Brazilian mining and metals giant Vale is investing up to $3 billion in 2024 to explore and develop mineral deposits crucial for the energy transition. Copper and nickel, essential for electric vehicle production, are a key focus. Copper is used in motor windings, while nickel is needed for batteries. Vale forecasts a 19% increase in global copper demand and a 16% rise in nickel demand by 2030, correlating with an average annual growth rate of 24% in electric car sales. Vale aims to produce 325 thousand tonnes of copper by the end of 2023, 325-355 thousand tonnes in 2024, and 375-410 thousand tonnes by 2026. Its nickel production is expected to reach 165,000 tonnes this year, 175,000 tonnes next year, and 210,000-230,000 tonnes in 2026.
South Korea’s largest cable and wire manufacturer, LG Cable, has developed a technology to produce copper foil from scrap copper particles generated during cable and wire product manufacturing. Copper foil is a crucial component in lithium-ion battery collectors for electric vehicles. LG Cable’s technology ensures the copper foil is about 20 micrometres thick, requiring delicate treatment and cleaning. This technology provides copper foil with the necessary properties and quality. LG Cable plans to commercialize this technology next year, aiming for sales of approximately $77 billion. The foil has already been tested with leading copper foil producers.
Ardea Resources, along with Japanese corporations Sumitomo Metal Mining and Mitsubishi, continue their feasibility study for the Kalgoorlie Nickel project. The study includes environmental impact assessments, selection of construction contractors, and plans for additional geological exploration and hydrogeological drilling next year. Kalgoorlie Nickel’s resources are estimated at 194.1 million tonnes of ore, averaging 0.7% nickel and 0.05% cobalt. The project is expected to produce up to 30,000 tonnes of nickel and 2,000 tonnes of cobalt annually over 40 years, with open-pit mining as the extraction method.
Rusal has appealed to the Russian government to remove export duties on primary aluminum produced by the Boguchansk and Taishet aluminum smelters, citing falling global aluminum prices. Aluminum prices have dropped from $2.662 thousand per tonne in January to $2.124 thousand in mid-December. Export duties launched in October 2023 aim to provide additional revenue to the Russian federal budget. The Boguchansky and Taishet smelters, which started operations in 2016 and 2021 respectively, account for about 10% of Rusal’s production.
The Chinese government has banned the export of technologies for mining and processing rare earth ores and extracting pure metals from them, potentially triggering a new trade war with the US and European countries. China, which mines about 60% of raw materials and produces 90% of all rare earth metals globally, holds significant leverage in the market. Rare earth metals are essential for the economic and defense security of leading countries, used in smartphones, laptops, and military radar devices. The US and European Union are working on projects to reduce dependency on Chinese rare earth metal supplies.
Forecast: China to Maintain Rare Earth Market Leadership
China’s dominance in the rare earth market is attributed to four factors: vast reserves, easily processed ionic ores, the application of cascade extraction technology for cost and time efficiency, and export policy changes to increase dependence on Chinese supplies. The recent ban on technology export threatens US and European plans to establish their own rare earth facilities, reinforcing China’s position in the global market.