How Tesla sparked the latest race for bigger, better batteries – by Michael McCullough (Canadian Business Magazine – September 1, 2015)

Battery makers are suddenly finding themselves with an explosion of new markets to service—both big and small

You can be forgiven for thinking Tesla Motors is a car company. Yes, it started out making electric cars, but only because personal transportation is the lowest-hanging fruit in tackling the global energy and emissions problem. In fact, Tesla’s core mission is to make big batteries inexpensive and practical for any number of uses.

Last spring, founder Elon Musk unveiled a new product called Power­wall, a battery pack starting at US$3,000 that’s designed to power your whole home for 10 hours or more. If you have a solar panel on your roof, it will allow you to store the electricity produced during the day and use it in the evening to cook, do the laundry and max out your electronic devices.

Even if you don’t have solar panels, you may live in one of the growing number of jurisdictions where electricity costs rise and fall at different times of the day. You could save money on your utility bill by charging your Powerwall during the wee hours and drawing from it later.

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How a new battery revolution will change your life – by David J. Unger (Christian Science Monitor – August 30, 2015)

A new generation of super cells promises to reshape the future of energy.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.; AND ARGONNE, ILL. — It’s probably safe to say that freshman chemistry rarely ranks among college students’ most memorable courses. An overcrowded lecture hall teems with 18-year-olds with chins propped on palms. Eyelids droop at the mere mention of Planck’s constant or Bohr’s model of hydrogen. Yawns abound.

So when Donald Sadoway began teaching introductory chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in 1995, he wanted to liven things up. Sure, he still lectured on the properties of atomic arrangements in crystalline and amorphous solids, but he did it an unusual way: He peppered his presentations with chemistry jokes only an MIT undergrad would understand and wove literature and art into the rigid lines and squares of the periodic table.

A lifelong music lover, Dr. Sadoway paired each lecture with a relevant tune. He’d play Handel’s “Water Music” in a lecture on hydrogen bonding and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” in a class on polymers. For DNA – that famous double-helix spiral – he’d play Hank Ballard’s version of “The Twist.”

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Lynas blames illegal China miners for weak rare earth prices – by Sonali Paul (Reuters U.S. – October 14, 2015)

MELBOURNE – Oct 14 Australia’s Lynas Corp blamed illegal Chinese miners for adding to an oversupply of rare earths which has driven prices down to historic lows, while demand from magnet users has weakened due to uncertainty over global growth.

Lynas is now the only rare earths miner outside China, which controls about 90 percent of the world’s supply, following a move by U.S. rival Molycorp, now in bankruptcy protection, to mothball its Mountain Pass mine due to weak prices.

Lynas reported gross sales revenue fell 11 percent to A$46.2 million in the September quarter from the June quarter as falling prices offset a 14 percent rise in sales volumes to 2,691 tonnes.

Weaker prices were partly due to increasing competition between legal and illegal rare earths producers in China, said the company, which mines in Australia and processes the material at its plant in Malaysia.

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Russia prepares for large-scale rare earth metals production – by Eugene Gerden ( – October 8, 2015)

The government of Russia’s Murmansk region, a region, located in the northwestern part of Russia, has started a search of an investor for the development of the local Afrikandovsky field of rare-earth metals, according to Alexei Tyukavin, first deputy-governor of the region.

According to Murmansk regional government, successfull development of the field will allow to establish a full-scale production of titanium dioxide, as well as rare-earth metals.

Estimated volume of investments in the project is 8 billion rubles (US$200 million). Ore reserves of the field will ensure continous operation of a mine and processing complex, that will be built later during the next 100 years.

The tender is expected to be completed by the end October of the current year. The license for an investor will be granted for 25 years. In addition to rare earth metals, titanium, iron, tantalum, niobium and other metals.

The Russian government puts big hopes on the implementation of the project, considering the Murmansk region as a new center of Russia’s rare-earth metals production.

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Tesla Battery Push Spurs ENRC Owner to Target Cobalt Mining – by Yuliya Fedorinova (Bloomberg News – September 24, 2015)

Eurasian Resources Group S.a.r.l. plans to use a $2.2 billion project in the Democratic Republic of Congo to become the world’s top cobalt producer and tap growing demand for batteries from companies including Tesla Motors Inc.

ERG, which earlier this month agreed on $700 million of Chinese funding for the project, has started construction and aims to complete it within 20 months, according to Chief Executive Officer Benedikt Sobotka.

He sees the company becoming the largest cobalt producer when full capacity is reached. Chinese producers currently vie with each other for the top spot.

Cobalt prices should advance “significantly” in the next two years as demand for the metal used in rechargeable batteries increases, Sobotka said. The battery market is expanding as more consumers turn to electric and hybrid cars and look to store renewable energy to power appliances when there’s little wind or sunshine. Daimler AG and Tesla said they plan to sell batteries storing energy to homeowners and businesses.

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Canadian rare earth elements miners band together for survival in pricing downturn – by Peter Henderson (Canadian Press/CTV News – September 16, 2015)

TORONTO — Experts say government support for research and development of Canada’s rare earth elements has encouraged new co-operation in the usually dog-eat-dog world of junior mining companies.

China is the world’s major supplier of rare earth elements, prized for their unique properties — including powerful magnetic fields — and used in high-tech goods such as smartphones, laptops and electric cars.

Prices rose dramatically in 2011, and by 2013 there were at least 11 Canadian projects at the advanced exploration stage before a steep slide in value put a halt on development.

Ian London, who heads the Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network, said companies are instead working together to develop new methods for extracting and refining the 17 metals that make up the rare earth group.

“Now that there has been a lull that’s gone on for a little while, folks have become much more realistic and are looking to address those challenges,” he said.

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Tesla and the mining business – by Don Brunell (The Star – September 16, 2015) Grand Coulee Dam Community

Tesla is the premium entry in the electric car market, with a starting price of $75,000. According to the Wall Street Journal, the high-end “Signature” model costs $132,000, slightly more than the base price for Porsche’s AG’s 911 GT3.

Even with a $7,500 federal tax credit, an assortment of state tax credits, and $10,000 in fuel saving over five years, the driver’s investment is over $110,000 – far beyond the reach of the average family.

However, Tesla’s luxury styling and impressive performance give high-end buyers the best of both worlds – luxury transportation and the satisfaction of environmental stewardship. In that light, it might surprise some that Tesla’s success depends, in large part, on lithium mining.

Tesla cars are made of carbon fiber and powered by racks of lithium-ion batteries. Strong, light, and cost-efficient, carbon fiber is being used increasingly by commercial airplane manufacturers. On board Boeing’s 787, the batteries are lithium-ion as well.

Like Boeing and Airbus, auto manufacturers are under economic and regulatory pressure to produce more fuel-efficient products.

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Collapsing Fanya Metal Exchange in China raises concerns about minor metals – by Peter Koven (National Post – September 2, 2015)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The potential collapse of a Chinese commodity exchange could put more pressure on prices for rare earths and other minor metals in which investors have already suffered tremendous losses over the past several years.

Last week, furious investors kidnapped Shan Jiulang, head of the Fanya Metal Exchange, at a Shanghai hotel and turned him over to police, according to the Financial Times. It capped a debacle in which the Fanya exchange ran into liquidity problems and stopped paying out money on its investment products. Roughly US$6.4 billion of investor funds were frozen, according to estimates.

Now the risk is that Fanya will liquidate its vast holdings of minor metals, a move that could crush the highly illiquid markets for these products and harm Canadian companies in the space.

Of course, that assumes Fanya’s reported holdings are accurate. Investors treat everything this exchange says with skepticism after its rapid flameout.

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Lynas CEO Digs In as Rare-Earth Prices Slump – by Rhiannon Hoyle (Wall Street Journal – September 1, 2015)

CEO Amanda Lacaze says it is time for Lynas to invest more in sales and marketing to grow the business

SYDNEY—As rare-earths miner Molycorp Inc. looks to wind down production at its U.S. mine, Lynas Corp. Ltd., the only other producer outside of China, hopes to do the opposite and raise its output of elements used in batteries, magnets and other high-tech products.

To accomplish that goal, the Australian-listed miner plans to do one crucial thing: “Go out there and sell,” said Chief Executive Amanda Lacaze, in an interview.

Lynas, a former market darling, has found it tough to become a major competitor in the global rare-earths market.

The company was founded with an eye to breaking China’s stranglehold on the industry: The world’s second-largest economy has accounted for more than 90% of world-wide supply in recent times. But it took nearly a decade of development before Lynas began operations at its refinery in Malaysia’s Pahang state in late 2012.

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Critical Metals: The West is sleepwalking to its economic decline – by Robin Bromby (Investor – August 4, 2015)

Anne-Marie Brady, professor at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Canterbury in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, specializes in China, and has since 2008 been researching Chinese interests in the polar regions. Some time ago she saw on a Chinese website a map of Antarctica’s mineral resources. After she revealed her find, the map was swiftly removed.

She will in October be delivering a lecture on the subject of “China as Polar Great Power”, which is also the title of her forthcoming book. She says Chinese literature is “very, very clear about China’s interests in Antarctic minerals”. And everyone else’s.

Reading Jack Lifton’s incisive summation of the global rare earth situation posted on InvestorIntel yesterday, and the West’s continuing weakness in that sector, it occurred to me that this is part of a much wider problem. As Jack wrote, the strategy being followed by Chinalco involves a concerted, well-planned consolidation of Chinese interests.

And he added: “While American, European, Brazilian, South African, and Australian rare earth producers and juniors squabble with each other and promote their share prices as their only hope of raising new capital in a market dominated by China’s use … of the majority of the world’s rare earths as well as the majority of all metals, Chinalco is methodically planning to diversify its sources of raw materials and to seek out technology sales or purchases to improve its efficiencies.”

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Our Demand For Renewable Energy Comes With Canada’s Dirty Little Secret – by Blair King (Huffington Post – July 22, 2015)

There is something very important that most people don’t know about renewable energy technologies. While many of these technologies have existed since humanity started to harness the power of the wind and the sun to help us do work, they all owe their current capabilities to the existence of rare earth elements.

Neodymium, dysprosium, lanthanum, cerium sound like the names of some magical characters in Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien adaptation but they’re actually the names of rare earth elements. Rare earth elements and a handful of other elements (like lithium and platinum) are the “magic” ingredients that make our modern renewable energy technologies possible.

  • Neodymium is secret sauce that makes high-power permanent magnets a reality. Those magnets are what allow a wind turbine to convert the power of the wind into electricity.
  • Dysprosium allows these permanent magnets to operate at the high temperatures critical for the operation of large wind turbines and electric vehicles.
  • Lanthanum and Cerium are what make catalytic converters work.

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[Rare Earth Metals] The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust – by Tim Maughan ( – April 2, 2015)

Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech, discovers Tim Maughan.

From where I’m standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.

Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.

Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.

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Lifton on asteroid mining rare earths and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass – by Jack Lifton (Investor Intel – July 20, 2015)

Some rules don’t change. But that doesn’t mean that our poorly educated journalists have to know of them or even have to understand them, when they are described or applied. One rule, frequently swept under the rug by junior mining promoters eager to take advantage of journalistic ignorance can be stated as:

“In order for any deposit to be developed into a profitable mine the infrastructure to access it must already exist, or, if not, then its costs must be included in the feasibility study.”

Trivially this means for example no commercial mining until I can get to the deposit and either process the material to a commercial form at the site or move it to a processing site without logistics’ costs destroying the project economics.

A corollary of the above “rule” is that the cost of infrastructure must be quantified and covered before the project enters development. Now, the above rules of economics having been stated let’s get to what I am talking about today.

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Time to Tackle Rare Earth’s Toxic Underbelly – by Matthew J. Kiernan (Huffington Post – July 9, 2015)

Matthew J. Kiernan is the Founder and Chief Executive of Inflection Point Capital Management

On April 2, 2015, the BBC ran an investigative report that illustrated rare earth mining’s trail of destruction. Whilst it was not the first time that the toxicity of rare earth mining had been the subject of scrutiny, the graphic portrayal of a man-made toxic lake on the outskirts of Baotou in Mongolia, should be a wake-up call for consumers of digital TVs, computers and smart phones, which are the major users of rare earth elements.

BBC’s piece was written by Tim Maughan, who had received support from Unknown Fields Division, an NGO that has a track record of going to the farthest flung regions of the world to uncover hidden secrets. It is estimated that Baotou is the centre of production of half of China’s rare earth elements, with one tonne of rare earth elements producing 2,000 tonnes of toxic waste.

Baotou’s toxic lake raises the important question; how is that such important commodities continue to be mined with such low environmental standards? Rare earth mining has long been dominated by China, which up until recently produced over 90 percent of global production.

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Fate of global rare earth miners rests on China smuggling crackdown – by David Stanway (Reuters U.S. – July 7, 2015)

BEIJING – The fate of debt-ridden U.S. rare earth miner Molycorp rests on China’s efforts to crack down on networks that smuggled as much as 40,000 tonnes of the vital technology metals out of the country last year, driving down global prices.

Greenwood, Colorado-based Molycorp is the sole U.S. domestic supplier of rare earths used in everything from smartphones to military jet engines and hybrid vehicles. In 2011, it relaunched its huge Mountain Pass mine in California expecting prices to stay high after China, which dominates world supply, restricted exports. Last month it filed for bankruptcy protection as operating losses mounted.

Customs police in the eastern Chinese port of Qingdao last month arrested five traders following a nine-month investigation into a rare earth and ferromolybdenum smuggling ring worth nearly $18 million.

That was no one-off. Chinese authorities have been struggling since 2010 to smash an illegal supply chain in which rogue miners deliver ores to unauthorized separation facilities, with the finished products then disguised and shipped abroad.

“Traders go through all kinds of channels and make false product declarations at customs – marking it as alumina or even washing powder,” said Chen Zhanheng, vice-secretary general of the Association of China Rare Earth Industry.

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