Articles in Category: Green

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell two points this month, down to a November MMI reading of 101.

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Cobalt Mining

According to the head of commodities trader Trafigura, unregulated cobalt mining cannot be “wished away,” the Financial Times reported last month.

In 2017, nearly 60% of the world’s cobalt was mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where smaller artisanal mines are often unregulated, leading to routinely unsafe working conditions and, according to reports by advocacy groups, the use of child labor.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 64,000 tons of cobalt were mined in the DRC last year out of a global total of 110,000 tons. Cobalt is coveted for its use in electric vehicle batteries.

According to Jeremy Weir, the head of Trafigura, cobalt demand is expected to at least triple by 2025.

“The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the DRC who earn a living through work in the ASM sector,” Weir was quoted as saying. “It’s illegal in many cases; it’s unregulated and can be very dangerous. But it can’t be wished away.”

Last November, Amnesty International released a report that offered criticism of a number of industry giants, including Microsoft, for a lack of progress with respect to assuring their cobalt supply chains are ethical and conflict-free. Apple and Samsung were listed among companies that had taken “adequate” steps toward that goal.

“Our initial investigations found that cobalt mined by children and adults in horrendous conditions in the DRC is entering the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest brands. When we approached these companies we were alarmed to find out that many were failing to ask basic questions about where their cobalt comes from,” Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying last year.

Since then, the issue has remained on the international radar.

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Who would have thought wind’s transformation from subsidy-supported to self-financing power source would happen so quickly – not this publication, that’s for sure.

Apart from diehard environmentalists, most consumers have been opposed to renewables on the basis they cost significantly more and turbines are an eyesore on the landscape.

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But in the span of less than 10 years, public opposition has declined. Opposition has not gone away entirely, but it has softened as we have become more familiar with the sight of slowly rotating turbine blades on the horizon and with the realization that its costs are falling dramatically.

A recent article in The Telegraph reports on how the cost of power production from onshore wind farms has dropped so far it undercuts conventional coal, natural gas and nuclear options.

The below graph from 2015 shows onshore wind as the cheapest option; costs have come down further since then.

Source: Wikipedia

Calling it the “subsidy-free revolution,” the Telegraph article reflects our own surprise at how quickly the change has taken place.

To be fair, offshore power still requires some subsidy because of the greater cost of installation and maintenance. Even here, costs continue to fall and subsidy is a route the authorities prefer to entertain because of public opposition to what was seen as the blight of onshore turbines dotting the landscape.

In large part, this is because turbine sizes have increased and, as a result, efficiencies have increased.

Source: The Telegraph

The industry is seeing it as a major investment opportunity, generating jobs while at the same time reducing the country’s overall carbon emissions.

A figure of £20 billion covering both onshore wind and solar over the next 10 years is mooted, all of which would be subsidy-free.

The latest figures are sounding the death knell for nuclear power in the U.K., but as usual the government hasn’t caught up with the numbers.

Nuclear power is costing a massive £92.50 per megawatt hour and is partly justified on the basis that a base load of power is always required to fill in renewables variability.

However, battery parks like Glassenbury in Kent are springing up that can meet gaps in demand, but nothing like a 2 GW nuclear power plant; still, a few MW here and there is slowly adding up.

But, like renewables, costs will need to come down for investment to flow into battery parks. That is, they’ll need to come down to the extent required to negate the need for quick fireup of conventional power sources to fill in gaps during cold snaps or, as renewables rise, as a percentage of the whole to fill in for periods of low wind or at night for solar.

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Still, a low-carbon future, at lower power costs and with the benefit of economic growth from investments – what’s not to like?

Alexander Chudaev/Adobe Stock

Full disclosure – I am an owner of an iPhone, iPad and Macbook — and I don’t mind admitting it, a  longtime fan of Apple’s products — but even I cringe when the firm claims to have “worked with other metal companies to develop the proprietary technique, which allows for the generation of ‘green’ aluminium for the first ever time.”

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The claim follows the announcement late last week that at its Pittsburgh research center, Alcoa has developed a replacement for the carbon anodes used in the smelting of alumina to aluminium.

The carbon anode has the important role of delivering a strong electric current through the melt, but in the process carbon is converted to carbon dioxide and considerable levels of greenhouse gas emissions are produced.

But although Apple is said to be investing C$13 million (U.S. $10 million) in the joint venture called Elysis, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the C$120 million of funding from the governments of Canada and Quebec and, further, the C$55 million invested by Alcoa and Rio Tinto in order to achieve commercialization of the technology over the next five years.

Indeed, Alcoa and Rio each have a 48% stake in the JV, with the rest owned by the government of Quebec, so quite how Apple can claim any fame in this venture is hard to see.

OK, Apple’s hubris aside: is this a step forward in lowering aluminum’s carbon footprint?

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There’s a new trend on the solar energy harnessing front in India.

Like in China and a few of the Southeast Asian nations, India is seeing a spurt in what are called “floating solar plants.”

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In late 2017, the country inaugurated its largest such floating plant, a 500 kw (kilowatt peak) by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). This one floats on 1.25 acres of water surface of a reservoir, and has 1,938 solar panels, which have been installed on 18 ferro cement floaters with hollow insides. The project uses high-efficiency solar panels and a floating substation has been set up on the reservoir itself to convert the output into 11 kV.

While the concept of floating solar plants in India is old — it was first mooted by Tata Power way back in 2011 – they caught the fancy of energy developers only now. The Tata plant is on the backwaters of a dam located close to Tata’s hydro-electricity plant.

A second pilot project was started on the banks of the Sabarmati river in the province of Gujarat in 2012. It was awarded to SunEdison at a cost of about U.S. $2.7 million. The pilot project was developed by Gujarat State Electricity Corporation (GSECL) with support from Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL).

But it’s only in the last few months that the activity has picked up. The government has floated eight floating solar power projects of capacities ranging between 2 MW to 1,000 MW.

The floating plants tie in with the Indian Government’s overall, rather ambitious, renewable energy plan.

India and China are both leading in this race. In 2017, Asia accounted for nearly two-thirds of the worldwide increase in renewable energy generating capacity, according to a report published in April by the International Renewable Energy Agency. Renewable energy capacity has nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching 918GW in 2017.

According to media reports, renewable energy firm Avaada Power is now in talks with various provincial governments in India to set up floating solar projects.

The company wants to increase its installed solar capacity to 5,000 megawatts (MW) in the next four years, from 1,000 MW at present, and a major chunk will come from solar energy. The floating solar segment has a potential to generate 300 gigawatts (GW) of power across the country.

Many provincial governments are also expected to call for tenders in this space soon. Also, India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) has announced its plans to set up 600 MW of floating solar capacity at the 1,960-MW Koyna hydel power project in the State of Maharashtra.

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Experts are optimistic that with India’s large network of water bodies, this trend of floating solar plants will become the norm soon, though care has to be taken while setting them up so that they do not affect marine life.

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) rose seven points on the month, hitting 107 for our April reading.

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Within the basket of metals, Korean, Chinese and U.S. steel plate posted price increases, while Japanese steel plate traced back slightly. U.S. steel plate jumped significantly, posting a 13.6% increase for the month.

U.S. grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) coil fell on the month, while neodymium picked up by 0.7%.

The always volatile cobalt price shot up significantly last month, rising 10.6%.

Tesla Strategy Places Premium on Neodymium

As we mentioned earlier this week, growing demand for neodymium from electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla will put even more pressure on what is already a constrained market.

In short, that means rising prices for the material, reflected in this month’s activity.

Tesla is looking to neodymium for magnetic motors in its Model 3 Long Range cars, as mentioned in the Reuters report we cited Tuesday. Last year, supply fell short of demand by 3,300 tons, according to that report.

DRC Looks to Shake Up 2002 Mining Charter

When it comes to anything cobalt, the Democratic Republic of Congo is typically at the center, being the source of the majority of the world’s cobalt.

Earlier this week, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns wrote about President Joseph Kabila’s move to readjust the nation’s 2002 mining charter to, essentially, secure a bigger piece of the pie vis-a-vis the country’s vast mineral resources.

It comes as no surprise that the multinational miners doing business in the DRC aren’t exactly thrilled by the proposition of increased royalties and levies. However, as Burns noted, value of materials like cobalt and the demand they draw, combined with their relative scarcity, means such multinationals will continue to do business there, no matter what happens with the charter.

“If the state takes a little more of the pie, it will probably be reflected in prices,” Burns wrote. “But with limited alternatives for products like cobalt, it is unlikely to dent mining companies’ enthusiasm for investing in the DRC.”

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Within the basket of metals, Korean, Chinese and U.S. steel plate posted price increases, while Japanese steel plate traced back slightly. Korean plate rose 6.6% to $650.16/mt. Chinese plate ticked up only slightly, by 0.1%, to $716.64/mt.

U.S. steel plate jumped significantly, posting a 13.6% increase for the month, up to $920/st.

U.S. grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) coil fell 1.9% to $2,597 on the month, while neodymium picked up by 0.7% to $71,265.50/mt.

The always volatile cobalt price shot up significantly last month, rising 10.6% to $98,274/mt.

The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

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

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India’s trying to do an OPEC in solar energy, screamed some headlines in Indian newspapers after the founding ceremony of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) was held here recently, witnessed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

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It was during former French President Francois Hollande’s visit to India in January 2016 that Hollande and Modi laid the foundation stone for the ISA headquarters in Gurugram district in northern India, adjacent to the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE).

For the uninitiated, the ISA is a treaty-based alliance of over 120 countries, most of them being “sunshine countries,” which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Its primary objective is to work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition to land, India has also contributed U.S. $27 million to build the ISA campus and has committed to meeting the operational expenditure of this body for the first five years.

Now comes the news that the French government will be committing €700 million in investment to this alliance.

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The Renewables MMI (Monthly Metals Index), after a significant surge last month, sat at 100 for the second consecutive month.

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Within this basket of metals, the Japanese steel plate price rose, as did the price of Chinese and American steel plate. U.S. steel plate, in fact, rose 5.5% month over month.

U.S. grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) coil also jumped in price.

As for the trio of rare and minor metals in this MMI, cobalt cathodes fell 1.1%, while silicon dropped slightly and neodymium made a small gain.

Cobalt Costs

According to a report by the Financial Times, changes to the mining code in the Democratic Republic of Congo will lead to higher costs for consumers of the metal.

According to the report, President Joseph Kabila on Wednesday said he would sign a new order after meeting with representatives from some of the big miners with business in the country, including Glencore, Molybdenum and Ivanhoe Mines. 

Cobalt is used in batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), among other things, making it an especially prized material as EVs gain popularity. As such, with a majority of the world’s cobalt being mined in the DRC, political machinations in the country have a significant impact on the metal’s price.

According to the Financial Times, the code could see royalties on cobalt — plus other metals, like copper and gold — rise from 2% to 10%.

Senators Lobby for Electrical Steel Protection in 232

The Journal-News reported on a trio of U.S. senators who lobbied Trump to prioritize electrical steel in the Section 232 trade remedy process.

The only remaining maker of electrical steel in the country, AK Steel, was unlikely to benefit from the Section 232 trade remedy proposal, according to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

“We write you today to share our concerns that your proposed section 232 remedy is incomplete when it comes to electrical steel,” Portman and two other senators said in their letter to Trump, according to the Journal-News. “We write on behalf of a constituent company, AK Steel, which is the last domestic producer of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES). Since the remedy, as currently constructed, does not include electrical cores and core parts, the remedy will not be effective for the domestic electrical steel market.”

In the senators’ letter, they requested the president add a trio of HTS codes to the duty order.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

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New research has shown that India achieved an operational solar power capacity of 20 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2017.

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Mercom India Research has claimed a record 9.5 GW of solar power capacity was likely added in 2017, taking the total solar power capacity operational in India to over 20 GWs. While there’s no official word from the Indian government yet, media reports said the figure did not match those released by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, but Mercom attributed the figures to its India Solar Project tracker.

If the new research is spot on, it shows, at least on paper, that the Indian government was well on its path of meeting revised capacity targets of 100 GW of installed solar power capacity by March 2022.

India has made a major push in the renewable energy sector, but ,according to some experts, it faces an uphill task vis-à-vis funding, since the plan will require U.S. $125 billion. The plan seeks to achieve an ambitious 175 GW renewable energy target by 2022.

For the solar projects alone, India will set up a U.S. $350 million fund, according to India’s Power Minister RK Singh.

The country, which receives twice as much sunshine as European nations, wants to make solar central to its renewable expansion. It expects renewable energy to make up 40% of installed power capacity by 2030, compared with 18.2% at the end of 2017.

The Power Minister told a gathering at an event organized recently by the International Solar Alliance in Abu Dhabi that India would achieve its target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity well before 2020. The installed renewable power capacity was currently about 60 GW, and India planned to complete the bidding process by the end of 2019-20 to add a further 115 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022, he added.

But a major hurdle that stands in the way of solar power expansion is the policy around the manufacturing of solar panels and their import.

While the Modi government has often emphasized the need to do away with protectionism in order to push solar power, one of the government’s ministries has proposed a 70% import duty on imported solar panels. While this was subsequently stayed by an order of a high court, sector experts have decried this kind of protectionism.

This lot points to the U.S., for example, saying that the country levies a safeguard tariff on imported solar modules and cells, starting at 30% in the first year, 25% in the second, 20% in the third, ending at 15% in the fourth.  They want the Indian government, too, to follow suit.

The government, on its part, does not seem averse to this, it would seem.

A news report said it was “weighing the option” of lowering the proposed 70% safeguard duty on imported solar modules and panels from China and Malaysia recommended by the Directorate-General of Safeguards.

The Standing Board on Safeguards, headed by the Commerce Secretary, which is currently examining the proposal, is yet to make its recommendation to the Finance Ministry as it is deliberating upon the appropriateness of the high duty proposed by DG Safeguards, a government official told the BusinessLine newspaper.

The government has to walk a tightrope, on this issue. While domestic manufacturers of solar panels would definitely benefit from a high safeguard duty. On the other hand, it would increase the cost of production for local power producers.

Overall, on the renewable energy front, India expects foreign capital to make up for the bulk of its investments to meet its target. But the lack of a concrete policy coupled with the fact that at least three ministries involved never seem to be on the same page vis-à-vis renewable energy, has ensured that only local banks and financial institutions have invested in these type of projects so far.

Just a couple of days ago, though, there was some cheer on the foreign investment front.

One of China’s biggest solar panel makers, LONGi Solar, announced it would invest nearly U.S. $309 million in India in the wake of U.S. protectionism and India’s anti-dumping measures threat. The company’s total investment will include $240 million in construction investment and $68 million in working capital, to double the capacity in Andhra Pradesh from 500 MW to 1 GW.

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This could be the start of a new wave of investments, some experts hope. In 2017, India imported 24.1% solar products from China. China produced a total of 76 GW of solar modules and 68 GW of solar photovoltaic cells, up over 33% from the previous year. LONGi’s investment is expected to lower costs.

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Just as there is a circle of life for, well, living things, there is also a circle of life for inorganic waste.

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Perhaps not as majestic as the “circle of life,” but the “circular economy” is the goal being sought by E.U. institutions and member states with a recently announced raft of waste rules reform, a subject that has been in the discussion phase among European institutions and member states for two years.

The agreement, announced Dec. 18, reached between European institutions and member states includes a target recycling rate of 65% by 2035 (55% by 2025 and 60% by 2030). In addition, the agreement also features a 10% cap on landfill.

Materials are used and, eventually, might be headed toward landfills or incineration — or, in a more environmentally friendly fate, they can be recycled and thus repurposed for additional uses.

According to the European Steel Association (EUROFER): “Measuring recycling at the waste collection stage, which is how it has been done until now, generates significant losses later on in the recycling value chain. This means there has been a need for targets for ‘real’ recycling that correctly measure how much material is really recovered from waste and actually reprocessed.”

Steel is one example of a metal that is widely used and capable of being recycled for reuse.

“Steel recycling is essential to the creation of a European circular economy; the establishment of this circular economy requires harmonised and coherent waste legislation,” the EUROFER release states.

Axel Eggert, director general of EUROFER, said the agreement represents a “step forward.”

“The agreement reached by the European Parliament and Council is a step forward because it proposes a methodology measuring recycling rates when waste materials are reprocessed into new products – we cannot accept that recyclable material is lost on the way to final recycling in steel production facilities,” Eggert said.

Even so, he admitted there’s still work left to do.

“However, the proposal only goes part of the way towards accurate, harmonised measurement of real recycling because a derogation allows member states to declare material as ‘recycled’ even after an early waste sorting stage,” Eggert said in the EUROFER release. “This will give vastly different results than measuring recycling at the stage of reprocessing into new products.

“This outcome means that, despite the welcome ambition shown by the member states, the legislation will remain incomplete and will allow for disparate recycling rates between the member states. The role of the Commission will be even more important during the implementation phase in ensuring greater harmonisation and reducing data gaps, tasks which are in the interest of all the member states.”

Meanwhile, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) used the word “timid” to describe the steps taken toward the s0-called circular economy.

“This is not the outcome we all hoped for, but it is nonetheless a significant improvement compared with the laws that are currently in place,” said Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at EEB, in a release. “We are happy the discussions are now over. Now member states and EU institutions need to build on this decision to fully transition to a circular economy.”

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According to the EEB, less than 50% of E.U. waste is recycled. It remains to be seen whether E.U. member states will hit the recycling goals included in this latest batch of reforms and if the concerns Eggert raised become an issue.