Weekly Metals News Digest – March 25-29

Pioneering Copper Recycling for Advanced Manufacturing in South Korea

LG Cable, recognized as South Korea’s premier cable and wire manufacturer, has unveiled a significant technological advancement in copper foil production. This innovation facilitates the creation of copper foil directly from the copper scrap generated during the manufacturing of cable and wire products.

Copper foil plays a crucial role in the development of lithium-ion battery collectors, which are essential components in electric vehicles (EVs). The manufacturing process requires the copper foil to have a precise thickness of about 20 micrometers. Achieving this specification demands a highly refined procedure that includes careful treatment of the material and meticulous removal of surface contaminants, a necessity due to exposure to air during production.

The technology pioneered by LG Cable overcomes the challenges traditionally associated with copper foil production. It ensures the production of high-quality copper foil that meets the exacting requirements needed for its use in EV battery collectors, without the drawbacks of previous methods.

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Newmont’s Strategic Divestment: A Path to Financial Recovery

American gold mining giant Newmont, one of the world’s leading gold mining companies, has initiated the process to sell its Akyem mine in Ghana. With a valuation of $2 billion, Newmont has partnered with Citigroup to identify potential buyers and evaluate their proposals. The Akyem mine, known for its substantial gold ore deposits mined through quarrying, represents a significant asset in Newmont’s portfolio.

The sale has garnered attention from prominent mining corporations worldwide, including Shandong Gold Mining, Chifeng Jilong Gold Mining, Perseus Mining, and Zijin Mining Group. Although discussions with these potential buyers are still in the preliminary stages, the interest signals a competitive bidding process ahead.

Newmont’s decision to divest the Akyem mine comes in the wake of financial difficulties stemming from its acquisition of Newcrest Mining in the previous year. The company reported substantial losses of $2.5 billion at the end of 2023. To mitigate these financial challenges, Newmont plans to sell a total of five assets, which, alongside Akyem, include four mines in North America and one in Australia.

In 2023, Newmont achieved a gold production milestone of 5.5 million troy ounces. The Akyem mine, whose construction commenced in 2011 with production starting in 2013, has been a significant contributor to this output.

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Global Aluminum Production Has Dragged Alumina Production Down

In February, the world witnessed a noticeable shift in alumina production, with a global output of 11.08 million tons. This represents a 6.9% decrease from January 2024, according to the International Aluminum Institute. Despite this month-to-month dip, when compared to the same period in the previous year, there was a 5.9% increase, showcasing a mixed performance in the sector.

The fluctuation in alumina production was not uniform across the globe, with significant disparities observed between different regions:

– China, the largest producer, saw its output reduce by 6.4% from January 2024, reaching 6.28 million tons.

– Australia experienced a more substantial drop of 12.7%, totaling 1.44 million tons.

– In Asia (excluding China) and Africa, production slightly declined by 3.3% to 1.17 million tons.

– Europe saw a decrease of 1.7%, with a production of 571 thousand tons.

– South America’s output went down by 3.4% to 975 thousand tons.

– North America faced a 4.1% reduction, resulting in 651 thousand tons of alumina.

The downturn in global alumina production mirrors trends in the primary aluminum sector. February witnessed an 8.5% decrease in aluminum production, amounting to 5.54 million tonnes. This decline is attributed to several factors, including lower aluminum prices and extensive repair operations at numerous metallurgical plants, which impacted overall production capacity.

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New Gallium Production Technique Developed in Russia

Researchers at the Siberian Federal University in Russia have pioneered a novel approach to producing gallium, a metal of significant value across various industries. By focusing on the carbon concentrate byproduct of aluminum production, the team has introduced an efficient and innovative method to extract gallium.

The procedure involves several key steps:
1) High-Temperature Treatment: The carbon concentrate is subjected to a high temperature of about 600 degrees Celsius to generate ash.

2) Acid Washing: The resulting ash is then washed with hydrochloric acid, a process during which gallium contained in the ash dissolves into the solution.

3) Sorbent Filtration: This acidic solution is passed through a column filled with an ion exchange resin (sorbent), which absorbs gallium, leaving aluminum and other metals in the solution.

4) Gallium Extraction: The gallium compounds are subsequently “washed off” from the sorbent using distilled water and then deposited onto a special base to produce technical-grade gallium.

Gallium is a rare metal that doesn’t form its own deposits but is found in high concentrations in bauxite, the primary raw material for aluminum production. Traditionally, gallium is extracted during the processing of bauxite into alumina. Its rarity and unique properties make gallium highly sought after for use in electronics, medical equipment, and nuclear energy applications.

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Rosatom to Launch Rare Earth Production Facility

The Russian state corporation Rosatom has set its sights on a significant venture into the rare earth sector, with plans to start commercial production at a newly designed rare-earth plant by early 2027. This ambitious project, backed by government support and discussions on necessary measures, represents a strategic expansion of Russia into critical materials necessary for various high-tech industries.

With an estimated capital investment exceeding $75 million, the project is currently in an advanced stage of preparation. Technological solutions have been finalized and are undergoing scaling up. A site has been chosen for the plant, and the process of selecting contractors is underway, indicating a well-structured approach to ensuring the project’s realization.

The future facility is expected to have an annual production capacity of up to 2,500 tons of vital rare earth oxides, including lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, and praseodymium, in addition to producing a group concentrate of rare earths.

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Forecast: Russia will strengthen its position in the global market of rare earth metals

Russia’s footprint in the global rare earth metals industry is currently minimal, trailing behind leaders like the United States, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, and China. In 2023, global mining efforts yielded 350 thousand tons of rare earth metal ores (in terms of pure metals), with Russia contributing merely 2.6 thousand tons. This modest output is primarily due to the development of just one rare earth metals deposit – Lovozero – without a comprehensive production cycle in place.

To address this gap and elevate its standing in the market, Russia has embarked on several ambitious projects:

Expansion of Production Capabilities: A new facility is planned near the existing Solikamsk Magnesium Plant, which processes ores from the Lovozero deposit to produce collective carbonate of rare earths. This new enterprise aims to manufacture higher-value products, specifically rare earth metal oxides.

New Ventures in the Murmansk Region: Arkminerl is laying plans for a plant based on the Afrikandskoye deposit. This initiative is set to enhance the regional production capabilities significantly.

Development of the Tomtor Field: The ICT group is planning to develop one of the largest fields, the Tomtor deposit in Yakutia, by establishing a production enterprise focused on rare earth metals.

These strategic moves signal a robust effort by Russia to not only increase its production of rare earth metals by at least threefold but also to venture into the export market. The development of these deposits and the establishment of new processing facilities are pivotal steps towards achieving a significant presence in the global rare earth metals market. icon

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