Weekly Metals News – March 18-22

Expanding Nickel Production: Vale Indonesia’s Ambitious New Project

Vale Indonesia, a notable player in the mining industry, has announced plans to significantly expand its nickel production capabilities. With an investment nearing $2 billion, the company aims to construct a cutting-edge high-pressure acid leaching plant dedicated to processing lateritic ores on Sulawesi Island. This venture underscores Vale Indonesia’s commitment to enhancing its nickel production capacity, with the new plant expected to yield up to 60 thousand tons of nickel annually, in the form of mixed nickel and cobalt hydroxide.

Currently, Vale Indonesia is engaged in advanced geological exploration activities at a deposit of laterite ores on Sulawesi Island. These ores are anticipated to serve as the primary raw material for the proposed acid leaching plant. The exploration is in its final stages, promising a solid foundation for the plant’s development and ensuring a steady supply of raw materials for nickel production.

The proposed plant is poised to become Vale Indonesia’s third acid leaching facility on Sulawesi Island, complementing two similar projects already underway. These projects benefit from strategic collaborations with Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, a leading Chinese mining and metallurgical corporation, and Ford, the renowned American car manufacturer, which is involved in one of the projects. Such partnerships not only enhance the projects’ viability but also underscore the global interest in nickel as a critical component in various industries, including automotive manufacturing.

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Glencore relaunches Nordenham

Glencore, a leading player in the global mining and metals sector, has announced the recommencement of operations at its Nordenham zinc plant located in Germany. This facility, which had been dormant for nearly two years, is now in the process of gradually ramping up its technological capacities. This development is a positive signal for the market, indicating that zinc supplies to consumers may resume shortly.
In May 2020, Glencore acquired the Nordenham plant during a period when it was undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. Taking on the responsibility of clearing the plant’s outstanding debts, Glencore aimed to revitalize its operations. However, the company faced significant challenges in the fall of 2021 when natural gas prices in the European Union started to soar, leading to a consequent hike in electricity tariffs. This surge in operational costs had a domino effect on the Nordenham plant’s viability.
By 2022, the escalating situation compelled Glencore to cease operations at Nordenham in November, marking it as the third zinc plant within the European Union to be shuttered due to the unsustainable rise in electricity prices. Prior to this, Glencore had also placed the Portovesme plant in Italy on hold, while its competitor Nystar had to mothball the Budel plant in the Netherlands. These closures highlighted the broader impacts of energy costs on heavy industries across the region.

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Russian and British Scientists Make Palladium Glow

In a groundbreaking international collaboration, researchers from St. Petersburg State University, the Kurnakov Institute, and the University of Liverpool have developed a novel class of light-emitting materials using palladium compounds. This innovative research leverages the unique properties of palladium salts combined with simple organic molecules to pioneer a new frontier in light-emitting materials.

The creation of these materials involves the intricate “assembly” of complex organic fragments directly within the coordination sphere—the immediate atomic environment—of the palladium metal. This meticulous process resulted in the formation of materials that could be synthesized into both crystals and thin polymer films. Notably, while the individual molecules of these compounds did not exhibit light-emitting properties on their own, their crystalline form emitted a bright green light when exposed to ultraviolet light.

To understand the underlying structure of these luminous crystals, the team employed X-ray diffraction studies. By passing X-rays through the crystals and analyzing the trajectory of the reflected rays on a detector, researchers could determine the crystal structure. This examination revealed that within the crystals, palladium atoms are positioned so closely that they interact with each other. This metal-to-metal interaction facilitates a redistribution of electrons, allowing the substance to enter a radiating state and emit light.

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China’s Copper Companies Suffer From Low Tariffs For Processing Raw Materials

The copper industry in China, recognized as the world’s largest copper producer, is currently facing significant challenges. These challenges stem from a combination of fluctuating global copper prices and a sharp decrease in tariffs for processing copper raw materials. To address these issues, a crucial meeting is on the horizon for the leaders of China’s top copper producers, including Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group and Jiangxi Copper. The agenda will cover the dynamics of global copper prices and adjustments to production strategies.

The first two months of the year witnessed an 11% reduction in copper production within China, dropping to 2.215 million tons. This decline is attributed not only to the volatile nature of global copper prices but also to the plummeting tariffs for processing copper. The situation has been exacerbated by supply disruptions from mines and the rapid expansion of copper smelting capacities in China. This expansion has intensified competition among metallurgical companies, further straining the industry.

In response to these challenges, industry leaders are slated to convene this week to deliberate on establishing minimum purchase prices for copper concentrate. This strategic move aims to stabilize the market and ensure the sustainability of the copper industry in China. However, despite these efforts, the outlook for the second quarter of 2024 remains cautious. The anticipated peak period for repair work at metallurgical plants is likely to further impact copper production negatively.

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Emirates Global Aluminium buys plant in Europe

In a move that marks a significant development in the non-ferrous metallurgy sector of Germany and Europe at large, Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), one of the leading producers of primary aluminum globally, has announced its acquisition of the German firm Leichtmetall Aluminium Giesserei Hannover (Leichtmetall). This acquisition represents a significant milestone, not only for the companies involved but also for the industry as a whole, highlighting the growing trend towards recycled aluminium.

Leichtmetall has established itself as a key player in the recycling sector, specializing in the collection and recycling of aluminium scrap. The company is renowned for producing alloys that are essential for casting various products, in addition to manufacturing large-diameter cylindrical ingots. With an annual production capacity of up to 30,000 tons, Leichtmetall has carved out a niche for itself, contributing significantly to the supply chain of recycled aluminum.

While the financial details of the deal between Emirates Global Aluminium and Leichtmetall remain undisclosed, both parties express optimism about finalizing the transaction by July of the current year, pending the approval of regulatory bodies.

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Forecast: zinc prices may reach 2.6 thousand dollars per ton

The global zinc market has experienced a fluctuating trend similar to other non-ferrous metals, with prices witnessing a decline after reaching record highs. However, since May 2023, there has been an attempt at recovery, albeit with mixed success. Presently, the price of zinc hovers around $2.4 to $2.5 thousand per ton. This price adjustment has played a significant role in influencing Glencore’s decision to restart operations at the Nordenham plant in Germany, indicating the intricate relationship between market prices and production decisions.

Reflecting on the supply and demand dynamics of 2023, there was a notable decrease in the production of zinc ores by 1.4%, totaling 12.258 million tons in terms of pure metal. Conversely, the production and consumption of refined zinc remained relatively stable, recorded at 13.863 and 13.659 million tons, respectively. This equilibrium between production and consumption highlights the zinc market’s resilience amidst varying economic conditions.

Looking ahead to 2024, the zinc market is poised for a subtle yet significant shift. Demand for zinc is projected to rise by 2%, reaching 13.9 million tons. Similarly, the supply is expected to increase by 1-2%, totaling 14 to 14.1 million tons. Despite the potential for a more substantial supply increase, unforeseen challenges such as heavy rainfall led to the suspension of Glencore’s McArthur River mine in Australia. This mine, renowned for its substantial output of 262 thousand tons of zinc concentrate annually, is a critical player in the global zinc supply chain.

The combination of operational setbacks at the McArthur River mine and issues at other mining enterprises may contribute to tightening the zinc supply. As a result, within the next few months, the market could witness a price increase, with forecasts suggesting a rise to $2.5-2.6 thousand per ton. icon

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