Articles in Category: Green

In a geological illustration of what goes around comes around, researchers at the University of Florida found lead deposits from hydrothermal vents associated with an underwater volcano off the coast of Italy. Hydrothermal springs release water often at high temperature that has traveled deep under the seabed and subsequently heated by subterranean geothermal activity and in the process left dissolved metals and minerals from the surrounding rocks. At first they assumed the lead was from local deposits in the Mediterranean but on closer examination using a (get this) Multi-Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer – researchers found the lead matched deposits from Broken Hill in Australia. Apparently lead deposits, a little like human DNA, can be traced to their source by matching the isotope profile. The most likely explanation, according to the researchers,  is the lead was mined, shipped to Europe and turned into fuel in the days when lead additives were prevalent. The exhaust fumes were then washed out into the atmosphere, seeping underground to be gradually recycled and combined with other mineral deposits on the seabed deposited by the hydrothermal activity, just as the original Broken Hill deposits were laid down millions of years ago.

If correct it has some telling lessons for us about the use and release of potentially harmful products, especially heavy metals, into our environment. They are rarely lost. Nature has her own way of recycling and concentrating these metals in ways we are still learning about. As commentators have rightly pointed out there are other explanations as to how deposits with such similar isotope profiles could have come about. We just liked the idea that in another thousand years of hydrothermal activity maybe BHP can go mine it’s lead again, only this time in the Mediterranean rather than in Australia.

–Stuart Burns

After our report last week about a possible  peak for lithium, news about electric vehicles might not excite most readers. But  this year’s  increased interest in electric motorcycles means these fuel-efficient, lightweight metal machines  could someday  hit the market in growing numbers.  Catering to motorcycle fanatics looking to “fly,” Mission Motors revealed an electric motorcycle this week  at the TED Conference in Long Beach, Calif.

Mission Motors touts their sleek Mission One motorcycle, designed by Yves Behar, as “world’s fastest production all-electric motorcycle.” Complete with a high-energy lithium-ion battery pack, the Mission One electric motorcycle produces no tailpipe emissions: a great step for motorcycle fanatics looking to “green” their rides. “While Hogs roar and Ninja scream,” Forbes explains in a recent article, “the Mission One just flies.” And although we wouldn’t suggest pushing the speed limit, the motorcycle soars at 150 miles per hour.

“As a motorcycle enthusiast and engineer I knew I could combine my passion for motorcycles with my passion for innovation and create a motorcycle that truly sets a new standard in the perception of electric vehicles,” Forrest North, the founder and CEO of Mission Motors, said in a company press release.
Credit: Mission Motors/TreeHugger.

Founded in 2007, Mission Motors was created months after North left an electric car company, the currently struggling Tesla Motors. Since bikes are less complex than cars, North expects a smooth ride for the company, without the difficulties Tesla has faced. “Motorcycles are about elegance and purity of performance,” founder and CEO Forrest  North told Forbes. “You don’t have a lot of extra bells and whistles, and the ones you want, like the ability to tune it and traction control, are easily controlled in an electric bike through software.”

–Amy Edwards

Who killed the electric car?  A lack of lithium resources could do the trick. Rumors abound that  future lithium shortages  might slow production for electric car developments,  especially  when demand for the lightweight metal rises against a decreasing supply.  Once popular for glass and ceramics,  lithium has already  undergone  increased demand for lithium-ion batteries in everything from cell phones and laptops to the latest breed of automobile, including GM’s Chevy Volt and Mitsubishi’s latest endeavor, an electric car headed for the market soon.

Photo: The Mitsubishi iMiev, a new electric car. Credit: Ecomodder.

Despite the excitement over electric vehicles, Mitsubishi has a realist perspective. “Mitsubishi estimates that lithium demand will outstrip supply as early as 2015,” explains website Earth2Tech, which notes that “batteries make up one-fifth of the world’s end-use market for the mineral  — a share that will only grow if the auto industry goes where lithium-ion start-ups like ActaCell, A123 Systems  and Imara are betting it will.”

Photo: Lightweight lithium is classified as  an alkali metal.

Pointing out that foreign miners are desperately seeking an entry to lithium-rich Bolivia to keep up with demand, the article adds:

The U.S. Geological Survey’s mineral commodity specialist on lithium, Brian Jaskula, offers a more conservative estimate, forecasting that demand will begin to drive lithium prices up in the next 10 to 15 years. But the signs are clear: Lithium, which now costs less than a buck per kilogram, will not stay cheap for long.

What next? The technological designs and  innovations that use the least lithium are ready to run full-steam ahead. Until then, trade talks with Bolivia will keep mining companies busy.

–Amy Edwards

                                                       China steel mill. Photo Credit: Getty/AFB.

The world’s largest steel producer and consumer, China struggled as the metal dropped to 14-year lows late last year. Since September, steel prices started reaching levels unseen since 1994, and analysts expect similarly discomforting times for steel producers in 2009. The country has found that steel mergers, however, can help control problems in the sprawling steel sector.

In June 2008, Tangshan Iron & Steel Group and Handan Iron & Steel Group combined to create steel giant Hebei Iron and Steel Group Co., which beat previous leader Baosteel to hold the reigning title as China’s largest steel producer. This merger created the world’s fifth-largest steel producer. Now, three heavyweights in the Chinese steel industry have chosen to merge, creating China’s newest, biggest steel maker, created  from Tangshan Iron and Steel Co., Handan Iron and Steel Group and Chengde Xinin Vanadium and Titanium Co., all Hebei-based companies. Share swaps will allow the merger to take place, with Tangshan  overtaking all assets. Before this happens, though, the companies need to gain approval from shareholders and regulators. Read more

Taking a break from rare, pricy platinum, Chinese engineers invented a less expensive fuel cell that replaces the typical platinum catalyst  with a nickel substitute.  

In every fuel cell, a noble metal is used as a catalyst to create protons and electrons from fuel and hydrogen atoms. The protons react with oxygen to create water, while the electrons form electricity. Because platinum remains stable when exposed to the highly acidic environment found near certain materials in the cell, platinum is traditionally accepted as the noble metal of choice. Although fuel cells are an environmentally-friendly and more efficient alternative to internal-combustion engines, which produce more heat, the cells refrained from rising in popularity. The high platinum price bears responsibility for dwindling interest in fuel cells, and some scientists set out for a simpler solution. An engineering team led by Lin Zhuang at Wahun University in China has possibly found the answer.

Zhuang’s team created a new “polymer electrolyte fuel cell” that is less corrosive and more efficient than the platinum-based variety, largely because the new membrane for the cell is non-alkali, not acidic. By avoiding noble metal catalysts and substituting chromium-plated nickel, the new cell is also cheaper. As long as engineers can create these nickel-based fuel cells on a wider scale, fuel cells could become more common in vehicles. Depending on the scientific results and the possibilities surrounding this study, the future for fuel cells could quickly take a positive turn.

–Amy Edwards

Long-Lasting Batteries Look Promising to HP

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Most laptop batteries don’t have a long shelf-life, but Hewlett-Packer hopes to take that declaration and turn it completely around — with a little help from a young battery company called Boston-Power, the brains behind HP’s latest operation.

The next batch of HP notebooks will rely on Boston-Power’s earth-friendly lithium-ion batteries, currently known as “Sonata” batteries. The leader in their field, lithium-ion batteries have almost completely replaced nickel-cadmium and nickel-metalhydride batteries in laptops and several other electronic devices. However, the New York Times notes, “existing lithium-ion batteries will typically lose half their charge capacity after just one year, and will be all but dead after three.” Meanwhile, the Boston-Power lithium-ion battery, made without the usual heavy metals, has a fast charge and can thrive for three or more years, a much longer shelf-life than the average notebook. Read more

On MetalMiner, we’ve covered a wide variety of stories that deal with metal recycling  — dismantling a stadium, finding a new life for e-waste, and uncovering green innovations in the metals industry. But as scrap metal prices plunge, so does the collective environmental conscience. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently took an in-depth look at  the current recycling “rough spot,” while Times-New Online focused on the metals industry this week and reported the surprising downfall of one metal recycling business.  Apparently, most Americans prefer to save instead of sell junk metal when no “green,” or cash flow, results from being  environmentally-friendly.    

As we witness declining demand for scrap metal, as well as  reduced scrap metal prices, many recycling businesses face lay-offs and closings. “I only have one employee, and I have nothing for him to do. He painted the bathroom the other day,” Linda Jones, the owner of Tennessee-based Rogersville Recycling, told Times-News Online.

“I do know of a lot of smaller recyclers who have already gone out of business,” shared Jones, who is holding tight to a load of copper she bought for $2.45 per pound. Now, she can only receive 90 cents per pound for the same item. Read more

New carbon taxes from the Australian government worried zinc producers last month, but environmental regulations are starting to concern metal producers in other areas, too. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the European Union recently prepared a similar CO2 emission-reduction strategy. And like the zinc producers in Australia, steelmakers in European countries aren’t waving flags of approval to put the “green” in “greenhouse gases.”

To reduce greenhouse emissions, the EU proposed cutting “total CO2 emissions within the economic zone to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. The target would rise to 30% if the EU strikes an international agreement to reduce CO2 emissions,” the Wall Street Journal explains. “Because the EU is taking a more lenient stance toward businesses that are outside the scope of the program — such as agriculture and transport, among others — deeper cuts will be required for the bloc’s industrial sector.”

Despite the environmental benefits, European steelmakers believe the proposed rules could lead to more job cuts than emission cuts, harming the European economy as buyers purchase cheaper steel from producers without these pollution regulations. Read more

Japanese companies have already shown the world how much they care about rare metals preservation, and the Japanese Denture Recycling Association (JDRA) considers nothing more precious. Their latest  efforts uncover precious metals from dentures and support needy children through simple recycling programs.

“It’s said that Japan has more gold and silver stored in things like metal fixtures in dentures and components for electronic equipment than even South Africa, with its huge gold mines, and Peru, where most of the silver originated,” TreeHugger shares in a recent article. Luckily, Japan’s many recycling initiatives make a big, green difference, and JDRA hopes to make an even larger impact in more ways than one. Read more

The Australian government plans to introduce new carbon taxes in 2010, but the world’s largest zinc producer worries that  emissions  trading  could create major waves in their company.  Created to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the  carbon pollution reduction scheme  might prove too difficult and cause Nyrstar  to close some Australian smelters. Although Nyrstar  owns smelters in other countries, a  40 percent majority  of their zinc and lead production takes place in Australia.

As part of the Australian government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, companies will buy and trade a limited number of permits to emit the gases held responsible for global warming. Nyrstar, however, considers these efforts impractical for their smelters in Tasmania and Southern Australia, calculating that “it wouldn’t be sustainable” to  keep them  in business with the additional $45 million cost in American dollars ($70 million in Australian dollars). Nyrstar chief operating officer Greg McMillan declared earlier this week that the new laws would keep the company uncompetitive in international markets — and lead to 3,000 lost jobs. Read more

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