Weekly Metals News Digest – July 1-5

Rio Tinto’s Carbon-Free Aluminum Production

Arvida Smelter Project

Rio Tinto Corporation plans to produce carbon-free aluminum at its Arvida smelter in Canada by installing inert anode electrolyzers. A pilot line with ten electrolyzers is set to be designed and commissioned, leveraging a technology license from Elysis, a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa.

Investment and Production Goals

The project will receive $179 million from Rio Tinto and $106 million from the Government of Canada. The pilot electrolysis line aims to produce up to 2,500 tons of primary aluminum without greenhouse gas emissions, with the first batch expected in 2027. Under the agreement, Alcoa can purchase a portion of the aluminum produced during the initial four years. If successful, Rio Tinto will proceed with full-scale commercialization of inert anode technology.

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LG Energy Solution and Liontown Resources Partnership

Kathleen Valley Project

South Korean LG Energy Solution and Australian mining company Liontown Resources are expanding their cooperation on the Kathleen Valley pegmatite deposit. The deposit has 156 million tons of ore with an average lithium oxide grade of 1.4%. The mine, currently in the commissioning phase, is set to ship its first spodumene concentrate this month.

Supply Agreements

Liontown Resources will supply LG Energy Solution with 700,000 tons of concentrate for the first five years and 1.5 million tons per year for the subsequent ten years. They are also exploring the potential to build a facility to process spodumene concentrate into various lithium products suitable for battery production. LG Energy Solution’s choice to source spodumene concentrate from Australia, rather than lithium carbonate from Latin America, may be due to supply disruption risks.

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Asturiana de Zinc’s Solar Power Initiative

Solar Power Plant Construction

Asturiana de Zinc, owned by Glencore, plans to build a solar power plant to support its zinc production in Spain. The plant will consist of 41,000 solar panels, generating 32.6 MWh of electricity annually. It will be located on a reclaimed waste storage site, with the design phase starting before the end of 2024.

Energy Independence and Production Capacity

The plant aims to mitigate the high electricity costs that constitute up to 75% of Asturiana de Zinc’s production expenses, which previously did not exceed 55%. Asturiana de Zinc can produce up to 510,000 tons of zinc per year and employs about 1,000 people.

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Niobium’s Potential in Electric Vehicles

Niobium-Enhanced Batteries

British company Nyobolt has developed a lithium-ion battery that recharges in just 4.5 minutes, significantly faster than the typical 20 minutes. This battery, capable of withstanding 4,000 charging cycles while retaining 80% capacity, is ideal for electric vehicles.

Niobium’s Role and Challenges

Niobium’s rarity, with global production not exceeding 100,000 tons, mainly from the USA, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Rwanda, and Russia, presents a challenge. While traditionally used in nuclear power, metallurgy, and electronics, niobium’s properties open prospects for mass use in electric vehicles, although its scarcity may limit widespread adoption.

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Nickel Discovery in India

New Nickel Deposits

The National Geophysical Research Institute of India has discovered nickel ore deposits in the Cuddapah sedimentary basin in Andhra Pradesh. Known for uranium, iron, asbestos, and copper deposits, the area had not previously been known for nickel.

Future Prospects

The discovery is promising for India’s burgeoning electric vehicle industry, which requires nickel for lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, India’s growing stainless steel production also demands nickel. However, it will take time before nickel mining can commence.

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Non-Ferrous Metals Industry’s Shift to Renewable Energy

Solar and Wind Energy Projects

Asturiana de Zinc is not alone in adopting renewable energy. Germany’s Aurubis has started building a solar power plant to supply 15% of its Pirdop plant’s electricity. In contrast, Rio Tinto has partnered with Windlab to purchase 80% of the electricity from the planned Bungaban wind farm, set to begin construction in 2025 and start operations in 2029.

Strategic and Environmental Benefits

These initiatives aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of fluctuating electricity prices from coal and natural gas. The projects also align with emerging regulations on the carbon footprint of products, indicating a long-term trend towards renewable energy adoption in the non-ferrous metals industry. icon

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