Scientists one step closer to producing more efficient lithium-ion batteries

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory discovered a first-of-its-kind copper and graphite combination that, they say, could have implications for improving the energy efficiency of lithium-ion batteries.

The discovery took place after they bombarded graphite in an ultra-high vacuum environment with ions to create surface defects. Copper was then deposited on the ion-bombarded graphite while holding it at elevated temperature, at 600-800 K. The synthetic route created multilayer copper islands that are completely covered by graphene layers.

“Copper is a highly conductive material but susceptible to oxidation. Being able to successfully embed it just underneath the surface of graphite protects the copper, and suggests a number of potential applications, including battery technology,” Research Assistant Ann Lii-Rosales said in a press release.

It took the work of almost a dozen researchers to get to this finding, with Lii-Rosales leading the way and publishing their results in a paper titled “Formation of Multilayer Cu Islands Embedded beneath the Surface of Graphite: Characterization and Fundamental Insights,” which was just published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

In the same media statement, the scientists explained that this research is the continuation of a discovery from last year, when a team at the same lab encapsulated dysprosium, a magnetic rare-earth metal, underneath a single layer of graphene. Encouraged by their success, they began testing the possibilities of the method with other elements, including copper.

“We’re pretty excited by this because we didn’t expect it,” said Pat Thiel, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University, who also works at the Ames Lab. “Copper doesn’t seem to interact strongly or favorably with graphitic materials at all, so this was a big surprise. It really challenges us to understand the reasons and mechanisms involved.”

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Gold mine in Oregon “worth building”

US-focused Paramount Gold Nevada (NYSE: PZG) announced this week that results from an independent Pre-Feasibility Study for its 100%-owned Grassy Mountain Gold project show that the operation has the potential to be profitable at a low gold price.

“The base case projects an after-tax Internal Rate of Return of 28% at $1,300 gold and the estimated Net Present Value exceeds $87 million at a 5% discount rate,” the miner stated in a press release.

The Grassy Mountain Gold project is located in Malheur County, Oregon, approximately 22 miles south of Vale. In detail, it is situated in the rolling hills of the high desert region of the far western Snake River Plain.

In the media brief, Paramount explained that the recently obtained PFS confirmed that it would be beneficial to move forward with the company’s plan to open an underground mining operation in the area.

“The PFS clearly shows that Grassy Mountain is a mine worth building. The results demonstrate a low-cost operation that would deliver exceptional cash-flows over its mine life at the current gold price. The scale and simplicity of the proposed operation is one that we are very confident Paramount can build and manage. The PFS also identifies significant opportunities for improving project economics and finding more ore to extend mine life,” Glen Van Treek, the firm’s President and CEO, stated in the document.

The study revealed that Grassy Mountain hosts a measured and indicated resource containing 1.06 million ounces of gold at 0.034 oz/ton (1.17 g/t), plus 3.3 million ounces of silver at 0.107 oz/ton (3.67 g/t).

Proven and probable reserves, on the other hand, contain 362,000 ounces of Au at 0.21 opt (7.20 g/T) plus 516,000 ounces of Ag at 0.30 opt (10.3 g/T);

With these results, annual average production is expected to be of 47,000 ounces of gold and 50,000 ounces of silver for 7.25 years.

Paramount Gold will now work towards acquiring the necessary permits to start production by 2021.

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Hundreds protest in Veracruz against mining development

Hundreds of environmentalists, as well as members of religious organizations and Indigenous groups hailing from different communities in the Mexican municipality of Actopan, protested this week against mining development in the eastern Veracruz state.

The protesters issued a press release, held a conference at a church and then marched towards the City Hall with signs where they wrote slogans like “Open-pit mines in Actopan and Alto Lucero use poisonous cyanide” or “We are against the privatization of our water.”

In the statement made public on social media by the Veracruzan Assembly of Environmental Initiatives and Defense, those opposing mining activities said that their traditional ways of interacting with the environment should be respected by national, regional and local government officials. “We demand that they respect our human rights and put a halt, cancel or stop issuing mining permits in the region. These mining concessions affect residents’ individual and collective rights.”

Even though the document does not mention any specific project, local media report that the activists were expressing concerns about the use of cyanide at La Paila mine, part of the Candelaria Mining’s Caballo Blanco gold project.

Caballo Blanco is planned as a heap-leach, open-pit mining operation targeting approximately 100,000 ounces of gold production annually. At the moment, the Canadian miner is just waiting for the Mexican Environmental Authority to review an updated version of their Environmental Impact Assessment. asked Candelaria to comment on the protests but did not receive a response by publication time. However, in a video produced by local news site Primer Párrafo, the firm’s COO Armando Alexandri said that they are trying to engage with the local population by creating a mining forum where experts from both sides can present their cases and find common-ground solutions.

The protesters said that the company is acting unilaterally and plans to start works at the mine in July 2018. They also said they will not allow that to happen.

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Vancouver miner expanding in under-explored area of Atlantic Canada

Labrador Gold (TSXV: LAB) announced today that it is staking additional 92 claims at the Hopedale project, located 30 kilometres southwest of the community of Hopedale in eastern Labrador, Canada.

In detail, the claims are situated at the northern end of the Florence Lake greenstone belt, which is adjacent to the Thurber Dog area where the company has reported grab samples up to 7.87 g/t gold and where known occurrences have assayed 3.97 g/t over 5 metres in channel samples.

In a press release, the firm said that the addition of the new claims increases the total strike length of the horizon prospective for gold mineralization to 50 kilometres, all of which is under its control.

“The Florence Lake belt is significantly underexplored for gold compared to greenstone belts elsewhere in the world, despite such belts being prolific hosts of gold mineralization. During 2017, soil and lake sediment sampling demonstrated the potential for gold mineralization along the entire length of the Florence Lake greenstone belt, with anomalous gold in soil samples found over an approximately 40-kilometre strike length,” management explained in the media statement.

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Black lung disease cases spike among former US coal miners

The proportion of US miners with Progressive Massive Fibrosis has grown dramatically since 1978, with a significantly accelerated rate of increase since 1996.

This is according to researchers at the University of Illinois, who delved into the data of 314,176 miners applying for black lung benefits from 1970 through 2016. Of those, 4,679 people were suffering from PMF.

The scientists also found that the highest burden of disease is in the central Appalachian states of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

“The miners affected appear to be working in smaller mines that may have less investment in dust reduction systems,” said Kirsten Almberg, lead author of the study and a research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UI’s Chicago School of Public Health.

In a university press release, Almberg added that due to changes in mining practices over time, mines today may produce higher levels of crystalline silica, which is more damaging to the lungs than coal dust, during coal extraction. “And miners appear to be working longer hours and more days per week, leaving less time for their lungs to clear the dust that has been inhaled,” the researcher explained.

Progressive massive fibrosis or PMF is a respiratory disease afflicting coal mine workers and caused by inhaling coal dust and other particulates.

In theory, rates of PMF should have declined following a 1970s legislation that mandated that companies should control dust levels in US coal mines. However, as Almberg and her colleagues discovered, the disease is making a comeback.

“More research is needed to determine the causes of this increase in disease, but what is clear is that miners in recent decades have been over-exposed to dust, and ways to reduce these exposures is much-needed,” the researcher admitted.

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Pebble developer craters after copper giant pulls out

Shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals plunged on Friday after the company announced the end of a partnership with fellow Canadian company First Quantum Minerals to develop the controversial Pebble mining project in Alaska.

Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty said on Friday in a terse statement it was unable to reach an agreement on a proposed deal with First Quantum announced in December. Northern Dynasty stock is now worth $228m and has fallen by 77% in value since the agreement was signed. Northern Dynasty’s previous partner on the project, Anglo American, dropped out in 2013.

The arrangement would have given a unit of Toronto-based First Quantum an option to earn a 50% interest for $1.5 billion in Pebble in return for $150 million paid over four years to fund permitting for the project, one of the richest copper-gold deposits ever discovered. Shares in First Quantum declined more than 4% on Friday affording the world’s seventh largest copper producer a market value of $10.7 billion.

Effectively banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, prospects for the development of Pebble brightened considerably after the election of Donald Trump

Effectively banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama, prospects for the development of Pebble brightened considerably after the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, seen as friendly to the extractive industries.

Northern Dynasty reached a key settlement in May last year with the EPA that ended a dispute over the agency’s decision to block construction. It came three months after Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted Northern Dynasty’s subsidiary — Pebble Limited Partnership — a long-awaited land-use permit. In January, the US Army Corps of Engineers accepted Pebble’s wetlands-fill permit, which is required under the Clean Water Act and is a key authorization in the permitting process.

Earlier this month, opponents disrupted First Quantum’s annual general meeting in Toronto and took out a full-page ad in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper vowing to continue fighting the project. Critics have said the Pebble project located in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would harm indigenous communities and the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Northern Dynasty estimate that the Pebble operations will contribute of $49-$66 million to Alaskan state coffers and create 1,500 to 2,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Pebble’s current resource estimate includes 6.5 billion tonnes in the measured and indicated categories containing 57 billion pounds copper, 71 million ounces gold, 3.4 billion lb molybdenum and 345 million oz silver; and 4.5 billion tonnes in the inferred category, containing 25 billion lb copper, 36 million oz gold, 2.2 billion lb molybdenum and 170 million oz silver. Palladium and rhenium also occur in the deposit.

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Lithium price: Massive supply response gets underway

Lithium prices: Massive supply response underway

A salar-size gap has opened up between bulls and bears in the lithium market.

In March Morgan Stanley sent shares of lithium companies tumbling after the investment bank forecast overproduction of the battery raw material and plunging prices.

Some in the industry characterized the New York bank’s assessment as little  more than a hit job to help a client pick up assets cheaply. Miners pointed to the complex nature of lithium mining leading to production ramp-up problems and processing bottlenecks.

The industry could also point to the fact that there was a 20-year hiatus in new mines in the lithium triangle of South America before the much delayed Orocobre brine operation entered commercial production two years ago.

However, the bears got some help on Thursday after SQM, the world number three lithium miner, said it will more than triple production in fewer than three years.

De Solminihac’s soothing comments about how the company plans to manage all that additional supply would do little to assuage bears

A relatively modest investment of $525 million would lift the Chilean company’s output in the Atacama salt flats from 48,000 tonnes to 180,000 tonnes by early 2021. $75m will be spent this year to lift output to 70,000. Total global supply last year was an estimated 215,000 tonnes.

“We believe that with demand growing close to 20 percent this year and next year, the market will be able to absorb this additional supply,” said CEO Patricio de Solminihac in a statement accompanying the company’s first quarter results. “Our strategy is to have the installed capacity to react to market demand.”

“2018 sales volumes in the business line should reach approximately 55,000 MT (metric tonnes) as we ramp up the current production. These additional sales volumes should be seen during the second half of 2018,” according to SQM.

Lithium prices have withstood all the bearish forecasts up to now and there is widespread consensus on growing demand for lithium.

But SQM is not alone in its ability to up output at low cost quickly and Mr De Solminihac’s soothing comments about how the company plans to manage all that additional supply would do little to assuage bears.

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Report: Mining needs $100–$150 billion to meet EV demand

Consulting firm McKinsey put a note out on Thursday calling attention to “three surprising resource implications from the rise of electric vehicles”.

Number one is that oil & gas investors can sleep well for at least the next decade as the impact of the move away from internal combustion engines will only modestly impact demand for fossil fuels.

In fact, demand for natural gas fired power stations – all those EVs need to be charged after all – will increase by 20% if half the cars on US roads were electric. Even coal would get a bump from EVs says McKinsey.

Secondly, the need for millions of public charging stations (China alone plans to build 4.8m by 2030) could open up the possibility of a land squeeze becaus it takes “multiple rapid 120-kilowatt charging stations with eight outlets to dispense a similar amount of range per hour as the standard-size gas station of today.”

While concerns such as a “cobalt cliff” exist and demand implications could present a temporary speedbump, the constraints and uncertainties should be addressable.

The research consultants calculate that since battery costs make up 40–50% of your average vehicle, costs for the unit would have to fall to below $100 per kilowatt hour from $220–$225/kwh today to “achieve cost parity with ICE vehicles”.

Finally McKinsey asks if the availability of cobalt, lithium, copper, nickel and rising prices for raw materials would constrain greater EV penetration:

Optimistically, no. Even with the predicted rise in input costs, batteries can still come close enough to the $75 to $100 per kilowatt threshold needed to approach broad ICE price parity.

While concerns such as a “cobalt cliff” exist and demand implications could present a temporary speedbump, the constraints and uncertainties should be addressable.

Shifting to other battery chemistries can mitigate risks of shortage. Mining more of the raw materials will also be needed, which, we estimate, will require investments of $100 billion to $150 billion.

As well, mining’s hard realities will still apply, including lead times of up to several years and ecological and social concerns in regions within Africa and South America where much of these raw materials are found.

September 2014: Charts show giant gap between future lithium supply, demand

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Mergers and acquisitions in Canada stage exceptional comeback in Q1

Mergers and acquisitions in Canada stage exceptional comeback in Q1

Canadian miners are definitively back in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) game, with the value of such transactions hitting $25 billion during the first three months of the year, or 86% more than in the same period of 2017, though volume of deals was slightly down.

Deals involving critical materials for the making of batteries that power electric cars, particularly lithium and cobalt, led the pile.

Critical materials for the making of batteries that power electric cars, particularly lithium and cobalt, led the pile, with the transformational merger between two giant potash producers, PotashCorp and Agrium, being the top example, a study published Thursday by Ernst & Young reveals.

According to the experts, the buzz around new world critical minerals and battery technology, will put deals in lithium, copper and cobalt high on the agenda of management teams across the industry.

“The long-term outlook for copper and nickel remains positive, with prices slated to benefit from the growing adoption of electric vehicles and battery technology,” Jay Patel, EY Canada Mining & Metals Transactions Leader said in a statement. “But it is likely that significant price increases won’t come into play in the immediate future, as both markets currently face surplus conditions. In the meantime, companies should be actively reviewing their portfolios – keeping a keen eye on minerals and new technologies fit for future growth.”

Courtesy of E&Y.

Reflecting the wait-and-see mood prevalent across the industry, activity in other commodities was generally slow to the point that the volume of transactions decreased by 16% to 101 deals in the first quarter of 2018, compared to Q1 2017.

As a result, the Canadian Mining Eye index — which tracks the performance of 100 Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange mid-tier and junior mining companies — dropped 8% in the three months to March 2018.

Gold still shining

Gold, one of investors traditional choices, performed well in the period, EY says, with prices rising due to  geopolitical risks and dollar weakness, offset partially by the recent US Federal Reserve rate hike of 0.25%.

Activity in the gold and coal sectors remained buoyant, representing around 15% of deals value. The bullion sector saw at least four transactions with deal value in excess of $200 million, the study shows, while there were consolidative deals in the coal sector in China, Australia and South Africa.

Courtesy of E&Y.

Assets in low-risk jurisdictions continued to attract more attention, with the exception of deals connected with commodities with limited geographical abundance, such as cobalt in the DRC. Over two-thirds of the transactions by volume were in Canada, Australia, China and South Africa.

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Sibanye-Stillwater accuses union of following ‘agenda’ to harm reputation

Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater (JSE:SGL) (NYSE:SBGL) blasted Thursday comments made by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) accusing the company of failing to take precautions two avoid injuries at its mines.

According to the union, a seismic event on May 22 caused a fall of ground at the company’s Ikamva mine, part of Kloof operations, leaving two employees injured. The AMCU also said the previous day a similar incident happened at the Manyano mine, also part of Kloof, where two workers were seriously hurt.

While Sibanye-Stillwater acknowledged the accidents, it said the AMCU’s insinuation that management wilfully put its employees at risk, is part of “a clear agenda” pursued by the union that consist of “… continually making mischievous allegations, and disseminating erroneous and clearly fake information to the media,” which is causing reputational damage for the company.

The insinuation that management wilfully put its employees at risk, is part of “a clear agenda” pursued by the AMCU, says Sibanye-Stillwater.

Chief executive Neal Froneman said the company had confidence in its seismic management systems. The company was “… committed to ensuring a safe working environment for employees and we will not knowingly allow mining to take place where conditions are unsafe” he said.

Safety has become a bone of contention between unions and the company, which has had at least six accidents at its operations this year, some of them with fatal consequences.

Earlier this month, thirteen gold miners were trapped underground at the firm’s Masakhane mine, seven of which died as a result of their injuries.

In February, nearly 1,000 miners got stuck underground for more than 24 hours at Beatrix gold mine, but were found unharmed.

A few days later, two miners died after a section of the Kloof gold operation collapsed. Later that month, another worker lost his life while clearing a blocked ore pass also at the company’s Driefontein gold operation.

South Africa is home to some of the world’s deepest and most dangerous operations. Mine fatalities increased last year for the first time in a decade as companies are having to go deeper in ageing shafts to access additional ore in a country that has been mined commercially for over a century.

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