EDITOR: | May 2nd, 2013

The Pulse: The most expensive critical metal?; Japan REE recycling effort; An unlikely nuclear champion; U.S. potash flashback

| May 02, 2013 | No Comments
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Pulse_Proof-04-300x229How about a metal product that commands up to $396,000 a tonne?

That’s the top of the range for high-purity alumina (HPA). About 7,500 tonnes is produced globally each year. Even at the bottom of the range the price is impressive at $141,000 a tonne.

As explained by one of the hopeful new entrants, Australian Minerals & Mining Group (ASX:AKA), HPA is widely used in filters for magnetic media to boost thermal conductivity, in composite resins and ceramic parts and substrates used in electronic components and semi-conductor manufacturing equipment. Demand is expected to increase off the back of the expanding market for hybrid cars, electric vehicles, modern electrical appliances and LED lighting.

So I think we can call this a critical metal.

The company’s HPA project, based on kaolin/aluminous clay, is located near the small Australian town of Meckering, right in the middle of Western Australia’s wheat-growing area. It also has 11 other licences in the southwest of the state.

AKA recently announced it had produced 99.9% HPA using its own acid-leach processing technology. It has also signed an alliance with Kalamazon Minerals Corp, which has a kaolin/aluminous clay deposit near Manaus in Brazil‘s Amazon region. Kalamazon, based in Canada, is 35% owned by Guangdong Highsun Group.

RARE EARTHS: Recycling rare earths and other metals from electronic devices is not always a smoothly running operation, as the Japanese have found. Many people seem reluctant to take part, fearing their personal data could be compromised. Many Japanese prefer to keep outdated mobile phones because of the photographs stored on them.

The Nikkei Weekly newspaper reports that, as of April 1, municipalities have been given a government directive they are not to dispose of mobile phones, digital cameras and other electronic devices in their garbage systems. Instead, those must be sent to government-authorised recyclers.

The problem is that the new directive is not mandatory (at least, not yet). But it does follow the 2001 Home Appliance Recycling Law making it mandatory for retailers and manufacturers to collect and recycle used televisions, air conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators.

But some prefectures have pitched in. Akita prefecture has placed recycling bins for small electronics around its city. In 2011, it was collecting 128 tonnes a year from e-scrap. Toyama and three other prefectures sell collected e-waste to recyclers.

A small, and slow start, but given Japan’s determination with rare earths to “replace, reduce and recycle”, you would expect mandatory collections not to be too far over the horizon.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei news service is reporting that rare earths will be on the agenda as Japan’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida visits Mexico, Peru and Panama. The report says Japan is “hoping to play a larger role in energy development and other projects in the region where mineral resources including rare earths are abundant”.

NUCLEAR ENERGY: Ben Heard is a co-author of a report urging the use of nuclear over solar or wind power to replace coal-fired generation in the state of South Australia. So what, you ask. Well, the same Ben Heard was formerly a anti-nuclear environmentalist.

He heads Think Climate Consulting, an Adelaide-based company that advises on sustainability and averting climate change. He is one of the authors of a report addressing what to do with two small coal-fired power stations in the city of Port Augusta in South Australia that are reaching the end of their lives.

And this is what Heard, the former anti-nuclear campaigner, has to say: “If Australians are genuinely serious about addressing climate change including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear is by far the best way to go”.

Given the challenge of finding a replacement for the thermal stations, the authors looked a 760 megawatt peak solar thermal plant and a further 700MW of peak wind generation.

They note that while nuclear and renewable electricity generation are very different ways of producing energy, there has never been a study done in Australia to attempt a technology-neutral assessment of the best way to decarbonise the electricity supply.

Well, their study found the nuclear plant would cost between A$3.5 billion and A$4.8 billion, compared with an estimated A$8.1 billion for the renewable solution. The nuclear plant would produce electricity at least 90% of the time, while weather conditions could see solar/wind producing minimal power at some times.

And if you’re counting the carbon cost of the raw materials, the solar/wind combination would require 600,000 tonnes of steel, 85,000 tonnes of glass, and 500,000 tonnes of concrete. By contrast, the nuclear plant would need just 35,000 tonnes of steel but slightly more concrete (600,000 tonnes).

POTASH: Flashback 60 years. The year 1953 was the one that potash production in the U.S. reached a new record of nearly 2 million short tons, 14% above the previous year. This continued the progress of North American potash output after the German cartel had been smashed in the 1930s and triggered a revival of mining that had previously peaked due to World War I and the absence of German potash from the world market.

The biggest market for potash that year was Illinois with 206,000 tons, followed Ohio (just over 160,000 tons) and then Indiana (116,400 tons), according to the 1953 edition of the U.S. Geological Survey‘s Minerals Yearbook.

Only one (but not new) problem. Production had far outpaced demand so that K2O-equivalent stockpiles had risen from 20,000 tons in 1950 to 280,000 tons in 1953. “Imports from Communist-dominated areas received considerable publicity,” the publication noted without elaborating.


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