Articles in Category: Minor Metals

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up one point, rising to a value of 19.

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Lynas Considers Initial Ore Processing at Home Amid Pressure in Malaysia

Australian rare-earths miner Lynas Corp., as we’ve noted in previous Rare Earths MMI reports, has been facing regulatory pressure in Malaysia of late.

The Malaysian government has issued two conditions for renewal of the miner’s license in the country, which expires in September, related to disposal of two types of waste. Last month, Lynas appealed one of the conditions put forth by the government related to disposal of water leached purification residue.

As such, the miner is considering building out initial ore processing near its Australian mine, Reuters reported.

“We have been giving great consideration to … our future industrial footprint,” CEO Amanda Lacaze was quoted as saying during an analyst and investor call. “We remain confident that we can agree a path forward with the Malaysian government which is good for Malaysia and good for our business.”

Lynas is the biggest miner of rare earths outside of China.

“We see value in operating alternative cracking and leaching processing close to our resource, and therefore the primary locations that we have been considering for growth are in Western Australia,” the miner said in a statement posted to its website. “Part of this planning has been to scope our future industrial footprint. Our preference has always been to add to our Malaysian capability, not replace it. Our Malaysian cracking and leaching operations are performing very well as a result of the IP our Malaysian team has developed and owned – IP which others cannot use – and the hard work of all the Lynas team. We remain committed to supporting the Malaysian economy and protecting our people’s jobs. However, this same work means we are well placed to deal with any change in Malaysian government policy.”

The company received a shock last Friday following comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who indicated the miner’s Malaysian operations were being put up for buyers who can make good on cleanup of the radioactive waste.

“With regard to Lynas, we have imposed an extra condition, that is they must take away the waste,” Mohamad said. “But they want to take away the waste to where? They want to take it to Australia, but Australia doesn’t want to accept it, so they can’t do it anyway.

“So what we have done is we have opened up the business to other people, and there are other companies willing to buy up or somehow or other acquire Lynas, they have given us a promise that in future before sending the raw material to Malaysia they will clean it up first, they will crack it and decontaminate it in some way with regard to radioactivity, so that when the raw material comes here, the volume is less and the waste from that raw material is not dangerous to anybody.”

The comments came just over a week after Lynas rejected a $1.5 billion takeover bid from Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers.

Meanwhile, in perhaps promising news for Lynas, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the government of Western Australia has indicated it would consider offering assistance if the company should decide to build a new processing plant in the state.

China Becomes Top Rare Earths Importer

Speaking of China, the country exerts an overwhelming dominance in the rare earths market, which includes materials used in a wide variety of high-tech capacities, from smartphones to laptops and more.

Now, China is also the world’s top rare earths importer, Reuters reported.

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Citing data from consultancy Adamas Intelligence, China’s imports of rare earths surged 167% last year. In addition, China became a net importer of at least seven rare earths, including praseodymium and yttrium, for the first time in more than 30 years.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price fell 0.3% month over month as of April 1, down to $33.52/kg. Terbium oxide rose 4.7% to $465.52/kg.

Neodymium oxide dropped 5.2% to $43,573/mt.

Europium oxide fell 0.3% to $38.73/kg. Dysprosium oxide jumped 15.4% to $218.98/kg.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. mines churned out $82.8 billion worth of minerals in 2018.

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The 2018 total marked a 3% year-over-year increase from $79.7 billion in 2017, according to the report from the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

“The Mineral Commodity Summaries provide crucial, unbiased statistics that decision-makers and policy-makers in both the private and public sectors rely on to make business decisions and national policy,” said Steven M. Fortier, director of the National Mineral Information Center, in a prepared statement. “Industries – such as steel, aerospace and electronics – processed nonfuel mineral materials and created an estimated $3.02 trillion in value-added products in 2018, which is a 6 percent increase over 2017.”

The report highlights the U.S.’s dependence on foreign sources for a number of minerals. According to the report, “imports made up more than half of U.S apparent consumption for 48 nonfuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was 100 percent net import reliant for 18 of those.”

Of the 18 commodities for which the U.S. is totally reliant on imports, 14 were named on a critical minerals list designated in May 2018 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The full list of critical minerals included: aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.

China topped the list of exporters of nonfuel minerals to the U.S., followed by Canada. As noted in our Rare Earths MMI series, the U.S. — the whole world, in fact — is largely dependent on China for rare earths elements, as China controls most of the sector.

Unsurprisingly, when it came time for the Trump administration to roll out a finalized list of tariffs in September — $200 billion worth in tariffs on Chinese goods, in addition to the $50 billion worth of tariffs imposed earlier in 2018 — rare earths were left off the list.

While it certainly is not enough to counterbalance China’s dominance in the sector, the USGS report notes rare earth mining resumed in the U.S. last year for the first time since 2015, when Molycorp, owner of the Mountain Pass rare earths mine, declared bankruptcy. Mountain Pass, the U.S.’s only operating rare earths mine, was eventually sold to MP Mine Operations LLC for $20.5 million in 2017.

Minerals Production Up, Metal Mine Production Down

Breaking down U.S. mine production further, U.S. industrial minerals production came in at a value of $56.3 billion last year (up 7% from 2017), while metal mine production checked in at an estimated $25.9 billion (down 4% from 2017).

Crushed stone, construction sand and gravel accounted for 45% of industrial minerals production, at a value of $25.3 billion. Meanwhile, gold, copper, iron ore and zinc led the way in metal mine production.

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Other Highlights

A few other items of note from the USGS report:

  • U.S. imports of aluminum fell by an estimated 11% last year, as the U.S.’s Section 232 tariff on imported aluminum went into effect. Argentina and Australia were exempted from the duty (Argentina was tagged with a quota), while the tariff rate for Turkish aluminum doubled amid diplomatic tensions last year.
  • A New York zinc mine, last operational in 2008, reopened last year.
  • Twelve states produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel mineral commodities in 2018, according to the report. The list includes, in descending order: Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming.

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell one point this month for an MMI reading of 103.

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The Hunt for Cobalt

As noted routinely in this installment of the MMI series, cobalt is a coveted material for its use in a wide variety of high-tech applications, from cellphones to laptops and much more.

A majority of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where political instability and the government’s revision of its mining code (increasing royalty rates for cobalt and other materials) have posed business challenges to miners.

As such, it’s not surprising that some are looking for new sources of cobalt.

According to a Bloomberg report, a new startup powered by a coalition of billionaires, including Bill Gates, is seeking to do just that.

The startup, KoBold Metals, aims to create a “Google Maps for the Earth’s crust,” according to the report, in an effort to locate new sources of cobalt.

“KoBold Metals applies statistical modeling, big data aggregation, and basic science to materially improve the pace and efficacy of natural resources exploration,” KoBold’s website states. “We are applying our proprietary platform, Machine Prospector, to explore for new sources of ethical cobalt from reliable jurisdictions.”

The approach would also offer more specific focus to cobalt, as opposed to mining of the material as a byproduct of copper or nickel, as is typically the case.

“People just haven’t looked for the stuff,” KoBold CEO Kurt House told Bloomberg. “There’s very limited history of exploration at all outside of piggybacking on nickel and copper deposits.”

Cobalt Price Slides

Sticking with the cobalt theme, the price of the coveted material plunged throughout the second half of 2018 — and a recovery is not expected in the near term.

According to Reuters, the cobalt price fell to a two-year low of $32,000 per ton, down from $100,000 per ton in the first half of 2018.

What contributed to the plunge? According to the report, high prices led to an uptick in supply. However, cobalt demand is expected to exceed supply in the long term, according to the report.

GOES Prices Fall

The price of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) fell 4.1% month over month to $2,360/mt as of March 1.

The GOES MMI fell 8.2% for a March value of 168.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Japanese steel plate fell 2.3% month over month to $772.30/mt as of March 1. Korean steel plate rose 1.9% to $586.67/mt. Chinese steel plate increased 3.8% to $642.72/mt.

U.S. steel plate fell 1.8% to $997/st.

The Chinese neodymium price fell 1.8% to $58,29.10/mt. Chinese silicon rose 0.2% to $1,539.54/mt, while Chinese cobalt cathodes jumped 0.2% to $99,397.20/mt.

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) held flat this month, holding for a reading of 18.

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Auditors Cite Material Risk for Lynas Corp

According to mining.com, auditors have flagged a material risk for Australian miner Lynas Corp’s Malaysian operations.

The rare earths miner, one of the biggest outside of China, has been navigating new regulatory standards imposed by the Malaysian government.

“As noted in the report for the quarter ending 31 December 2018, during the half year the Malaysian government appointed a Review Committee to evaluate Lynas Malaysia’s operations,” the miner noted in its quarterly earnings announcement. “The Review Committee’s report was released on 4 December 2018 and found Lynas Malaysia’s operations are low risk and Lynas Malaysia is compliant with applicable laws. Separately, on 4 December 2018, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued a letter containing two new pre-conditions for Lynas’ licence renewal on 2 September 2019. These conditions relate to the management of the 2 residues produced by Lynas operations in Malaysia.”

According to the release, Lynas has appealed one of the conditions concerning the disposal of water leached purification (WLP) residue, one of the residues cited by the Malaysian government.

The miner’s license to operate in the country is up for renewal in September.

“The regulatory environment in Malaysia was very challenging through the half year, Lynas CEO and Managing Director Amanda Lacaze said in the release. “Despite this, we remained focused on business fundamentals, meeting the needs of our key customers and laying the foundations for further growth in our business.”

Greener Rare Earths Extraction?

According to a report by Forbes, researchers may have found a greener way to extract rare earths, which are coveted for a number of high-tech applications, including ever-more-sophisticated smartphones.

As the article by Dr. Anna Powers notes, mining rare earths is a difficult business — even where deposits exist, they may not be economically viable. In addition, the mining of rare earths elements poses negative environmental impacts.

However, as Powers explained, scientists may have found a more environmentally friendly method by which to extract rare earths elements: bio-acids.

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“Scientists used synthetic phosphogypsum which was produced in lab and had a controlled composition, and used various acids to understand which acid was best at separating rare-earths most efficiently,” she explained. “Surprisingly, bio-acids did the best job! The next step of this research would be to apply industrial grade phosphogypsum found as a by product to refine the results of this study as well as understand how different compositions of phosphogypsum affects the ability of rare-earth metals to be extracted.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price ticked up 0.2% month over month to $33.63/kilogram as of March 1. Terbium oxide moved up 1.6% to $444.67/kilogram.

Neodymium oxide fell 1.1% to $45,961.90/mt. Europium oxide ticked up 0.2% to $38.86/kilogram and dysprosium oxide rose 5.2% to $189.83/kilogram.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time and the more people you are trying to please the harder it gets.

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When you are the largest and oldest metals exchange in the world and are trying to balance often competing priorities of a very diverse range of stakeholders — not to mention avoid potential litigation for just saying the wrong thing — it is hardly surprising the London Metal Exchange falls out of favor with one group or another from time to time.

Look at the aluminum load out queues some years ago, hated with a passion by consumers, loved by the warehouse operators and the LME in between facing litigation from Rusal over its efforts to find a solution.

Once again, the LME finds itself the object of someone’s ire.

This time it is a range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Amnesty International and Global Witness, upset with the LME’s plan to enforce standards of responsible sourcing and environmental stewardship on suppliers (or face their brands being banned from LME approval).

To be fair, the NGOs are not upset that the LME is taking the initiative — they are upset that it does not go far enough.

Read more

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) showed no movement this month, sticking at 17.

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Joining Forces

A Canadian company and an Australian company are joining forces on a rare earth elements project in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

In late January, Canadian firm Avalon Advanced Materials announced plans to work with Australian firm Cheetah Resources “to participate in the development of the rare earth resources on its mining leases collectively comprising the Nechalacho Project at Thor Lake near Yellowknife” in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“We are delighted to have attracted a like-minded partner in Cheetah to the rare earth opportunity at Thor Lake,” Avalon President and CEO Don Bubar said. “The agreement structure will allow Avalon to resume its long term development aspirations for the Nechalacho Project, and secure a source of non-dilutive working capital to continue to advance our other near term development aspirations for the East Kemptville Tin and Separation Rapids Lithium Projects.”

According to the Avalon announcement, Cheetah focuses primarily on the small-scale development of rare earth resources enriched in magnet rare earths, like neodymium and praseodymium.

Daimler to Work with Chinese Auto Suppliers

Daimler AG plans to augment partnerships with Chinese auto suppliers, Reuters reported late last month, citing Mercedes-Benz executive Wilko Stark.

Of note via-a-vis rare earth minerals is the fact that Daimler is also considering an alliance on electric vehicle batteries, according to the report.

Minerals like cobalt are often found in areas of the world that lead to ethically compromised supply chains. For example, a majority of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there are numerous documentation from NGOs and news media regarding the use of child labor, low wages for miners and poorly regulated working conditions that are often extremely dangerous.

Per the Reuters report, Stark, however, said there are no “formal decisions” with respect to such a battery alliance.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price increased 2.6% month over month as of Feb. 1, up to $33.56/kilogram. Terbium oxide jumped 1.9% to $437.79/kilogram.

Europium oxide increased 8.0% to $38.78/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide jumped 2.6% to $180.49/kilogram.

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell 5.5% to land at 17, just one point shy of its all-time historical low (16).

Certain constituent metal prices rose, such as cerium oxide and europium oxide.

However, several others fell, including neodymium oxide (falling 0.6% to $45,649 per metric ton) and terbium metal (falling 0.7% to $566 per kilogram).

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The China Front

China is doubling down on illegal mining and traceability of rare earth metals and minerals, according to new guidelines published by the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) late last week, as reported by Reuters.

As readers know, China’s been attempting to clean up its rare earths production sector for about a decade already, and it’s made strides toward its goals, but there’s still a way to go.

Even after launching a crackdown on the rare earths sector in 2009 and being forced by the WTO to get rid of export controls in 2014, “illegal mining and production continued to disrupt ‘market order’ and damage the interests of legitimate enterprises,” the ministry stated in their notice, according to Reuters.

The ministry is also committed to establishing a traceability system to prevent buyers from snapping up illegal material and will suspend licenses of companies that break the law, according to the news service.

Meanwhile, In Korea…

Across the Yellow Sea, patent applications for uses of rare earths have been going strong.

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) on Dec. 30, as reported by BusinessKorea, “the number of patent applications related to the use of rare earth materials for permanent magnets and batteries totaled 2,356 over the past five years from 2011 to 2016.”

High-tech heavyweights Samsung led the way, with Hyundai and LG not far behind.

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After surging more than 50% in the last four months, palladium — that previously little-discussed Platinum Group Metal (PGM) — reached $1,255.12/ounce, surpassing gold for the first time in 16 years last week, according to The New York Times.

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Driven by both investor and trade interest, palladium appears to be responding to strong demand from the auto industry (from which 80% of its consumption comes).

A swing to petrol engines has boosted palladium demand, in preference to its sister metal, platinum, which is used more in diesel engines. The metal is also used in alloys for products like surgical instruments, dental alloys and certain electronic applications, The New York Times notes, but it is a combination of catalyst demand and constrained supply that has caused shortages, leading some dealers to run out of metal.

According to the report, citing consulting firm Metals Focus, demand for the metal for catalytic applications will reach a record high of 8.5 million ounces this year. Tighter emissions legislation and the switch to petrol cars is driving surging demand, such that consumption is expected to outstrip supply by 1.2 million ounces this year, with the market remaining in deficit next year.

Miners have found it difficult to keep up.

Mines in South Africa, in particular, have faced worker disruption and are said to be struggling to cover costs, as PGM prices generally remain depressed but mine inflation challenges profitability and deters investment.

The world’s largest producer is Norilsk Nickel in Russia. Buyers were heartened by the firm’s announcement last week that it plans to invest $12 billion in mine expansion over the next five years, according to The NewYork Times report. Supply may come onto the market just as the long anticipated but equally delayed arrival of electric vehicles finally begins to become a reality.

But for now, the metal seems a good bet for 2019, providing vehicle sales do not falter. Investors have driven Palladium ETFs up 12.3% this year, even as gold has fallen 6.4%.

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The big money has been made, but palladium’s fundamentals remain better than gold’s — providing global growth and vehicle sales hold up in 2019.

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up one point, rising for a December MMI reading of 18.

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Lynas Considers Legal Action Against Malaysian Government

In last month’s installment of the Rare Earths MMI, we noted shares of Australian miner Lynas Corporation Limited got a boost on news that the Malaysian government would allow it to continue storing waste materials in the country.

However, this week the miner announced it was considering legal action, among other options, against the Malaysian government, which recently issued a statement regarding conditions for the miner’s license renewal.

According to a Lynas statement, the two conditions for renewal on Sept. 2, 2019, from the Malaysian government are: 1) the export of Water Leach Purification residue before Sept. 2, 2019, and 2) submission of an action plan for the disposal of Neutralization Underflow Residue (NUF) (which has valid approval through Feb. 5, 2019).

As readers know, China overwhelmingly dominates the global rare earths sector; however, Lynas represents the biggest rare earths miner outside of China.

Rare-Earths Elements in Mining Waste?

Given the demand for rare earths, particularly vis-a-vis high-tech applications (e.g. electrical vehicle batteries), every little bit of supply helps.

According to doctoral research cited by phys.org, it may be possible to extract quantities of rare earths from quarried ore.

“The problem is that the minerals we want are hidden in the waste heaps in very small quantities, and we do not have efficient methods for extracting them,” Wenzhong Zhang, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, was quoted as saying.

His research focuses primarily on recovery of rare-earths elements, namely scandium, from aluminum.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Yttrium rose 1.3% to $32.68/kilogram, while terbium oxide rose 3.6% to $432.16/kilogram.

Neodymium oxide jumped 2.8% to $45,903.70/mt. Europium oxide was up 1.3% to $42.13/kilogram, while dysprosium oxide rose 9.5% to $180.13/kilogram.

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up a point this month, rising for an MMI reading of 102.

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DRC Declares Cobalt ‘Strategic’ Substance

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — where a majority of the world’s cobalt is mined — declared cobalt to be a “strategic” substance, according to a Reuters report citing a government decree.

So, what does that mean, exactly?

Operating in the country is going to be pricier for miners like Glencore. The royalty rate for the coveted material will rise to 10%, nearly triple its previous rate, according to the report.

The decree was signed by Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala Nov. 24 and made public this week.

Cobalt is coveted for its application in batteries used in electric vehicles. However, the price of cobalt on the LME has plummeted this year, from $95,000/ton in late March to $54,750/ton this week.

2018 LME cobalt prices. Source: LME

The DRC ushered in a new mining code earlier this year, which saw an increase in royalty rates for a number of metals, including cobalt.

Glencore, a major mining player in the country, in October reported cobalt production of 28,500 tons, up 44% year over year, through the first three quarters. Its full-year guidance called for approximately 39,000 tons of production (plus-minus 2,000 tons), which would mark an increase from last year’s 27,400 tons.

Speaking of cobalt and tension with the DRC government, Bloomberg reported the government had begun an audit of cobalt produced by a Glencore unit in the country was found to have traces of uranium.

Tokyo Steel Announces Plate Price Hike

As we noted last month, Tokyo Steel announced plans to hike steel plate prices in the final month of the year.

“Plate prices have always had their own price dynamics separate from the other forms of flat rolled steel (such as HRC and CRC). Plate prices in the U.S. have remained fairly well-supported compared to the other forms of steel, so it should come as no surprise that in markets with strong construction demand, like Japan, mills would announce price increases,” we noted in a post last month.

“Interestingly, Chinese plate prices have started to slip, but those dynamics could change based on environmental curbs, whether the Japanese plate price increases stick and Chinese demand. U.S. metal-buying organizations will want to pay close attention to these price dynamics in Japan and China.”

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Japanese steel prices fell on the month, down to $757.12/mt. Korean steel plate fell 2.5% to $640.18, while Chinese steel plate dropped 7.5% to $637.71/mt.

U.S. steel plate rose 2.1% to $1,022/mt.

Chinese neodymium jumped 2.6% to $58,469.10/mt, while silicon rose 1.3% to $1,496.23/mt. Cobalt cathodes rose 1.3% to $96,601.10/mt.