There is no known trick of science that stops a cow breaking wind and little that can be done about the acres of corn that need to be cultivated to feed that cow. The Committee on Climate Change acknowledges one of the biggest and hardest changes will be to humans’ diets. More plant-based and less animal- and fish-based protein would have a profound impact on carbon emissions but will take a fundamental shift in the wider population’s habits.

Still, some trends are in favor of the needed changes.

Electric cars are predicted to be cheaper to buy and run than petrol- or diesel-fueled vehicles by 2030 (if not before). Wind power is already said to be cheaper than natural gas, the Financial Times says, providing storage costs to achieve continuity are subsidized, but even that may cease to be necessary as battery technology improves and wind turbine costs continue to fall.

The committee’s report suggests the changes needed, spread over the next 20-30 years, need not be onerous or disruptive to growth; indeed, they may present significant opportunities for new technologies and for the industries that exploit these opportunities.

Whether the world has 30 years, none of us knows. The U.N. says we could have just 12 years to effect change before we reach a point of no return; they may, like the BBC, be trying to promote a project fear agenda to effect change (we really don’t know).

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

In the meantime enterprising firms have the opportunity to develop new products and services to meet what is already becoming a relentless process of change.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

enanuchit/Adobe Stock

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Jan. 1, 2020 deadline for shipping companies to use low-sulfur (0.5% max) fuel has been on and off in the news for months, but without much interest from those outside the industry or the environmental organizations that lobbied for its introduction.

Need buying strategies for steel? Request your two-month free trial of MetalMiner’s Outlook

But now, with the deadline just months away, the implications are becoming more apparent.  Shipping lines are scrambling to fit scrubbers, but some are finding they have left it too late.

It currently takes some six weeks to retrofit a scrubber. With the surge in demand for scrubber equipment and a shortage of qualified engineers, yards are full of work over the next 12 months. Some 4.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in container ship capacity is taken out of service this year, according to JOC. That amounts to about 380 container ships and is already contributing to the worst on-time performance by carriers on the Asia-U.S. trades since 2012, the article reports.

In total some 550 box ships, totaling 6 million TEU, are due to be equipped with scrubbers — at a rate of about 30 vessels a month, consequently squeezing capacity.

Not all vessels are going for scrubbers, despite the current cost advantage.

The majority of vessels will opt to burn low-sulfur fuel oil, for which the premium is between U.S. $170 and $320 per metric ton over 3.5% sulfur fuel (apart from South America, where low-sulfur fuels already predominate and the premium is only $40/ton).

It costs between U.S. $5 million and $10 million for a scrubber system depending on the vessel and where it is fitted, plus greater maintenance and the downtime required for installation. But the price difference between low-sulfur fuel oil and heavy fuel oil can add U.S. $1 million to an Asia-Europe round trip for a ULVC.

Those opting not to fit scrubbers but pay the fuel premium are either biding their time by waiting for an installation slot or hoping the fuel premiums will fall. The change will likely also hasten the scrapping of older vessels deemed uneconomic to retrofit or operate at the higher fuel costs.

MetalMiner’s Annual Outlook provides 2019 buying strategies for carbon steel

As a result, shippers can expect rates to rise this year and next — either as a result of reduced capacity or lines paying higher bunker premiums (or both).