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Betting the farm on lithium in the short term and the long term.

Politics Before Economics: The Coming Train Wreck of Peak Lithium, Mandated EVs, and Alternate Electricity Generation

This is the best time ever to invest in lithium mining and processing because the legacy global OEM automotive industry as well as dozens of newcomers, including TESLA, have bet their continued and future existence not on the market but on the politically mandated ultimate replacement of internal combustion engine power trains by rechargeable battery fueled electric ones. This powertrain replacement is to be 100% dependent on lithium-ion batteries to store the electricity (i.e., fuel) to supply the electric motors that will replace fossil fuel using internal combustion engines. These EV batteries are, for their operation, 100% dependent on the chemical element, lithium.

At the same time, the politicians have also decreed that the generation of relatively inexpensive electricity, which today is mostly done by the use of the fossil fuels, coal, oil, and natural gas (with the balance, more than 20%, coming from nuclear) shall be completely replaced by alternate forms of electricity generation dependent upon the wind and the sun with their excess outputs stored until needed in lithium ion batteries. Wind and solar are, at best, intermittent, and they are therefore not remotely reliable or dependable. They exist only because of government subsidies and, worse, mandates. Alternate energy generation being intermittent must be smoothed out (continuously maintained) ideally (in the Green Dream) by backup batteries. This would ultimately require enormous quantities of lithium, more than for EVs, for the gigantic smoothing and backup systems that would be necessary.

From the perspective of the supply of the key critical battery metal, lithium, these two goals, electrification of mobility and stationary storage of electric power for grid smoothing are competitive with each other for lithium, and this competition shows the complete ignorance of politicians and manufacturers of the fact that the overall demand for lithium from the two mandated uses cannot possibly be supplied from currently existing, planned, or known accessible sources.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that “mining is like anything else. Eventually high prices stimulate more production. But the slow real-world expansion capabilities of mining explain the IMF’s forecast that mineral inflation would last “roughly a decade” until supply catches up.”

This is utter nonsense.

Mining any natural resource is entirely dependent on the physical accessibility of the resource, the grade (concentration) of the desired mineral, the ability of deployable technology to extract the desired mineral, the economics of the processing of the mineral concentrate to a usable form, and that the total costs incurred by the entire supply chain can be borne by the selling price for the end user products enabled or manufactured from that resource.

Supply of anything cannot “catch up” to demand if that supply is limited by a maximum price limit for the demanded form and for the accessibility, grade, and applicable process technology for the “deposit.”

The highest grade accessible and processable deposits of lithium from brine and from hard rock minerals are, respectively, in Chile, Argentina, and Australia. These deposits are already mined at scale and represent the lowest cost of production today. So, since the highest grade, accessible, physically and technologically, deposits are in production why can’t they just ramp up and supply any amounts of lithium needed? Those writers who are ignorant of geology, mineral economics, and geopolitics, and who are not aware of the limitations of contemporary known deposits of natural resources, think that lithium production is organic, i.e., that to get more lithium you simply do more mining. But, in fact, all mineral deposits decline in grade and fall below economic grades after a time. The period during which the mine is projected to be profitable is called, for that reason, the life of the mine.

In 2007 the global production of lithium, measured as metal, was 16,000 tons. In 2021 that figure was 86,000 tons, a 5.5X increase. Yet at the beginning of 2022, the price of metallic lithium, $60,000 a ton in January 2021 had reached $360,000 a ton! I note that lithium metal is now more expensive than silver.

Why?

The demand for lithium today just for batteries is 60% of global lithium production, and new battery factories are coming online and being planned and under construction daily. The total demand for lithium for all of these factories by 2025 is calculated to be 2.5 times total global lithium production in 2021. By 2030 that figure would be 5 to 10 times the total global 2021 output of lithium.

It is likely that the lithium supply is already in deficit due to existing battery factories buying for inventory and traders buying for speculation.

The legacy OEM car/truck makers have almost all allocated essentially all of their R&D capital and their new manufacturing construction to EVs. The better managed ones realizing that the total conversion of their outputs solely to EVs cannot be supported anytime soon, if ever, by the lithium supply chain and that the cost of such vehicles is already prohibitive in the mass market are hedging their bets by continuing to plan for a mixed output of EV and fossil fueled powertrains indefinitely.

Mis-allocations of capital in the most capital intensive industry on earth, the OEM automotive industry, cannot be reversed rapidly, and the damage to competitive advantage from losing the lead in internal combustion engine and transmission development could be fatal. This misallocation is not confined to the assembly operations of the global legacy OEMs. It could also be fatal to suppliers of ICE specific components.

There are today some 1.5 billion ICEs in use globally, and the number is growing. Imagine that each of them will use on average 4 kg of lithium, measured as metal, for a 50 kWh lithium-ion battery. A Tesla Model 3 uses 6-8 kg for a 100 kWh battery. So to replace just today’s powertrains would require 6 billion kg of lithium, or 6 million tons of lithium, or 36 million tons of LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent). This is more than 70 years total global 2021 lithium production with nothing left over for the stationary storage market for grid smoothing of wind and solar generation. Neither conversion will ever happen, because it is beyond the capability and capacity of our current know-how in mining, refining, and fabricating the end-use raw materials.

The looming and fatal to the green revolution lithium supply deficit has spawned an enormous price increase for the metal and its compounds, which has reversed the steady decline in the costs of lithium-ion batteries.

But is it too late to stop the attempted suicide of the global OEM automotive and electric energy generating industries?

Cars and trucks running on high priced electricity generated by increasingly expensive wind and solar systems backed up by hugely expensive stationary storage battery parks will not have large enough markets to be self sustainable or reasonably priced.

Lithium mining and processing will boom until no one can afford the vehicles or the electricity. At some point before that occurs the decarbonization of Western society will reverse and steel, aluminum, oil and gas will return to their central place in our world of cheap energy. Until then look for lithium, the rare earths, copper, and uranium to enter a long Super Cycle.

Betting the farm on lithium in the short term and the long term.




China is winning the war for the future.

The perennial key geopolitical and geoeconomics issues of the conflict among nation-states over the allocation of scarce critical natural resources have, in the last 25 years, been dramatically affected by the current wave of the globalization of the ownership and of the productive output of natural resources, primarily in Africa and South America. Contemporary globalization has worked very much in the favor of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). China’s goal of self-sufficiency in all natural resources, technologies, and industrial manufacturing for the stated purpose of achieving total independence from the rest of the world is well on its way to success. 

China has combined a coherent industrial policy, based on the above stated goal, and has given that policy a driver with what it calls “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” which turns out to be not profit-centered but national goal-centered capitalism. 

One result of Chinese goal-centered capitalism has been the decline of North America’s and Western Europe’s dominance as the industrial manufacturing and technological innovation centers of the world. The very same Chinese consumer market for manufactured goods that caused a boom for Western OEMs has been redirected to favor Chinese domestic OEMs to move China into its new era of the policy of dual circulation, the gradual substitution of domestic consumption for export markets. 

Western politicians are frantic to keep their consumer products’ boom going, so they are paying lip service to the notion of a consumer oriented free-market economy based on profit while more and more (disastrously) trying to manipulate that same consumer market demand without any real understanding of supply economics. 

The best example of the failure of the Western approach is the looming and unnecessary energy poverty creating a political theme of an amorphous danger (aka as “boogeyman”) called climate change, a “crisis” being used to attempt to manipulate consumer demand through concepts called “clean energy” and the “Green Economy.” 

Nowhere is there a better example of this than the current political mania for the electrification of transportation power trains. Self-described “experts” and “analysts” confidently predict the market penetration of so-called EVs, electric vehicles, over the next decade and well beyond. But these predictions fail miserably when analyzed through the prism of what is known about the existence, accessibility, volumes, and economics of deposits of the critical technology metals that would need to be present for such predictions to be viable. Further analysis of the current production, distribution and use of electricity is necessary. 

Ninety nine percent of the world’s transportation runs on oil based fuels, the distribution of which is in effect universal. The same cannot be said for electricity. 

The recent breathless coverage of weather “extreme” events, drought in California, hurricane in Louisiana, and flooding in New York and New Jersy have two things in common; one is that they are blamed on “climate change”; and a second thing, that no one in journalism seems to have noticed, that all of, and each of, these events have dramatically reduced or eliminated the flow of electricity to consumers in the affected regions, not just by generation reduction but primarily by disrupting the distribution of reliable electricity. 

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a perceptive observer of the U.S. electrical energy production industry and of its distribution industry. (Note, you therefore couldn’t and wouldn’t be a mainstream media journalist). How would “greened” emergency services, for example, be able to fulfill their charge (excuse the pun) without reliable continuous electric energy production? The answer is that they will rely and always must rely on fossil fueled vehicles and localized electric generators. 

Now further imagine that such fuels and vehicles have been made extraordinarily expensive due to the increased costs (due to supply reduction following forced demand reduction) of fossil fuels, storage batteries, and the need for reliable backup power generation.  

The legacy power distribution systems of America and Europe cannot even today cope with extreme weather events and government paid emergency services can only function with off-the-grid power sources. China has a lesser problem, because its electric power generation and distribution are being built on a national scale with exactly the problem, the interruption of power distribution, I am describing being considered and taken into account by China’s industrial policy execution bureaucracy. 

How would (will) a California city, such as Los Angeles, function in a heat wave/drought when the choice is between air conditioning or charging your electric car? The famous “Valley” society of the Los Angeles complex grew originally after World War II with “all electric homes.” 

How will steel, aluminum, and copper be mined, refined, and fabricated without baseload, continuous and reliable, electric power to sustain the enormous continuous drains of power that batteries cannot sustain? Such flows cannot be created or sustained by solar panels and wind turbines.  

And note that without a steady increase in the production of copper, which is refined ELECTROchemically and melted in electric furnaces, there can be no clean or green energy transformation. And that there can be no production of the companion metals upon which our electronics depend without massive production of the base, structural metals, within which they occur in tiny quantities. So, paradoxically and ironically, mining will have to increase manyfold and baseload fossil and nuclear electric generation would have to be increased dramatically to sustain the flow of scarce technology metals for the “greening” of society.   

There is, of course, an alternative. Electricity for air conditioning, lighting, and transportation can be allocated by privilege, I.e., economic class. The wealthy and their servants will have all that they need and the rest will simply exist in a dry, hot world of water and food rationing. Politicians by the way will rate as “servants” of the wealthy. That must be what the Western politicians think, because that is the world they are creating. 

The real question is: Will the climate change “crisis” collapse the fragile democracies of the West before anyone comes to their senses outside of China. Note that China already has secured sufficient supplies of all the metals it needs to avoid the supply crisis now barreling down on the West.




CopperBank’s Gianni Kovacevic on how 2021 is ‘the year’ for copper

In a recent InvestorIntel interview, Tracy Weslosky speaks with Gianni Kovacevic, CEO of CopperBank Resources Corp. (CSE: CBK), about the rising interest from the market in the copper public markets and the competitive advantages of CopperBank Resources.

In this InvestorIntel interview, which may also be viewed on YouTube (click here to subscribe to the InvestorIntel Channel), Gianni started, “This is the year of copper.” He continued, “In the next few years copper is going to be the king of this drive towards electrification…The greener and cleaner we create and utilize energy, the more that is demanded of copper.”

To watch the complete interview, click here

About CopperBank Resources Corp.

CopperBank is a Canadian exploration mining company focused on energy related metal exploration in The United States of America.

To know more about CopperBank Resources Corp., click here




Vital Metals’ Geoff Atkins on how Australia has a big part to play in the global rare earths supply chain challenge

In a recent InvestorIntel interview, Tracy Weslosky speaks with Geoff Atkins, Managing Director of Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML), about how Joe Biden’s victory will affect the critical materials market and how Australia has a big part to play in the global rare earths supply chain.

In this InvestorIntel interview, which may also be viewed on YouTube (click here to subscribe to the InvestorIntel Channel), Geoff went on to say that Biden’s victory, combined with the rising demand for electric vehicles and  is going to be a positive for the critical minerals industry overall — “We are in a bit of a perfect storm with regards to critical materials.”

Geoff then goes on to say, “We have a large consumer driven demand for energy efficiency, electrification, and miniaturization which all require critical minerals. At the same time, you have statutory and regulatory pushes for reduced emissions. Lastly you have a geopolitical situation which is also driving the need for diversified supply chain in these minerals.” Adding, “You add all of those three things together and you are left with a significant increase in demand and interest in the critical minerals space.”

To watch the full interview, click here

About Vital Metals Limited:

Vital Metals is an explorer and developer with highly prospective mineral projects, focusing on the world-class rare earth Nechalacho project in Canada. They plan to commence production at Nechalacho in 2021, and aims to produce a minimum 5,000 tonnes of contained REO by 2025. Vital Metals aims to become the lowest cost producer of mixed rare earth oxide outside of China by developing one of the highest grade rare earth deposits in the world and the only rare earth project capable of beneficiation solely by ore sorting. Vital’s other projects include the high-grade Wigu Hill rare earth resource in Tanzania.

To learn more about Vital Metals Limited, click here

Disclaimer: Vital Metals Limited is an advertorial member of InvestorIntel Corp.