Metals Weekends News Digest (Jan 13-14)

Nickel Market Faces Unprecedented Oversupply and Price Declines in 2024

The nickel industry is bracing for a challenging 2024, with experts predicting a substantial oversupply in the market. Budi Frensidy, a capital market observer from the University of Indonesia, forecasts the largest nickel surplus in history, leading to a continued decline in prices. This comes after a significant drop in world nickel prices last year, as reported by the London Metal Exchange, with a record decrease of over 40 percent.

The surplus is affecting both second-grade and first-grade nickel, with stainless steel as the primary user of nickel, followed by battery manufacturing. However, the demand for nickel in electric vehicle batteries is decreasing due to market oversupply and reduced electric car subsidies, particularly for Chinese imports. Manufacturers are exploring alternative battery technologies, reducing reliance on nickel and cobalt, and focusing more on lithium.

The downturn is impacting revenue for nickel producers, as forecasted by Samuel Sekuritas Indonesia. Global nickel prices are expected to fall to $18,500 per ton in 2024 and $18,000 per ton in 2025. Major nickel producers, including Vale Indonesia, are responding by reducing production costs to mitigate the impact of declining prices. This trend suggests a cautious outlook for the mining sector, despite potential growth in copper demand due to the global energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Kamativi Mining Company Boosts Lithium Production in Zimbabwe

Kamativi Mining Company (KMC) in Zimbabwe is set to significantly increase its lithium ore production. Currently producing 1,000 tonnes of ore per day, KMC aims to escalate this figure to 6,000 tonnes daily by June, coinciding with the commissioning of a larger processing plant. This move marks a major turnaround for the Kamativi Tin Mine, which closed in 1994 due to a steep decline in tin prices but has now been repurposed for lithium production.

The mine’s revival as KMC is a joint venture between China’s Sichuan Pude Technology and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Company. With the completion of its first phase, the operational small plant produces up to 50,000 tonnes of lithium concentrate annually. The second phase, involving the construction of a larger plant, is expected to process 300,000 tonnes of concentrate per year. This project, totaling an investment of over $100 million, has already created numerous jobs, engaging local and national workers and contractors.

KMC’s initiatives extend beyond mining, including the construction of a new dam and infrastructure developments in Kamativi. The company has also invested in solar-powered boreholes for local schools and plans to set up a solar farm. These efforts are part of KMC’s corporate social responsibility, aiming to uplift the community and contribute to Zimbabwe’s goal of achieving an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. Geological surveys reveal Kamativi’s rich mineral potential, with substantial lithium deposits alongside other valuable minerals, heralding a new era of economic revival for the region.

Sodium-Ion Batteries: A Sustainable Alternative to Lithium-Ion

Researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology have revealed that sodium-ion batteries match the climate impact of lithium-ion batteries but offer a more sustainable solution in terms of raw material availability. Rickard Arvidsson, the lead author of the study, highlighted the bottleneck in lithium production, especially concerning electric cars, and the long-term depletion risk of lithium deposits.

The study involved a comprehensive life cycle assessment of sodium-ion batteries, examining their environmental and resource impact from raw material extraction to manufacturing. The results indicated that sodium-ion batteries have a significantly lower impact on mineral resource scarcity compared to lithium-ion batteries.

The carbon footprint of these batteries ranged between 60 to just over 100 kilograms of CO2 equivalents per kilowatt-hour, which is promising for their future application in energy storage and electric vehicles.

Sodium-ion batteries use abundant materials like sodium and hard carbon, potentially derived from biomass, reducing geopolitical risks and dependencies on specific regions. This technology is already expected to be utilized for stationary energy storage in electricity grids, and with further development, it could become a viable option for electric vehicles. The study emphasizes the need for such batteries in expanding renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, considering the increasing demand for lithium and cobalt. The researchers also suggest further improvements, such as developing a more environmentally friendly electrolyte, to reduce the overall impact of these batteries. icon

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