EDITOR: | January 28th, 2013

The Pulse: Top business paper discovers graphene; Togo’s big phosphate push; Fears for France’s uranium supply

| January 28, 2013 | No Comments
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the-pulse-300x2541Not so fast with the graphene revolution. That’s the message in a full-page report on the “faster, stronger, bendier” material in London’s The Financial Times today.

We’ll skip all the Graphene 101 stuff; readers of this blog are up with the latest. The article has an arresting opening, pointing out that Novak Djokovich who has just won (again) the Australian open, uses a tennis racquet containing graphene. But let’s look at some of the new developments and some conclusions drawn in the article.

* While the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans have been extremely aggressive in acquiring graphene patents, Europe is not so much behind the eight-ball as you might think. Europe is at the heart of graphene research, says an expert from Texas Instruments.

* Manchester University, at which graphene was isolated for the first time – work which led to a Nobel Prize – intends to remain in the lead of research. The team there is looking for “five or six” companies that want to come and work with it. One spin-out company associated with the university, Graphene Industries, is already selling single-crystal graphene flakes.

* A report from research firm Lux Research sees the market for graphene growing from $9 million in 2012 to $126 million in 2020.

* Developments are unfolding one after the other. For example, Vorbeck Industries of Jessup, Maryland, is making conducting ink containing graphene.

But most interesting are the words of Andrew Geim who, with Kostya Novoselov, achieved the 2004 graphene breakthrough. He warns people should not harbour undue expectations that the graphene revolution will happen in the short term. “There is too much hype,” he is quoted as saying. Speculation has gone “ballistic”, he adds. And, he warns, normally it takes 40 years for a new material to move from academia to consumer products.

The article includes 16 diagrams relating the graphene process. Its publication – contrary to Geim’s hopes – is likely to make the subject even more tantalising.

PHOSPHATE: Interest is rising as to who is going to get the nod to develop a 2 billion tonne phosphate deposit in the West African nation of Togo. Already some big guns have linked up with the small number of companies that were invited by the Togolese government to submit tenders.

One of those tenderers, Australia’s Balamara Resources (ASX:BMB), is now aligned with India’s Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Corporation. This $10 billion Indian company has extensive experience in the production and sale of fertiliser products, including phosphoric acid. Deepak is among the largest producers of fertilizer in Western India and one of the largest producers of technical ammonium nitrate in the world, and it is a significant consumer of phosphoric acid.

The Indian market is also among the fastest growing fertilizer markets in the world.

Meanwhile, London-based Elenilto, one of the leading African mining developers and also selected as one of the short-listed companies, has brought in China’s Wenfu Group, described as one of the biggest Chinese phosphate and fertilizer makers. It uses what is described as “high-end” technology. Wenfu has committed to financing 40% of the project if Elenilto is successful.

Togo has required that tenders have a downstream, end-user alliance partner.

While poor and with just 7 million people, Togo is the world’s fourth largest phosphate producer but it wants to triple output as part of its plan to boost the economy and standard of living. The country intends to produce phosphoric acids or fertilizers rather than ship phosphate. You can see by looking at the industry guide, the Morocco prices (per tonne): phosphate is worth $180 to $200, diammonium phosphate $555 to $585 while merchant grade merchant grade Phosacid (MGA) commands between $835 and $1,100 a tonne.

Even more valuable is superphosphoric acid which now fetches up to $1,265 a tonne. The great advantage of the liquid fertilizers is that, unlike the granular ones, they don’t need irrigation or rain to make them effective.

URANIUM: Reuters is reporting that France has ordered special forces to protect uranium sites run by state-owned Areva in Niger. The fear is that, as French troops push back Islamic forces in Mali, those or associated groups will target French assets in reprisal. Niger has not only sent its own troops to aid the French, it has allowed military units from Chad to cross its territory to reach Mali. Areva’s mining in Niger provides the bulk of uranium used in French nuclear plants, which provide 75% of France’s electricity.


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