Tesla warns on challenges of scaling up production

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk warned on Tuesday about the difficulties of speeding up production as an expert cautioned the carmaker’s increased reliance on large-scale aluminum parts could bring new manufacturing challenges.

While carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz have said automation has limitations, Musk has pressed on with plans to create a hyper-automated factory, which he refers to as the “alien dreadnought”, or “the machine that builds the machine”.

“The extreme difficulty of scaling production of new technology is not well understood. It’s 1,000% to 10,000% harder than making a few prototypes. The machine that makes the machine is vastly harder than the machine itself,” Musk said on Twitter.

Cooling aluminum too quickly can lead a component to deform, and changing the consistency of the metal has huge implications for the cost of each component

Musk’s warning comes ahead of a “battery day” later on Tuesday, when Tesla is expected to unveil steps to boost battery production.

For its new Model Y, Tesla plans to replace 70 components glued and riveted into the car’s rear underbody with a single module made using the world’s biggest aluminum casting machine in its new factory in Brandenburg, near Berlin.

Car bodies have traditionally been made by assembling multiple stamped metal panels, a technique which has helped create crumple zones to absorb energy during a crash, but Musk is charting a new course at the Brandenburg plant.

While casting could reduce the number of assembly steps, larger aluminum parts are more prone to deformation, according to Professor Martin Fehlbier at Kassel University in Germany.

“On paper it looks easy,” said Fehlbier, a former head of foundry technology at Volkswagen Group, which pioneered aluminum construction techniques at its Audi brand. “The small details can cause you to burn through a lot of cash.”

The larger the part, the more attention needs to be paid to heating the form, since molten aluminum needs to fill out the cast, Fehlbier said, adding the thinner the part being made, the more likely the metal will cool before filling out the form.

By contrast, the hotter the form, the longer the component has to cool before the next manufacturing step, which can limit the overall speed of production, Fehlbier said.

Cooling aluminum too quickly can lead a component to deform, and changing the consistency of the metal has huge implications for the cost of each component as well as on potential crash test behaviour, he added.

“The Audi A8 has started to use more steel parts because a new side crash test in the United States cannot be passed using just aluminum,” Fehlbier said.

It’s not the first time Tesla has faced challenges with new production techniques. The electric carmaker was forced to fly in a new production line from Germany to Nevada in 2018 to fix a manufacturing line after robots failed to coordinate seamlessly.

(By Edward Taylor; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Taseko advances Florence permitting in Arizona

Taseko Mines’ Florence copper project in Arizona received strong support at a public hearing held by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), which is part of the process required to obtain an Aquifer Protection permit (APP), the company has announced.

According to Russell Hallbauer, Taseko’s CEO and director, “30 interested parties spoke at the hearing, communicating great support for the company and the project, with only one individual not in favour. The ADEQ heard loud and clear that the community wants this project to advance to commercial production.”

Hallbauer added that Taseko has worked to inform the community about the safeguards in place at Florence and about the environmental benefits of the in-situ copper extraction process, done using a water-based solution, proposed for the project.

Taseko is also working towards an Underground Injection Control permit for Florence from the Environmental Protection Agency

“The extensive data collected from 18 months of operating the test facility is proof that the process works, both from a technical perspective as well as environmentally.”

The ADEQ will continue to take written submissions for three weeks, until Oct. 12, before a final permit is written and issued.

Taseko envisions a two-phase development for the wholly owned Florence copper project, located midway between Tucson and Phoenix. The first production test facility, with 24 wells and a solvent extraction and electrowinning plant, has been operating since December 2018, to generate copper cathode. A commercial-scale facility would follow, with the permitting process aimed at transitioning the project into the second phase – this would include an expanded wellfield and plant.

According to a third-party technical report from 2019, the Florence copper commercial facility would produce an average of 85 million lb. of copper annually at a cost of $1.13 per lb. over a 20-year life.

In addition to the Aquifer Protection permit, Taseko is working towards an Underground Injection Control permit for Florence from the Environmental Protection Agency. The company expects to have the final permits in hand by early 2021.

(This article first appeared in the Canadian Mining Journal)

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Laser mining – the light at the end of the tunnel?

At the very heart of mining lies the tough task of breaking up rocks. In the heart of US mining country, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a team of engineers is building a machine that they believe can take it on – with lasers.

Merger Mines Corporation (OTC: MERG) said it is doing what nobody in the industry is doing – and has applied academic conceptualization, computer modeling, and study of laser technology to engineer and design its inaugural “thermal fracturing” prototype units.

The application of the “Graduated Optical Colimator” (GOC) for the mining industry consists of a one-kilowatt optical power fiber laser to selectively spall igneous geological formations containing narrow veins of precious metals.

Merger said the prototype addresses key issues like mining using less explosives, chemicals and waste.

Credit: Merger Mines

“We’ve been working at this problem for five or six years now – and we’ve discovered that a lot of laboratory research has been done in the private sector and in the government sector,” Gary Mladjan, Merger Mines’ VP, engineering and technology told MINING.COM. “Argonne National Labs in Chicago did the first demonstrations to prove their fracturing methods for breaking up rocks, but they were working mostly in the oil and gas industry.”

Mladjan said the GOC is only three feet high and six feet wide – small enough to be helicoptered in to a mine site.

Mladjan, who has served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said past tests on mine sites using lasers have used too much power and have wound up melting or vaporizing rocks, as every rock specimen will have different needs for power.

“Where the fracturing is – it’s a very narrow margin [that] depends on laser power, which is low level, and the duration of the exposure to the rock where you actually get the thermal fracturing,” Mladjan said. “Argonne did this in sandstone and shale, another study in Europe did it in graphite, which is more akin to what we’re doing.”

“If you look at lasers in mining, what you’re finding is it is being used to measure distances, and not doing any actual mining”

Gary Mladjan, Merger Mines VP, engineering and technology

Mladjan said lab experiments calculate the impact of the fracturing, and when Merger reviewed the papers, they realized and Argonne proved it can be done, so Merger productized the findings of abundant research.

“The reason we are able to do that is based on the research of a number of people who are advisers for us and their experience in industry,” Mladjan said.

“We’ve come up with a method where we can do that exposure duration that will thermally fracture the rock. If you look at lasers in mining, what you’re finding is it is being used to measure distances, and not doing any actual mining.”

He added that the GOC can be used as a surveying instrument for excavations would be good in a coal mine with methane gas.

Currently, the machine is a test instrument with the concept model built, and the production unit would be autonomous.

“What we developed …read more

Bis, Israel Aerospace launch mining automation JV

Bis and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have announced a world-first joint venture, Auto-Mate, to deliver the next generation of mine site automation to the global resource sector.

“The Auto-Mate joint venture represents a significant advancement in mining automation,” Brad Rogers, Bis CEO, said in a release. “The flexible and scalable solution is the ultimate partner in mining automation, delivering superior technology, to a wider range of miners, at a lower cost.”

The 50-50 joint venture uses IAI’s technology, which has been operating in heavy off-road vehicles since the early 1980s. Offering fully-scalable and adaptable levels of automation, Auto-Mate’s technology is tailored to the requirements of each mine site.

Bis has been delivering innovative haulage and equipment solutions to mining customers for over 100 years

With an open architecture model, the system connects any asset to the operation’s fleet management system, regardless of brand, age or type of asset or desired level of automation.

“Auto-Mate is a game-changer because of its exceptional utility,” Rogers added. “It is a gateway to automation for small and big miners. It is uniquely flexible so that a customer can choose how far down the pathway to automation they want to go. It is asset agnostic. It can be deployed at any mine, on any asset and to any degree of automation the customer chooses.”

Rogers also added that IAI-created Auto-Mate “allows miners to automate any asset, and retain long term optionality on fleet decisions,” which is expected to make automation accessible for a larger section of the mining industry.

Rogers continued that the global value uplift and efficiency gains from automation in the resource sector have been estimated at over $50 billion. “Auto-Mate makes automation a reality at mines where it would previously never have been thought possible,” he said. “It can be delivered efficiently and at a lower whole of life cost than other technologies in the market.”

According to Rogers, the JV is an important strategic initiative for the company.

“As a trusted resource logistics partner, we identified a gap in the market for flexible automation technology that offered greater interoperability to our customers,” he said. “We’re extremely pleased to have forged a partnership with IAI to become their global partner for this industry first in mining automation.”

Yoav Tourgeman, CEO of ELTA, a subsidiary of IAI, said the interoperable scalable system is a union of cutting-edge technology and practical application.

“Auto-Mate delivers a flexible approach to automation, delivering usability for multiple levels of automation across all haulage assets and ancillary equipment, with one central command centre.”

Auto-Mate CEO, Daniel Poller, has over 20 years of experience in the global energy and mining sectors.

“Auto-Mate is a compelling commitment to innovation and disruption in the mining and automation sector to deliver new solutions to our customers, which drive value at their operations,” Rogers concluded.

Bis is a resources logistics company, providing logistics, materials handling and specialized equipment solutions to the global mineral resources sector. The company has been delivering innovative haulage and equipment solutions to mining customers for over 100 years.

IAI is Israel’s largest aerospace and defense …read more

UEC increases public offering to $15 million, stock tanks

Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSEMKT: UEC) announced on Monday that due to increased demand, its underwriters have agreed to purchase 12.5 million units of the company at a price of $1.20 per unit under the previously arranged public offering.

This would see the company raise gross proceeds of $15 million instead of $8 million as originally announced last Friday. The offering is expected to close on Wednesday.

Each unit will still consist of one common share of the company and one-half of one common share purchase warrant. Each full warrant will entitle its holder to an additional common share at an exercise price of $1.80 per share immediately upon issuance and expiring 24 months from closing of the offering.

UEC’s main operations include the Palagana, Burke Hollow and Goliad ISR projects in southern Texas

“We are pleased with the substantial level of interest for this offering and appreciate the strong endorsement from our existing and new shareholders,” UEC president and CEO Amir Adnani stated in a press release.

“UEC’s fully permitted, low cost, in-situ-recovery (ISR) portfolio provides for a distinct advantage to supply US production that is globally competitive. The improved uranium market conditions we’ve witnessed in 2020, with uranium prices reaching a four-year high, bodes well for the future of our ISR project pipeline,” he added.

UEC intends to use net proceeds of the offering to fund exploration and development expenditures, as well as for general corporate and working capital purposes.

UEC’s main operations including the Palagana, Burke Hollow and Goliad ISR projects are located in southern Texas, anchored by its fully licensed Hobson processing facility. The company also controls the Reno Creek project in Wyoming, considered the largest permitted, pre-construction ISR uranium project in the US.

Shares of UEC plunged 18.6% at market close Monday on news of the upsized public offering. The company’s market capitalization now stands at C$193.4 million.

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Monday mining massacre as gold, copper, iron ore prices tank

The gold price fell to its lowest in nearly two months on Monday as the US dollar strengthened and a drop on global stock markets failed to translate into safe-haven demand for the precious metal.

US gold futures fell by as much as $77.50 an ounce, or 3.9% from Friday’s settlement, hitting a low of $1,885.40 on the Comex market in New York before recovering some of those losses to trade above $1,900 by early afternoon. Trade was heavy with nearly 36m ounces exchanging hands by 2 pm.

Copper prices dropped by more than 3% from fresh 2-year highs reached on Friday but managed to stay above the pivotal $3.00 a pound level. Copper for delivery in December exchanged hands for $3.0135 per pound ($6,645 a tonne) by early afternoon amid heavy selling with contracts totalling 2.5 billion pounds of copper traded in New York.

A coalition of gold investors is urging changes at miners as performance “continues to fall short” despite the 24% rally in the gold price this year

The retreat of iron ore prices from six-and-a-half year highs hit last week accelerated on Monday with the price of Fastmarkets MB, benchmark 62% Fe fines imported into Northern China falling 4.1% to $119.82 a tonne on the back of rising port inventories and normalizing of supply from Brazil.

Big 3 cut down

Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), which had rallied to multi-year highs recently despite losing its top management over governance issues, was the hardest hit among the diversified majors with a loss of 5.2%. Rio is now worth $112 billion in New York. CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques was ousted and two other senior execs were shown the door as investors revolted over the company’s destruction of ancient Aboriginal rock shelters.

The world’s no. 1 mining company – BHP Group (NYSE: BHP) – fell by 4.2%, wiping out its gains for 2020 and pushing down its market value to $134 billion. BHP has been caught up in the Juukan Gorge scandal, acknowledging last week it was aware of Australian Aboriginal groups’ worries about the future of dozens of heritage sites before it sought and obtained approval to destroy them.

Vale (NYSE: VALE) shares shed 4.1%, bringing its year-to-date losses to 17.5% as the iron ore giant struggles to bring its operations back up to scale following the dam burst in Brumadinho in January last year.

Brazilian prosecutors said despite two major deadly mining disasters since 2015, the Rio de Janeiro-based company has not complied with a number of commitments signed with authorities to prevent another disaster.

Shine off gold stocks

Considering how hard they’ve run in 2020, Monday’s damage among the top gold mining stocks was relatively light. Number one producer Newmont (NYSE: NEM) gave up 2.3% for a market value of $52 billion, while Barrick’s (NYSE: GOLD) losses were limited to 2.6%, affording the company a $50 billion valuation in New York.

Further down the …read more

Santacruz Silver shares up on Palisades investment

Santacruz Silver Mining (TSXV: SCZ) plans to raise up to C$6 million through a non-brokered private placement of approximately 27.27 million units at C$0.22 per unit.

Palisades Goldcorp, Canada’s leading resource-focused merchant bank, has placed a lead order for C$3 million under the placement.

Each unit will consist of one common share of the company and one common share purchase warrant, with each warrant entitling the holder to acquire an additional common share at an exercise price of C$0.30 per share for up to 36 months following issuance.

Proceeds of the offering will be used by Santacruz to purchase underground equipment for its Zimapan property, and for general working capital and corporate purposes.

The Mexico-focused silver miner currently owns and operates the Rosario project in the Charcas mining district. It also holds an interest in the Veta Grande mine in Zacatecas, and has the right to operate the Zimapan mine until the end of 2020 under a mining lease agreement.

Shares of Santacruz Silver rose 2.1% at market open Monday. The Vancouver-based junior miner has a market capitalization of about C$49.7 million.

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Gold price near two-month low on Fed policy uncertainty

Gold fell to its lowest in nearly two months on Monday as the dollar strengthened, while market skepticism over additional stimulus measures from the US Federal Reserve added further pressure to the precious metal.

Spot gold dropped 3.3% to $1,896.16 per ounce by 11:15 a.m. EDT after sinking to $1,884.09 per ounce earlier in the day — its lowest since late July. US gold futures fell 2.7% to $1,907.70 per ounce on the Comex in New York.

Meanwhile, the dollar index rose 0.8% against its rivals, making gold more expensive for holders of other currencies.

“They (central banks) are in a wait-and-see mode and it has tempered the expectations of gold bulls”

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst, CMC Markets UK

“(The) tug-of-war between the dollar and gold is expected to play out until there is a major shift in global risk sentiment, or if investors can get a better grasp on the US monetary policy outlook,” FXTM market analyst Han Tan told Reuters.

Investors now await speeches by Fed committee members, including Chairman Jerome Powell, who will appear before Congressional committees later this week.

“They (central banks) are in a wait-and-see mode and it has tempered the expectations of gold bulls,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

“It is unlikely that we’ll get any clarity on how the Fed is going to arrive at its inflation targets and on monetary policy until at least the end of the US election,” he added.

Gold’s decline came despite European shares dropping to a two-week low during Monday’s trading session as surging covid-19 cases across the continent prompted renewed lockdown measures in some countries and clouded the recovery outlook.

“The US elections in early November certainly pose a major event risk on gold’s trajectory. Should risk aversion creep up over the coming six weeks, that may translate into upward pressure for bullion prices in the interim,” FXTM’s Tan noted.

(With files from Reuters)

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It is possible to recover lithium cobalt oxide from spent batteries – study

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, published a study where they show that it is possible to regenerate the complete lithium cobalt oxide compounds in lithium-ion batteries, as opposed to recovering individual elements and then putting them together.

In detail, the team led by environmental engineer Zhen He used an electrodeposition process where they deposited an additional amount of lithium-ion on waste electrodes. This process was driven by the electricity that creates the electric field to absorb the ion onto the electrode. By doing this, the researchers were able to get a complete formula that allowed them to reuse a good amount of the materials inside the battery.

The researchers were able to get a complete formula that allowed them to reuse a good amount of the materials inside the battery

According to the scientists, the driving force behind this work was their concern about the generation of secondary pollutants that results from existing battery recycling processes, most of which extract the materials separately through mechanical methods and require additional reagents.

Because of this and due to the fact that batteries are inexpensive, there is little incentive to recycle, so only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled.

Zhen He pointed out that in China only, about 2.5 billion end-of-life lithium-ion batteries from portable electronics such as smartphones and laptops will be generated by the end of 2020. Thus, the researcher believes that recovering and recycling critical elements from these devices will play a key role in the sustainability of resource use.

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Crystallex asks US judge to approve sale Venezuelan oil refiner by January 2021

Canadian miner Crystallex asked Delaware District Judge Leonard Stark to set January 11, 2021, as the date to sell the shares of PDV Holdings, the parent company of refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is owned by Venezuela.

The goal behind this request is for Crystallex to enforce a $1.4 billion arbitral award against the South American country, following a decade-long dispute over Venezuela’s 2008 nationalization of its gold mine in the southeastern Bolívar state. The amount is comprised of $1.2 billion, plus $200 million of interest awarded by a World Bank arbitration tribunal in 2016.

For Crystallex, Judge Stark should base his decision on the motion introduced in August 2018 and passed in July 2019, where the judge found that there was no separation between the Venezuelan government and Citgo’s management.

Judge Stark is debating whether he should take into consideration the warning made by the US government stating that the sale of Citgo threatens America’s national security and interests

However, in this week’s audience, Stark asked whether he should take into consideration the warning made by the US government in a brief, stating that the sale of Citgo threatens America’s national security and interests.

To this question, Crystallex responded that the term ‘national security’ is being used very broadly and that the US government has not presented any specific scenarios in which the country’s national security would be affected by the sale of PDV Holdings’ shares.

Following this, the judge also asked the US attorneys what is the difference between national interests and national security issues. To this question, they replied that a letter sent to the Attorney General and the Justice Department by Elliott Abrams, President Donald Trump’s special representative to Venezuela, clearly explains each of the concepts. In this letter, Abrams also said that Crystallex cannot sell the shares without obtaining a license from the US Office of Foreign Asset Control.

The US attorneys added that they are just requesting for the Delaware District Court – where PDV Holdings is incorporated – to temporarily abstain from authorizing potentially damaging measures.

Experts that have been following the case, such as Francisco Rodríguez, founder of the think-tank Oil for Venezuela, believe that Stark is unlikely to make a final decision until the Office of Foreign Asset Control approves the license to sell the shares.

This is because Citgo is protected by a number of sanctions the US has issued against Venezuela in the past year and that are aimed at crippling the Nicolás Maduro administration. Thus, the US attorneys argue that if Stark proceeds without the OFAC’s approval, he would be putting at risk the US’ foreign affairs interests. This, on the other hand, implies the sale could be blocked by other means.

In this context, the judge talked about the possibility of naming a special master to execute his sentence. According to Rodríguez, if this were the case, PDV Holdings’ shares wouldn’t belong to Crystallex nor …read more

US to assist Colombia in the development of its mining industry

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that his office will launch a program to provide technical assistance for the development of Colombia’s mining industry.

During a recent visit to the South American country, Pompeo said that the proposal will be coordinated by the Department of State’s Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative.

“Look, we know this, Mr. President: When there is a safe, welcoming investment climate with good government, transparent rules, and an open and fair set of relationships, American and Colombian companies together do great work. They provide real jobs with real prosperity that lasts, and I know our two countries’ private sectors will keep this up,” Pompeo told President Iván Duque during a press conference held on Saturday at the Presidential Palace in Bogotá.

The program will review the country’s legal and regulatory framework and propose ideas on how to make this framework a competitive one

According to the US official, the program will start by analyzing how the Colombian mining industry is faring in comparison to other countries in the region. Once this is done, it will review the country’s legal and regulatory framework and propose ideas on how to make this framework a competitive one.

In addition to this, the project will review current regulations around environmentally sustainable copper mining, with a special focus on best practices for the storage of mine tailings. 

Colombia has 33 mining and energy projects waiting to be kickstarted once the covid-19 pandemic is over. These projects are expected to generate over 50,000 jobs and bring over some $9.6 million in investments.

“The US Government is a strategic partner in our quest to boost the sustainable recovery of the energy and mining sectors through the implementation of the ‘America Grows’ initiative. We have been working with them through USAID to promote the formalization of artisanal miners and with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to fight against the illegal exploitation of our minerals,” Colombia’s Mining Minister, Diego Mesa, said in a media statement. “Now, we are grateful for this offer to provide technical assistance from the EGCI to tackle the technical, environmental, financial and legal challenges associated with the management of the mining sector.”

The USAID project Mesa referred to is called ‘Legal Gold’ and, besides bringing illegal miners into legality, it focuses on minimizing the use of mercury in gold recovery operations, as well as implementing zero-mercury technologies.

When it comes to the fight against illegal mining, the Ministry of Mines and Energy also receives support through a previous agreement with the State Department that allows for the monitoring of land packages where there is evidence of alluvial gold exploitation.

In parallel, the minister also reported that through the US Labor Department, Colombia receives assistance to eliminate child labour in the mining sector and improve working conditions in small-scale coal and gold mining operations.

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Colloids may be key to effective reclamation efforts at inactive mine sites

Dispersed, nano-sized particles in water, known as colloids, play an important role in understanding the long-term stability of a reclaimed mining site, new research shows.

According to scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada, colloids are not examined during traditional monitoring practices. By not doing so, companies leading reclamation efforts may miss some of the ways metals such as uranium and nickel may disperse at the site.

“Over time, these tiny particles containing metals may begin to collect and form into precipitating particles that could settle and accumulate, forming contaminated sediments,” Konstantin von Gunten, lead author of the three studies connected to this research, said in a media statement.

By not monitoring colloids, companies leading reclamation efforts may miss some of the ways metals such as uranium and nickel may disperse at the site

Von Gunten and his colleagues reached this conclusion after examining two environments at Areva Resources’ (now Orano Canada) Cluff Lake uranium mine site, which is located in the province of Saskatchewan and has been inactive for nearly two decades. These environments were two industrial mine pits and naturally occurring wetlands.

In these places, they observed that the formation and stability of colloids were not only affected by the chemical composition of the corresponding environments but were also tightly linked to microbiological processes—making it especially challenging to model and predict their behaviour.

“Uranium and nickel residue left over during the mining process is the main concern here,” von Gunten said. “We want to understand what will happen with these metals over time. Will they stay in place? Or will they begin to affect surface and groundwater in the surrounding environment?”

In the view of the research team, the more data that can be obtained through monitoring and scientific work, the better the decisions that can be made about the reclamation of the mine. They believe their model can be used for building a strategy for testing and monitoring contaminants at sites similar to Cluff Lake.

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