Weekly Metals News Digest – May 6-10

Expansion of US Magnesium in the Lithium Market

New Lithium Extraction Facility

US startup International Battery Metals has formed a collaboration with US Magnesium to construct and operate a plant dedicated to the direct extraction of lithium from waste byproducts produced during the purification of magnesium salts into pure magnesium. The plant will be built with a modular design, which requires minimal space and eliminates the need for special ponds typically used to concentrate lithium-containing mineral salts. It will possess a production capacity of 5,000 tonnes of lithium chloride annually. US Magnesium plans to convert this output into lithium carbonate, which will then be supplied to manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles and various electronic devices. The design of the plant allows for the possibility of scaling up its capacity in the future.

Read more

Strengthening Market Position

Through this project, US Magnesium is set to enhance its production capabilities significantly, with the potential to produce up to 63.5 thousand tonnes of primary magnesium and 9 thousand tonnes of lithium carbonate annually from the salts extracted from the Great Salt Lake. This initiative is expected to considerably strengthen US Magnesium’s position in the international lithium market.

Global Transition Towards Hydrogen Energy

Norilsk Nickel’s Strategic Move into Hydrogen

The shift toward hydrogen energy is globally recognized as a crucial step towards achieving carbon neutrality and halting the progression of global climate warming. Many nations are planning to expand their hydrogen production capabilities using various sources, including natural gas, water, and coal. This global movement includes India, which has set an ambitious goal to establish itself as the world’s center for hydrogen production. The Indian government has launched the “National Hydrogen Mission” aiming to scale up green hydrogen production to 5 million tonnes by 2030 and become a leading producer of electrolysers.

Palladium plays a vital role in this context due to its ability to absorb up to 900 times its volume in hydrogen, offering broad applications in hydrogen energy technologies. It allows hydrogen to pass through while blocking other gases, making it essential for the production of proton exchange membranes in electrolysers. There is currently no viable alternative to palladium in these applications, ensuring its demand in India’s burgeoning hydrogen sector.

Norilsk Nickel has actively participated in the Hydrogen Technology Expo to showcase its developments and seek collaborative opportunities with local companies, positioning itself well at the onset of the global hydrogen production surge, which is projected to reach approximately 170 million tonnes by 2030, including 20 million tonnes of green hydrogen.

Read more

Innovation in Antimicrobial Technology

Antimicrobial Copper Film Development

A collaborative effort between the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), and Corning Corporation has led to the creation of an ultra-thin copper film with germicidal properties designed to protect the screens of sensor devices from microbial contamination. This film, which does not conduct electricity, can resist the growth of specific microbes. The production process involves applying a 3.5 nanometer-thick copper film to a substrate, heating it to 390 degrees Celsius, maintaining this temperature for 10 minutes, and then cooling it, causing the film to separate into a multitude of individual, evenly distributed copper nanoparticles.

In practical applications, the copper film has demonstrated a 99.9% effectiveness in eliminating Staphylococcus aureus bacteria within two hours under dry, real-world conditions. It also remains intact and effective after cleaning with conventional cleaning agents, offering both optical transparency and color neutrality, making it highly suitable for touch screens in public and multi-user environments.

Read more

Dominance in the Rare Earth Market by China

China’s Strategic Market Control

Tom O’Leary, CEO of the Australian company Iluka Resources, has expressed concerns over China’s almost absolute control over the global market for heavy rare earth metals, achieved through its dominance in production and strategic price manipulations. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2023, out of the 350 thousand tonnes of rare earths mined globally, 240 thousand tonnes were mined in China, with the U.S. and Australia producing significantly less. This control allows China to periodically adjust export permissions, thereby influencing global prices.

Read more

Response and Investment by Iluka Resources

In response, Iluka Resources is increasing its investment in a rare earth ore processing plant in Australia, with costs escalating from the previously planned $1.25 billion to $1.8 billion. The company is currently seeking financial support from the Australian government to manage this increase.

Bullish Sentiments in the Copper Market

Optimistic Market Projections

Daniel Sullivan, the head of global natural resources at hedge fund Surly Henderson Investments, has articulated a bullish perspective on the copper market, highlighting copper’s essential role in the transition from conventional to renewable sources of electricity. Sullivan notes that the firm’s investment portfolio includes over 15% in direct investments in copper and shares of copper mining companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP Group. The current market trends and projections suggest significant growth and potential price increases for copper, with forecasts indicating a possible rise to $12 thousand per tonne by the end of the year, assuming a deficit formation of 464 thousand tonnes.

Read more

Future Prospects for Palladium Use

Diversified Application Beyond Automotive

The traditional use of palladium in automotive catalysts is expected to decline due to a predicted 7% drop in demand from car manufacturers in 2024, according to Johnson Matthey. This decline is attributed to the substantial reserves accumulated by automotive players during 2020-2022 when palladium prices were at peak levels. Despite these predictions and the impending rise of electric vehicles (which do not require palladium), the metal is far from being redundant. It holds promising potential in several other sectors, including hydrogen power generation, renewable energy production components like glycolic acid, and water disinfection processes, ensuring its continued relevance and demand in the market.

Read more icon

    Subscribe to the most timely news about the metals market

    Metals Wire's weekly digest for mining and processing industry professionals, investors, analysts, journalists.