Battery taskforce powers up to supercharge WA lithium potential – by Stuart McKinnon (The West Australian – May 24, 2018)

A taskforce to investigate how WA can cash in on a “once-in-a-generation” lithium and battery minerals boom will make recommendations to the State Government within six months.

Announcing the taskforce in Maylands in front of two Tesla demonstration Model X electric cars yesterday, Mines Minister Bill Johnston said the downstream processing of lithium and other battery minerals in WA could create thousands of highly skilled, high-paying jobs.

He said the taskforce, consisting of senior government representatives, would engage with companies operating in the sector and take advice from an industry reference group.

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A Legacy of Mining Busts Haunts Chile’s Lithium Dreams – by Laura Millan Lombrana (Bloomberg News – May 25, 2018)

Dozens of towns abandoned after a collapse in nitrate prices offer a cautionary tale for the next hot commodity.

Chile knows what it is to be expendable. Ghost towns that pepper the nation’s north are a painful reminder of a time when it was replaced almost overnight as the world’s top fertilizer producer. These days, the decaying buildings and rusty plants serve as a harbinger for miners embarking on a major expansion of lithium.

Lithium prices have tripled in three years, triggering a race to find a replacement for the soft, white mineral that is used to make batteries for a range of products from electric cars to mobile phones.
As researchers at institutions from the U.S. Department of Energy to Stanford University work behind the scenes to come up with a chemical alternative, local mining executives say Chile’s boom-to-bust past often weighs on the back of their minds.

While miner Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA, or SQM, believes the lithium business “will go on for a while,” Chief Executive Officer Patricio de Solminihac acknowledges they always need to keep an eye out for the next big development. The nature of disruptive technologies means “they come out of nowhere and develop incredibly fast,” he said.

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Electric vehicles seen driving cobalt crunch by mid-2020s – by Salvador Rodriguez (Reuters U.S. – May 24, 2018)

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The increasing popularity of electric vehicles may create a crunch for supplies of cobalt in the early-to-mid 2020s, miners and analysts say, adding that small operators trying to start up mines outside Africa could play a bigger role over time in satisfying demand for the metal used in rechargeable batteries.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s cobalt as a by-product of its copper mines and is taking an increasingly confrontational stance toward foreign mining companies, including a new mining code that hikes royalties and taxes.

Human rights groups have said some cobalt from the Central African country could come from mines using child labor, raising additional concerns about sourcing within the industry and among buyers of the metal.

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How dreams of ‘Mount Cobalt’ are dividing an old mining town – by Gabriel Friedman (Financial Post – May 24, 2018)

As cobalt prices spike, some support levelling and gutting Cobalt, Ont., for mining’s return and economic prosperity, but others find the prospect ‘heartbreaking’

Gino Chitaroni keeps five different business cards arrayed at the front of his desk: He’s a geologist, prospector, land manager, salesman and, for many people, a go-to source of information for anything related to mining in Cobalt, Ont.

Until recently, as far as mining is concerned, there hasn’t been much happening around Cobalt. Located about five hours north of Toronto, it experienced a historic and prolific silver rush at the turn of the last century that sustained decades of mining. By the late 1980s, things had petered out.

Then, last year, in a welcome turn of events for a town that has struggled economically since mining disappeared, prospectors started flocking to the area in droves.

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A Lithium Valley in Western Australia could power the world – by Cameron Jewell (Fifth – May 24, 2018)

There’s more than 100,000 jobs and $50 billion in economic activity up for grabs if a “Lithium Valley” is set up in Western Australia, according to Curtin University’s Professor Peter Newman, one of the authors behind a new report calling for the state to become a battery manufacture and technology leader.

According to Newman, Western Australia is a one-stop shop for all the materials needed to power the new economy, and says a “Lithium Valley” should be set up in Kwinana, Perth, leveraging off the recent announcement of a lithium hydroxide refinery being built, and Tesla’s recent meeting with the state government.

The report – Lithium Valley: Establishing the case for energy metals and battery manufacturing in Western Australia – says WA is home to the world’s most accessible abundance of energy metals, including lithium, cobalt, vanadium, tin, tantalum, nickel, manganese, magnesium and rare earths – essential components in batteries and other renewable tech.

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Cobalt 27 announces first-ever streaming deal for battery metals – by Gabriel Friedman (Financial Post – May 23, 2018)

‘It brings immediate free cash flow into the business’ — to the tune of about $30M a year from Ramu’s cobalt and nickel

Toronto-based Cobalt 27 Capital Corp. on Tuesday announced it will pay $145 million for the right to the cobalt and nickel from the Ramu mine in Papua New Guinea, in what marks the first streaming deal of its kind in the battery metals space.

The company, which announced an US$80-million credit facility earlier this month and US$185 million in equity financing in March, said it will not take on any new debt for the deal — a sign of the market interest for companies with exposure to battery metals as automakers prepare to increase electric vehicle manufacturing.

“This completely transforms our company because it brings immediate free cash flow into the business,” said Anthony Milewski, chairman of Cobalt 27.

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Pollution studies cast doubt on China’s electric-car policies – by Charles Clover (Financial Times – May 20, 2018)

The environmental case for electric vehicles in China has been complicated by research that asserts the cars produce more pollution than those with internal combustion engines.

The issue is likely to raise questions about China’s push to become the world’s EV champion by 2025. The government has justified devoting massive resources to encouraging domestic EV production — including billions of dollars in subsidies and production quotas — based on the proposition they are greener than petrol-engine cars.

But the environmental benefits were unclear, experts said. While China has been on a green energy push for years, coal still accounts for an overwhelming proportion of electricity production, meaning that charging electric batteries also burns carbon — often at a higher per-kilometre rate than petrol engines.

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Threat of Cobalt Supply Shock Is Top Risk for Electric Vehicles – by David Stringer and Martin Ritchie (Bloomberg News – May 21, 2018)

A burgeoning risk of a supply crunch in cobalt — a key battery metal that’s more than tripled in price in two years — poses one of the biggest threats to forecasts for rising electric vehicle adoption.

Major investment in mines is required to avoid price spikes that could see cost reductions for lithium-ion batteries stall, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysts said Monday in a report.

Shortages of cobalt are likely earlier than previously forecast and the issue poses a potential challenge to EV sales over the coming five to seven years, according to the report.

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Cobalt price: Congo ebola outbreak compounds acute supply fears – by Frik Els ( – May 20, 2018)

The price of cobalt has been drifting after hitting near 10-year peaks in March to exchange hands for $91,000 a tonne on Friday. Cobalt is still up nearly fourfold since hitting multi-year lows at the beginning of 2016 as worries about supply of the metal, a crucial element in batteries, combine with expectations of booming demand from the electric vehicle sector.

Supply risks for cobalt are centred on the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is responsible for nearly two-thirds of world output. And the country’s share will only increase over the next five years (see chart).

Fears of disruption from the conflict ridden central African country has intensified after an outbreak of the deadly ebola disease and the possibility of a return to civil war in the run up to long-postponed national election now set for December.

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China Looks to Control Global Lithium Supply – by Fan Yu (Epoch Times – May 20, 2018)

China is slowly amassing control over the global supply of lithium, an important mineral in the production supply chain of new technologies.

On May 17, China-based Tianqi Lithium paid more than $4 billion to purchase a sizable stake in Chile’s Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM), one of the world’s biggest producers of lithium. Tianqi bought the stake in SQM from Canadian fertilizer company Nutrien.

Lithium is a critical mineral for production of high-capacity batteries, those powering the world’s smartphones, electric cars, and renewable energy grids. Expected global production of electric cars is expected to dramatically increase demand for lithium. Whoever controls the production of lithium has great influence over the price and supply chain for these emerging technologies.

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The Lithium Cartel Should Be Stopped – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – May 18, 2018)

Why are we so relaxed about an emerging oligopoly in the key battery element?

The world doesn’t like its essential commodities being controlled by a small group of producers. When Arab members of Opec resolved to cut their oil exports in response to U.S. involvement in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the situation was rightly deemed a global crisis.

Less than a year after BHP Billiton Ltd. announced plans to merge its iron ore operations with those of Rio Tinto Group in 2009, the proposal was dropped amid expectations that regulators in Europe and Asia would oppose the deal on antitrust grounds.

So why is there so little noise about the emerging oligopoly in one of the hottest elements on the periodic table, lithium?

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Electric vehicle rush fuels optimism at LME Asia Week – by Melanie Burton and Tom Daly (Reuters U.S.- May 18, 2018)

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Rising demand for battery materials cobalt and lithium infused some optimism into an otherwise cautious London Metal Exchange (LME) Asia Week, amid a backdrop of slowing growth in China and escalating trade tensions between it and the United States.

In the event’s first ever session on battery materials in Hong Kong, Chinese cobalt producers such as Jinchuan Group International Resources and Wanbao Mining said they were ramping up production to sate an anticipated demand boom from electric vehicles (EVs).

That is a market that the LME hopes to tap with the launch of cash-settled cobalt and lithium contracts, slated for late this year or early next year.

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‘They actually sold it at a premium’: Nutrien sells stake in Chilean lithium producer for $4.1 billion – by Gabriel Freidman (Financial Post – May 18, 2018)

In a sign of how hot the lithium market is, Canadian fertilizer producer Nutrien Ltd. sold a 24 per cent stake in Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. for US$4.07 billion, at a healthy premium.

The purchaser, China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp., agreed to pay US$65 per share for the Chilean producer, which represented a premium on the US$58 trading price, which surprised some analysts, as antitrust regulators in China and India had required Nutrien — the company formed by the merger of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan and Agrium Inc. — to sell its stake in SQM as a condition of the deal.

“The price seemed good,” said John Chu, an analyst with Laurentian Bank Securities. “Because Nutrien had given advanced notice that they had to sell it, and because it was such a large block of shares, it was thought that they would have to sell it a discount, and they actually sold it at a premium.”

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Battery makers pushing for ten 10-year lithium contracts: Albemarle – by Peter Ker (Australian Financial Review – May 14, 2018)

A push to offer long warranties for batteries used in electric cars is one factor forcing lithium miners to change the way they sell their product, according to one of Australia’s biggest producers.

US company Albemarle, which owns 49 per cent of the lithium-rich Greenbushes spodumene mine in Western Australia, said battery manufacturers are increasingly demanding 10-year contracts in a bid to secure supply. The comments came as the New York listed company indicated first production on its $400 million lithium hydroxide plant in WA may come a year later than previously expected.

Addressing investors, Albemarle’s lithium president John Mitchell said a desire to offer 10-year warranties on lithium-ion batteries was driving some manufacturers to seek guaranteed sources of raw materials for similar periods.

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RESOURCE EXTRACTION: Chile’s lithium – blessing or curse? – by Sophia Boddenberg (Deutsche Welle – May 11, 2018)

Salar de Atacama is rich in lithium, essential to electric cars and other low-carbon tech. But indigenous people are fighting its extraction, saying private interests are cashing in at the expense of their environment.

The Salar de Atacama’s geysers, volcanoes and flamingos attract tourists from around the world. But beneath its dramatic vistas, the Chilean salt flats hide something of far greater economic potential that’s drawing a different kind of interest – from the world’s chemical companies.

Lithium batteries are essential to all kinds of gadgets from laptops and mobile phones to the electric cars and power storage facilities that are to help wean the world of fossil fuels. As the world shifts to renewables, more and more sectors are to be electrified, and demand for lithium is expected to double by 2025.

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