China’s ‘airpocalypse’ good news for commodities – by Howard Winn (South China Morning Post – March 27, 2014)

The mining industry may be in the doldrums but Robert Friedland, the executive chairman and founder of Ivanhoe Mines, remains undaunted and sees commodity prices bouncing back in two or three years, as he told the Mines & Money conference in Hong Kong earlier this week.

We make no apologies for giving you yet more of him, as he tells the best stories in the sector. Of hard and soft rocks, mineral grades and so on, he gives you all that, but tells you why it is important, and where this stuff is being used.

Naturally he has an interest in telling these stories since Ivanhoe is developing some of the world’s most significant finds in copper, zinc and gold in Africa. His big themes this week include copper. So why zinc? The metal is now recognised, along with potash, as one of the most intense organic fertilisers.

Some 60 per cent of soils in China and India have been depleted of zinc. Agricultural productivity increases significantly when added to the land as fertiliser. So China has mandated that fertiliser should include zinc which has enormous implications for demand. And by the way, when you have a cold you should suck zinc tablets, and it is also good for boosting children’s immune systems.

Copper, Friedland tells us, is one of the world’s best bug fighters. A huge problem for hospitals throughout the world is the existence of multiple drug resistant bacteria. One in 20 American hospital patients end up with infections they caught in hospital.

However, the US army and the World Health Organisation have conducted studies, which show that if you cover surfaces with copper this will kill about 99 per cent of all bacteria as a result of the metal’s electrical conductivity.

Bugs, on the other hand, love stainless steel. So over time surfaces and rails that are made of stainless steel will be replaced by copper-coated surfaces. And watch out for those stainless steel door knobs used in public toilets and hotels and restaurants.

Talk about urbanisation has subsided in recent years but it has not stopped. Indeed, it will lead to a doubling of the number of giga-cities in the world, that is, those in excess of 20 million residents, as the world’s population grows from its current seven billion to nine billion by 2030.

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