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New Year’s resolutions for miners – 2023

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 09:33

With 2022 approaching the rear-view mirror, the mining industry this year faced challenges ranging from resource nationalism halting production and much needed energy projects caught in permitting quagmires. Timothy Foden, partner in the international arbitration group at law firm Boies Schiller Flexner joins for a yearly retrospective, and to look forward at future challenges facing the mining industry.

Foden has experience in handling investor-treaty and complex commercial arbitrations in the mining and energy sectors, has been recognized by Global Arbitration Review and Who’s Who Legal as a “Rising Star in International Arbitration” for the past four years and in 2022 was named amongst Who’s Who Legal’s “most highly regarded” Future Leaders of Arbitration for the EMEA Region.

For 2023 he was named as a “global elite thought leader” in the Future Leaders of Arbitration. Foden shared some industry insights in this exclusive interview with

MDC: What would you consider important new years’ resolutions for miners?

Foden: New years’ resolution: Stop ignoring the fact that international treaties provide you protections against encroaching third parties on your mine site if you have a treaty in place between your home country and the host country. Take a company that, for instance experiences a mass incursion onto their mine site. If there is a bilateral investment treaty between the country of that miner and the host State — that BIT will include a ‘full protection and security’ provision that ensures the physical safety of the foreign company’s investments in the host State — not just from government forces, but also the acts of third parties, whether that’s protectionist, civil unrest, or terrorists. It’s a positive obligation for the state to ensure that, if necessary, a military or police presence is there to stop any sort of vandalism.

A lot of states say they can’t fulfill that, and where it gets tricky is where a company,  goes and hires private security, or off duty police officers who are there on a contract basis, but as actual police officers, and it’s very much a grey area – are they operating in an official police capacity, or are they operating as contractors? Sometimes those folks get trigger happy. But before you even get to that there is this obligation on the state to effectively ensure the rule of law in the area. And miners are very often blind to that.

Related: Lupaka Gold launches $100m arbitration against Peru

Another resolution, I would say, for miners is ‘no more structuring of your foreign investments just for tax purposes. It saddens me when I run into mining companies that have run into significant foreign sovereign interference, and you look at their holding structure and they’ve gone and incorporated a vehicle that will enable them, at some indeterminate point in the future to pay as little tax as they can. And that’s great — if you’ve got a producing asset, but so often these are companies that are in the exploration phase, and that are 10-12-15 years away from seeing a single penny.

What they haven’t done, is ensure that somewhere in their holding structure there is a company that will have access to an international investment treaty that will give them protections and the right to bring a claim in the case of foreign interference, which is often more likely at the exploration stage than at the production stage, in my experience.

MDC: What resource nationalism issues have you seen this year?

Foden: In terms of resource nationalism, it usually starts with governments banging on about how foreign miners are taking things away from the country, and I see that usually as an electoral ploy or its done in order to benefit state-owned businesses. You see in Zambia, beating the drum about foreign miners was done to facilitate the transition from certain businesses to the state-owned miner ZCCM. 

And in Tanzania, for instance, from 2015 until the death of president John Magufuli in 2021, they were in what they referred to as ‘economic warfare’ against foreign mining companies. They caused a lot of collateral damage, including against Canadian and Australian companies. I’ve learned, subsequent to bringing cases, is what filled the gap in the time that our clients had been kicked off sites they had spent in some instances 12-15 years exploring, was illegal mining operations.

MDC: How does resource nationalism interface with illegal or artisanal mining?

Foden: I have to draw a hard distinction between illegal and artisanal mining. Artisanal mining calls to mind that you have a few people mining on the periphery of your mining footprint panning gold — no harm no foul. But what you see in the likes of Tanzania and Ghana and other serious mining jurisdictions is not that. It is a large scale operation, usually backed by foreign capital — you can guess where that foreign capital comes from — that are staffed, or manned by people not within the district of the mine itself, but from farther afield, even sometimes from different countries and they are using heavy equipment in ways that are highly dangerous, with no qualifications or skills to do so.

They are digging pits that are sometimes 60-80 metres deep and the overburden is enough to kill anyone in the pit. They are highly organized, they have sophisticated accounting systems to ensure that these cooperative systems that they set up spread the wealth, but they don’t spread the wealth to the surrounding communities. They only go into the pockets of local politicians who sanction this work.

Local officials are often working in cahoots with these cooperative societies and they get a pass from central government authorities and then ultimately the benefits are to foreign offtakers. They are into high grade zones and are destroying deposits – I have seen it with my own eyes. What pains me the most is the local communities surrounding the mine doesn’t get the benefit of new roads, or a hospital or schools that would all be incumbent upon the junior or major miner, oftentimes foreign, that would be operating in that area. In a time and age when we talk a lot about social license, we don’t talk about the fact that illegal miners have absolutely no regard for social licence. When we draft a pleading in a case speaking about illegal mining issues, the first thing I tell associates, is ‘you will not call this artisanal mining.’

Also, now, when a community decides taking up arms is the best way to deal with a dispute with a foreign miner, you have states weaponizing social license as a concept in saying, rather than a shield to protect communities, it’s a sword they wield to get off the hook for their failure to intercede and protect foreign investment by pointing to social license.

MDC: What advice/insights on permitting process delays?

Foden: As an American, I’m disappointed that this is the case when you look at some of the projects going on, such as Arizona and New Mexico and Colorado — these are for minerals that we need if we want to fuel this green revolution and the permitting needs to get fixed. We have the ability, as an industry to do these projects in a way that isn’t as harmful as it used to be and sooner or later there needs to be a press effort to change the public consciousness away from the idea that miners are kind of mustachioed robber barons looking to plunder countries’ natural resources and poison the environment.

But it can be done — I’ve worked for a lot companies that do it and don’t leave the place worse than they found it. We need to get the public to realize something more akin to what mining looks like today.

I think the time is coming. Mining companies have a lot of patience and they are eternally optimistic, but sooner or later they need to go on the offensive about their role in society and the green transition. And when you’ve invested millions of dollars into an asset and then you’re told that you can’t for reasons that are largely political, sooner or later you’ll have to recoup part of that investment.

Global Battery Metals to discontinue nickel-copper exploration in Michigan

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 08:40

Global Battery Metals (TSXV: GBML) announced that it will discontinue nickel-copper exploration activities at Sawyer Camp in Michigan, USA.

“Our exploration activities at Sawyer Camp have not generated enough encouragement to justify continued allocation of budget and effort,” Michael Murphy, president and CEO of GBML, said in a media statement.

Since 2020, the Vancouver-based miner has been engaged in assessing Ni-Cu-PGM targets potentially related to the Mid-Continent Rift in Michigan. According to the company, these targets occur in Pre-Cambrian basement rocks situated below glacial and Paleozoic cover rocks.

Exploration work has been focused on mafic to ultramafic intrusions potentially analogous to those hosting the deposit at the Eagle Ni-Cu-PGE mine located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and operated by Lundin Mining.

The Sawyer Camp property, which is comprised of both Michigan state and private mineral rights, was explored over the past several years and GBML has completed two 300 m scout drill holes and a borehole/surface electromagnetic survey.

“While the scout holes confirmed the targeted aeromagnetic anomaly was caused by an ultramafic intrusion, no significant sulphide mineralization was encountered in the drilling,” the release states. “Results from the EM survey show no conductors suggestive of being related to Ni-Cu sulphides were detected over the two main magnetic anomalies. Given these results, GBML has advised the optionor of its termination of the option to lease agreement relative to the Sawyer Camp.”

Murphy noted that, given these results, the company will focus on advancing its core lithium assets – the NW Leinster project in Ireland and the Lithium King project in Utah.

Scientists working towards stopping lithium-ion battery degradation

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 07:58

Scientists at the University of Chicago have used a combination of high-powered electron microscopy and computational modelling to understand, at an atomic level, what happens when lithium-ion batteries degrade. Their research points toward one approach to designing longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries — by focusing on an oft-ignored structural component, the carbon binder domain.

“To tackle many of the world’s energy storage and conversion challenges over coming decades, we need to keep innovating and improving batteries,” Y. Shirley Meng, who led the research, said in a media statement. “This work is one step toward more efficient and sustainable battery technology.”

According to Meng, the widespread commercialization of lithium-ion batteries at the end of the 20th century played a role in the advent of lightweight, rechargeable electronics. Lithium is the lightest metal and has a high energy density-to-weight ratio. When a lithium-ion battery is charged, lithium ions move from a positively charged cathode to a negatively charged anode. To release energy, those ions flow back from the anode to the cathode.

Throughout charging cycles, the active materials of the cathode and anode expand and contract, accumulating “particle cracks” and other physical damage. Over time, this makes lithium-ion batteries work less well.

Thin vs. thick electrodes

Researchers have previously characterized the particle cracking and degradation that occurs in small, thin electrodes for lithium-ion batteries. However, thicker, more energy-dense electrodes are now being developed for larger batteries — with applications such as electric cars, trucks and airplanes.

“The kinetics of a thick electrode are quite different from those of a thin electrode,” said project scientist Minghao Zhang, co-first author of the paper that presents the new findings. “Degradation is actually much worse in thicker, higher-energy electrodes, which has been a struggle for the field.”

Zhang pointed out that it’s also harder to quantitatively study thick electrodes. The tools that previously worked to study thin electrodes can’t capture the structures of larger, denser materials.

In the new work, Meng, Zhang and collaborators from Thermo Fisher Scientific turned to Plasma focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (PFIB-SEM) to visualize the changes that occur inside a thick lithium-ion battery cathode. PFIB-SEM uses focused rays charged ions and electrons to assemble an ultra-high-resolution picture of a material’s three-dimensional structure.

The researchers used the imaging approach to collect data on a brand-new cathode as well as one that had been charged and depleted 15 times. With the data from the electron microscopy experiments, the team built computational models illustrating the process of degradation in the batteries.

This combination of nanoscale resolution experimental data and modelling allowed them to determine how the cathode degrades.

The researchers discovered that variation between areas of the battery encouraged many of the structural changes. Electrolyte corrosion occurred more frequently with a thin layer at the surface of the cathode. This top layer, therefore, developed a thicker resistive layer, which led the bottom layer to expand and contract more than other parts of the cathode, leading to faster degradation.

The model also pointed toward the importance of CBD — a porous grid of fluoropolymer and carbon atoms that holds the active materials of an electrode together contribute and helps conduct electricity through the battery. Previous research has not characterized how the CBD degrades during battery use, but the new work suggested that the weakening of contacts between the CBD and active materials of the cathode directly to the decline in the performance of lithium-ion batteries over time. 

“This change was even more obvious than the cracking of the active material, which is what many researchers have focused on in the past,” Zhang said.

Batteries of the future

With their model of the cathode, Meng’s group studied how tweaks to the electrode design might impact its degradation. They showed that changing the CBD structure network could help prevent the worsening of contacts between the CBD and active materials, making batteries last longer — a hypothesis that engineers can now follow up with physical experiments.

The group is now using the same approach to study even thicker cathodes, as well as carrying out additional modelling on how to slow electrode degradation.

Copper Mountain shuts BC mine after ransomware attack

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 07:54

Copper Mountain Mining (TSX: CMMC; ASX: C6C) has shut its mine in southern British Columbia as it works with authorities to repel a ransomware attack.

The shutdown is a preventative measure as Copper Mountain assesses the extent of the attack on its systems at the mine and its corporate offices in Vancouver, the company said in a news release on Thursday.

There was no immediate word on damage, any computer systems held hostage, the identity of the attackers or dollar amounts they sought.

“The company has isolated operations, switched to manual processes where possible, and the mill has been preventatively shutdown to determine the effect on its control system,” Copper Mountain said in the release.

“The company’s external and internal IT teams are continuing to assess risks and are actively establishing additional safeguards to mitigate any further risk,” it said. “Copper Mountain is investigating the source of the attack and is in contact with the relevant authorities.”

Shares in Copper Mountain dropped 5.5% Friday morning in Toronto to C$1.72 each, within a 52-week range of C$1.23 and C$4.38, valuing the company at C$362 million.

Copper Mountain owns three-quarters of the open-pit mine near Princeton about 300 km east of Vancouver. The operation produces an average of about 100 million lbs. of copper equivalent a year. Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials owns the remaining quarter.

There are plans to expand the mill to 65,000 tonnes per day from 45,000 tonnes and increases average annual production to 138 million lbs. of copper equivalent.

The mine has proven and probable reserves of 650 million tonnes grading 0.25% copper, 0.11 gram gold per tonne, 0.73 gram silver for 3.6 million lbs. contained copper, 2.2 million oz. gold and 15.2 million oz. silver, according to a company filing this year.

Two B2Gold employees dead after robbery in Mali

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 17:32

B2Gold Corp. (TSX: BTO) issued a statement lamenting the passing of two employees following a robbery in Mali.

According to the Canadian miner, a local bus contractor travelling under gendarme escort and transporting B2Gold employees from the Fekola gold mine to Bamako encountered an ongoing armed robbery approximately 75 kilometres west of the capital city. 

“Security forces accompanying the bus transport supported the safety of B2Gold personnel but, unfortunately, the incident resulted in the death of two employees,” the statement reads. “Initial reports indicate all other employees on the bus have been safely accounted for and are being transported to Bamako for assistance.”

B2Gold noted that the incident is not related to any terrorist activity.

The company also said that management’s immediate concerns revolve around the safety and well-being of B2Gold employees, as well as minimizing the impact on the surrounding area.

Mining and processing activities at Fekola remain unaffected.

Colombian municipalities affected by exit of Glencore’s subsidiary demand smooth transition into non-mining activities

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 11:44

The mayors of five municipalities that fall within the Cesar mining corridor, in northern Colombia, have asked the Gustavo Petro government to gradually phase out mining operations and promote a smooth transition into another type of industry. This, instead of ordering an abrupt closure of all of the mines in the region.

About 90% of the corridor’s economy is based on mining and related activities.

According to local media, the mayors have expressed concern regarding Petro’s stance on mining, particularly since nothing has been done following the handing of Prodeco’s coal mining concessions back to the Colombian state.

Since Glencore’s subsidiary gave back the concessions, close to 5,000 people were left unemployed and are surviving by working in nearby farms or by launching small entrepreneurial ventures. In addition to this, some municipalities are losing about $4 million in taxes and royalties due to the stagnant mining industry.

The Caracol report notes that the process of finding a new owner for the mines has been suspended until after Prodeco fulfills all of its technical, environmental, labour and financial obligations. 

Maduro exhorts Venezuelan army to combat environmental destruction caused by illegal gold mining

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 10:36

Venezuela’s head of state Nicolás Maduro publicly asked the Operational Strategic Commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (Fanb) to ramp up efforts against illegal gold mining in the southeastern Amazonas and Bolívar states.

During a televised end-of-the-year address, Maduro said that the army must do a better job carrying out the Roraima Operation, which is meant to halt the environmental destruction caused by unregulated extractive operations.

The message was done a few days after actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio shared a social media post citing a New Scientist article that reported that state-sanctioned gold mining in Venezuela is causing a 170% annual increase in the loss of pristine rainforest. 

Earlier reports by NGO Clima21 and the independent international fact-finding Mission on the Bolívarian Republic of Venezuela set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council noted that Bolívar is the state that shows the largest loss of rainforest. This area has lengthy borders with Brazil and Guiana, hosts most of the country’s gold deposits and is part of the Orinoco Mining Arc, a National Development Strategic Zone created by presidential decree on February 24, 2016.

The Mining Arc is a 111,843-square-kilometre concession area for mining gold, diamond, iron ore, copper, bauxite, and coltan, among other resources. It is larger than the whole territory of Portugal and represents 12.2% of Venezuela’s landmass.

Despite Maduro’s recent call out, the UN Mission’s report says that a big chunk of the destruction in Bolívar and the other states that fall within the Arc is taking place within gold mining concessions granted by the Maduro administration to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian guerrilla group. The group has divided the region into several chunks ruled by so-called unions that, in addition to carrying out illegal logging, traffick with drugs, arms, fuel, medicine and food; create modern slavery situations, and attack Indigenous communities.  

“Venezuelan military units allow and sometimes facilitate, ELN activities to drive out rival criminal armed groups,” the dossier reads. “Additionally, the ELN relies on a network of smugglers and mules who pay bribes to cross GNB (Venezuelan army) lines and armed group checkpoints to bring gold to the Colombian border.”

Alluvial semi-mechanical mining is the most common south of the Orinoco river and other areas of the great Guayana region. The UN report notes that typically, it results in heavy deforestation, soil disturbance, degradation of riverbeds and banks, and water and land pollution by hazardous waste, notably mercury, which is massively used despite being banned in the country.

Overall, illegal mining, paired with some agricultural activities and both legal and illegal logging, has led to undetermined yet high levels of pollution and to the loss of 1.1 million hectares of native vegetation coverage in the Venezuelan Amazon between 1985 and 2020. “Because of this, Venezuela’s Guayana region is considered a hotspot when it comes to global deforestation,” Clima21’s report reads.

Ximen receives draft environment permit for Kenville gold mine in BC

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 09:30

In a further update to the underground development of its Kenville gold mine, Ximen Mining (TSXV: XIM) has now obtained the first draft of the two permits expected. Last Friday, the BC-focused precious metals miner received the draft environment permit for review, and had an initial look at the terms and conditions.

“Everything appears to be in order and as expected,” the company stated in a follow-up media release, adding that “most items have been discussed and agreed to over the last three years and have already been addressed, such as construction of the discharge channel.”

According to Ximen, once the remaining items have been addressed and the company has had time to give the permit a final review, the final EMS permit will be issued.

Meanwhile, Ximen is also waiting on a second draft permit from the mines department. “In calls and discussions last week, we can see the end is very near,” the company said.

“Currently the task at hand is to digitize some existing historic reports for the completion of determining the bond amount and precise boundary of the area of the permit. There is nothing unexpected and things appear to be straight forward from here. Once the bond amount in determined and the permit boundary defined, we expect to immediately receive a draft for final review,” it added.

In 2019, Ximen acquired 100% of the past-producing Kenville gold mine, consisting of Crown-granted mineral claims and surface rights, along with all existing permits, infrastructure and equipment.

The project is located 8 km west of the town of Nelson in BC’s West Kootenay region, and forms part of the company’s larger Nelson property that hosts as many as five historic mines (including Kenville). Between 1890-1954, the Kenville mine produced approximately 66,000 oz. of gold along with silver, copper, lead and zinc.

Drilling on the property between 2008 and 2012 has identified several new gold-bearing veins in widely spaced drill holes. In order to adequately define these veins and the grade continuity, Ximen decided to proceed with infill drilling from underground workings. New underground development is therefore being permitted that will access the new vein extensions.

Shares of Ximen rose 13% by 12:20 p.m. ET Thursday. The company’s market capitalization is approximately C$15.5 million.

South Star targets Dec. 2023 start for Brazil graphite mine

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 09:18

South Star Battery Metals (TSXV: STS) says its Santa Cruz graphite project in eastern Brazil is on track to complete construction and commissioning by December next year.

Most large machinery has been contracted and the initial offices are to be completed by early January at the site in Bahia state about 670 km south of its capital, Salvador, the company said in a news release this week.

Production is to begin in an $8 million first phase at a rate of 5,000 tonnes of concentrate per year followed by $27 million in upgrades to produce 25,000 tonnes a year, according to South Star. Phase one permits and licences are in place, it said.

The Vancouver-based company wants by early next year to submit plans to Brazil’s mining regulator for production to increase to 50,000 tonnes a year in a third phase, and file requests for environmental permits for phases two and three to municipal authorities, it said.

“Phase one commercial production is planned for December 2023,” chief executive Richard Pearce said in the release. “We are confident in delivering on our promise to be the first new graphite production in the Americas since 1996.”

South Star is developing what may be the region’s largest industrial plant in the country second to China in graphite production. It’s seeking to tap into the surging demand for materials to make electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies for fighting climate change. South Star also has an early-stage graphite development project at a past-producing mine dating from World War II about 100 km north of Montgomery, AL.

The company says it expects permits and licences for Santa Cruz’s phases two and three to be approved late next year around when phase one operations are to start.

The Santa Cruz project has an after-tax net present value of $81.2 million with a 5% discount rate for an annual after-tax internal rate of return of 35%. South Star calculated average operating costs for the 12-year life of the mine at $396 per tonne of concentrate and used a price of $1,287 per tonne of concentrate.

The project has proven and probable reserves of 12.3 million tonnes grading 2.4% graphitic carbon for 295,400 tonnes in-situ graphite.

Copper price retreats as China reports rising covid cases

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 08:38

Copper prices slid on Thursday as rising covid-19 infections in China and fears of a global recession weighed on prices.

Copper for delivery in March fell 0.6% on the Comex market in New York, touching $3.82 per pound or $8,404 per tonne.

[Click here for an interactive chart of copper prices]

The most-traded copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange gave up 0.4% to 66,250 yuan ($9,496.03) a tonne.

Spikes in covid-19 cases and the Lunar New Year holiday next month are expected to dampen metals demand in China.

The country will stop requiring inbound travelers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8 in a major step towards easing curbs on its borders that have mainly been shut since 2020.

Outside China, attention is focused on a dispute over taxes between Panama’s government and First Quantum Minerals.

Panamanian officials and the miner are back at the negotiating table after a hiatus of more than a week, with both sides saying they’re keen to reach a deal on tax payments and avoid a facility shutdown.

The company’s Cobre Panama mine produced 331,000 tonnes of copper last year.

(With files from Reuters)

Two minerals never seen on earth extracted from meteorite sample

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 07:28

A team of researchers has discovered at least two minerals never before seen on earth in a 15-tonne meteorite found in Somalia – the ninth-largest meteorite ever found.

The two minerals, with a potential third mineral under consideration, came from a single 70-gram piece that was sent to the University of Alberta for classification. 

“Whenever you find a new mineral, it means that the geological conditions, the chemistry of the rock, was different than what’s been found before,” Chris Herd, curator of the University of Alberta’s Meteorite Collection, said in a media statement. “That’s what makes this exciting. In this particular meteorite, you have two officially described minerals that are new to science.” 

The new minerals – named elaliite and elkinstantonite – were identified rapidly by Andrew Locock, head of the university’s Electron Microprobe Laboratory, because each had been synthetically created before.

Elaliite is named after the meteorite itself, dubbed the “El Ali” meteorite because it was found near El Ali, in Somalia. Herd named the second mineral after distinguished planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, due to her work exploring how the cores of planets are formed. 

The research, conducted in collaboration with UCLA and the California Institute of Technology, suggests that if the scientist can obtain more samples, even more minerals may be found.

The problem is that the future of the meteorite is uncertain. Researchers say it appears to have been moved to China, so it remains to be seen whether additional samples will be available for scientific purposes. 

For the time being, the team continues to examine the minerals to determine what they can share about the conditions in the meteorite when it formed. Herd also noted that any new mineral discoveries could yield exciting new uses down the line. 

“Whenever there’s a new material that’s known, material scientists are interested too because of the potential uses in a wide range of things in society,” he said.

Fresnillo begins full load commissioning of Juanicipio project

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 10:56

Fresnillo (LSE: FRES) has achieved a significant, long-awaited milestone in the commissioning of its Juanicipio project in Mexico.

On Wednesday, the world’s leading silver producer confirmed that the final testing of the downstream power distribution and control systems at Juanicipio is now complete.

This concludes the additional testing requested by the state-owned power company CFE to verify the compatibility between the new and updated substation equipment installed by Fresnillo as part of the existing older infrastructure.

As such, the entire system has now been energized, and commissioning of the project has formally begun, Fresnillo said in a news release. Ramp-up will now be conducted at pace, with the objective of reaching full nameplate capacity in the second quarter of 2023.

Once commissioning is concluded, ore will be processed at the Juanicipio plant and could also continue to be processed at the nearby Saucito and Fresnillo operations if required, the company added.

The project – located 14 km from the Fresnillo underground mine – was first identified as a silver/gold prospect over 10 years ago and is now being developed as a standalone project in a joint venture with Canada’s MAG Silver (TSX: MAG). Fresnillo is the project operator and has a 56% interest in Juanicipio.

“Connection to the power grid is a long-awaited milestone for the Juanicipio Project, our stakeholders and shareholders alike, and we are thankful for the understanding and patience as the final steps to connect the plant to the national power grid were concluded,” stated George Paspalas, MAG Silver’s president and CEO, in a separate release.

The Juanicipio mine represents Fresnillo’s next major growth project. From 2023 onwards, it is expected to become a major influence in the company’s operations, with total average annual silver and gold production of 11.7 million oz. and 43,500 oz. respectively over the life of mine.

BHP responds to allegations of abandoned mine reclamation plan in Chile

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 10:53

Following accusations of failing to properly carry out its mine closure plan for Cerro Jarón in northern Chile, BHP (ASX: BHP) issued a communiqué stating that it is waiting for a sanitary permit to be able to start environmental reclamation work at the site.

BHP said that operations at Cerro Jarón ceased in 2014 and that the mine closure plan was immediately submitted to the authorities and has been approved in accordance with the Law on Closure of Mining Works and Facilities.   

The statement notes that in November 2021, the company submitted to the National Geology and Mining Service, Sernageomin, a request for the necessary permits to move forward with the definitive closure of the mine. These permits have also been granted and, therefore, it is just a matter of getting the missing sanitary permit to go ahead with the reclamation plans.

The global miner also mentioned that besides keeping numerous informative signs and a surveillance service at the site, its Chilean team conducts monthly inspections, which are properly reported to the authorities. According to the company, such inspections have not shown evidence of any leakages of copper sulphate into the soil’s subterranean layers.

The complaint

BHP’s reaction was in response to a video made public over social media by Chilean MP Sebastián Videla, who ventured into Cerro Jarón and denounced the lack of work to recover the natural environment after the mine’s closure.

Videla’s visit was the result of complaints by residents of nearby towns such as Caleta Coloso, which is just 10 kilometres south of the site, and Plata Escondida, which is a 10-minute drive away. 

While touring the site, the MP said that even though he is not opposed to mining in the region, it has to be done in an environmentally responsible manner. Therefore, he said he is going to prepare a bill that includes stringent sanctions for the companies that do not fulfill their mine closure and site reclamation plans in a timely and effective way.

Women in Mining Spotlight: Cat Culkin

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 09:14

On the theme of highlighting women’s talent and contributions to the industry, and identifying role models for future generations, caught up with Cat Culkin, chief technology officer at on a virtual site visit in California.

With a background in robotics and auto, Culkin became a graduate student instructor in embedded control systems while earning her master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. She worked with Ford Autonomous and Lucid Motors early her career before joining, whose technology enables autonomous off-road trucking systems for the mining industry, based in their San Francisco office. 

Culkin shared some industry insights in this exclusive interview.

MDC: What led you to a career in mining?

Culkin: I came in from the side. My background is in robotics. For undergrad I studied electrical engineering and physics and for graduate school I studied control systems. My heart was always in robotics. Robotics is kind of the intersection between software and hardware. You write code to make things move, to do what you want it to do. I like to make things move. That can be from automating a mining truck to flipping a switch in a coffee maker.

I worked in a lab that did autonomous control systems in grad school, and from there I got into internships and Ford and Lucid Motors and always loved the self-driving aspect, which is how I ended up at Pronto. Pronto had a similar journey, where it was self-driving company at first, and we realized that the best self-driving to start with is mining.

It’s a real product – it makes profits now. It’s a constrained environment, still very dynamic and interesting, there’s a lot going on, but its somewhere where, based on current regulations, we have driverless vehicles, and they can provide value. That’s how I got into [mining], because Pronto got into it. It’s the basis of everything that we build – from iPhone to roads to everything in between.

MDC: What projects are you working on now?

Culkin:  We’re automating the mining trucks that are filled with material to be dumped, and crushers, stockpilers — there’s a lot of parts to that. There’s a lot of safety layers, object detection, person detection and vehicle detection. People struggle with that today – tonne haulage is a fairly dangerous part of mining. It’s a top place for fatalities. We’re bringing in new deployment – we’re going to have three autonomous trucks here, so its all hands on deck. And we’re doing a stripping operation, so we’re going to be hauling dirt from an excavator and stockpiling it in the waste area.

Working in more interesting conditions; muddier, dirtier, harder. We’ll have multiple truck interactions – we’re able to interact with other vehicles on the site. The excavator can set where it wants to load, its not just running on rails, it can actually choose its path, which makes it easier for operators. We’re always working on improving safety systems and making sure our object detection is the best in the business.

MDC: What are some challenges/opportunities for women in the industry?

Culkin: There’s a lot of pressure walking into a room and being the only woman and speaking up. Every time I ask a question, I feel like I’m representing all women a bit, and I want to do well. And so, for the next woman who walks into the room, they’ve already seen someone who is capable and confident and can do their job well. I feel like I have to be on, all the time. I think that’s the biggest challenge. But the only reason is because I’m excited for the next woman and I want to make her job easier.

In terms of opportunity, women are getting into the industry outside of operator roles. They’re coming in with new technology and new sustainability initiatives, and I think that’s awesome, and I think it’s because of new innovations, from geology to safety to sustainability to automation.  I think that’s where we’re going to see more and more women entering the industry.

MDC: What do you think are some misconceptions about the mining industry?

Culkin: I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the industry is that is ‘slow’ and ‘behind’ and not ready for new things. There’s a lot of old trucks running in mines, but if you get into a new mining truck there’s a lot of technology in these. And they are looking for more. People don’t think if mines as being innovation hubs, but I think there’s a tonne of technology coming in and I think that they’re ready for it.

Mammoet launches emissions monitoring system

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 08:57

Utrecht-based Mammoet announced the launching of DAISY, a system that transmits emissions data over mobile networks from local devices attached to the embedded systems of cranes and heavy haulers.

The goal is to allow users to report emissions data from heavy lifting equipment in real-time.

According to the company, so far, project planners looking to meet strict regulations have needed to rely on estimates of total emissions, drawn from the model of equipment involved and how long they have been used. The new technology, on the other hand, increases the accuracy of this reporting by using data taken directly from the embedded electronics of on-site equipment. 

This allows organizations working at locations where emissions are regulated tightly, such as inner cities or tunnels, to minimize emissions at the project site.

Mammoet says that analysis of the data is expected to uncover new ways to cut down emissions-driving activities, for example, by reducing idling time during projects. 

The system is currently in use in the Netherlands, monitoring the carbon emissions of a fleet of mobile cranes. However, it is planned for rollout across different projects in 2023.  

“DAISY will be the most advanced system to accurately report CO2, NOx and NH3 emissions at equipment level at the operating location, improving on the generic approach the industry is currently using,” Jacques Stoof, head of innovation at Mammoet, said. “Based on the actual reported emissions, clients will be given the option to choose for a more sustainable, less emitting fuel type in order to minimize their emissions footprint during construction.”

Gold price dips from six-month peak on short-term profit taking

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 08:53

Gold prices eased off on Wednesday after reaching a six-month peak last session as the market booked short-term profits while seeking fresh drivers.

Spot gold fell 0.6% to $1,801.21 per ounce by 11:40 a.m. ET, while three-month US gold futures declined 0.8% to trade at $1,808.80 per ounce.

[Click here for an interactive chart of gold prices]

Bullion’s losses were capped by a drop in both Treasury yields and the dollar, which kept prices above the $1,800 an ounce level throughout the session.

“You’re seeing a corrective pullback, some profit taking from the shorter-term futures traders. It’s mostly technical-trading with the lack of fresh fundamental news in this holiday week,” Jim Wyckoff, senior analyst at Kitco Metals, explained.

Gold has risen around $200 from more than a two-year low hit in September on expectations that the US central bank would slow its pace of interest rate hikes, increasing the appeal of the non-yielding asset.

“I see aggressive hawkish monetary policy of the Federal Reserve being mostly factored into prices. You’re starting to see inflation back down a little,” Wyckoff added, highlighting that China opening up further in 2023 could also help demand.

China on Monday scrapped its quarantine rule for inbound travellers, even as hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure from surging covid-19 cases. Its civil aviation authority said it would restore pre-pandemic flight procedures by the summer-autumn of 2023.

Traders now await Thursday’s initial jobless claims for fresh cues.

(With files from Reuters)

How to give new life to lithium-ion anodes

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 06:20

Researchers at Rice University have reimagined a process they developed a while ago, making it useful for extracting battery materials from electronic waste.

The “flash” Joule heating process was initially developed to produce graphene from waste. However, a recent reconfiguration allows it to quickly regenerate graphite anode materials found in lithium-ion batteries, removing impurities so they can be used again and again.

In a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, the scientists explain that flashing powdered anodes from commercial batteries recycles some of what they called the “staggering” accumulation of waste they currently leave behind. In just a few seconds, a jolt of high energy decomposes inorganic salts including lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese from an anode. These can be recovered by processing them with dilute hydrochloric acid. 

“The production of lithium-ion batteries in 2026 is expected to be five times what it was in 2017, and right now, less than 5% of them are recycled,” head researcher James Tour said in a media statement. “That puts a heavy load on the environment, as these spent batteries are processed and the anodes burned for energy or sent to landfills. We’re claiming our process can recover critical metals and recondition anodes in a far more environmentally and economically friendly manner.”

According to Tour, flashing anodes degrades the solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI), which conducts lithium ions but also insulates the anode from detrimental reactions. 

Flashing then coats the remaining graphite particles with an ion-permeable carbon shell that contributes to their future capacity, rate performance and cycling stability compared to materials conventionally recycled in a time-consuming and energy-intensive process known as high-temperature calcination.

The lab estimated it would cost about $118 to recycle one ton of untreated anode waste. They demonstrated that flash-recycled anodes have a recovered specific capacity of 351 milliamp hours per gram at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, superior to the rate performance and electrochemical stability of untreated or calcinated recycled anodes. 

The recycled, flashed anodes the researchers tested retained more than 77% of their capacity after 400 recharge cycles.

“Beyond the spent graphite anodes, we are confident that the cathodes, the electrolytes and their mixtures can be effectively recycled or reconditioned by our method,” Weiyin Chen, lead author of the study, said.

Ecuador to launch security program for mining projects

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 22:09

The Ecuadorian government is preparing a security program for mining assets.

As the country’s public-private partnerships secretary Roberto Salas told BNamericas, areas around mining projects will soon be declared special security zones. The policy is developed by the mining department, the public-private partnerships office, and the armed forces.

Mining projects have faced attacks and invasions by illegal miners or have had their access blocked.

The Mirador copper mine operated by EcuaCorriente and Fruta del Norte by Lundin Gold are Ecuador’s only large operating mines. However, some $11 billion in investments is expected for the mining industry in the next few years.

Ecuador expects to generate over $4 billion in annual mining exports by 2025, its mines and energy ministry said on Friday, estimating the industry could become the South American nation’s third best-selling sector for shipments abroad.

Tesla, Toyota interested in Chilean REEs

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 11:50

Toyota and Tesla have expressed interest in the products that may be extracted at the Penco Module project in central Chile, which is owned by Aclara Resources (TSX: ARA), a rare earths spin-off of Hochschild Mining (LSE: HOC).

During a radio interview, the mining company’s general manager Rodrigo Ceballos said that although the carmakers are not directly investing in the project, they have been in talks with Aclara and see it as a potential supplier of the raw materials that are key to the electric car industry.

Ceballos pointed out that one of the main drivers of such interest is the need to reduce the reliance on China as a rare earths supplier. He said that this also means that the EV manufacturers are keen on having access to raw materials that have been produced following high environmental and community engagement standards.

The executive also mentioned that Aclara plans to resubmit Penco’s environmental impact assessment application, which had to be withdrawn in March following widespread community opposition. The application also had issues related to the protection of local flora and fauna, which were identified by Chilean authorities.

According to Ceballos, the company’s community engagement team has been strengthened since then, people’s concerns have been taken into consideration and the EIA application has been adjusted to account for the additional demands.

Penco Module, which covers 600 hectares, contains ionic clay deposits that are rich in heavy rare earth elements and are hard to find outside of China, a country that dominates the extraction and production of REEs. Aclara plans to produce rare earth concentrate through a processing plant that will be fed by clays from nearby deposits.  

Three cathode chemistries to dominate $430bln-Li-ion market – report

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 10:07

The Li-ion market is expected to grow to over $430 billion by 2033, driven by demand for electric vehicles, a recent report by IDTechEx predicts.

According to the market analyst, electric vehicles remain the key driver behind the Li-ion market, and electric cars will be the largest market for Li-ion batteries over the next 10 years. As a result of its growing importance, the EV market is expected to be a key determinant of the Li-ion battery technologies used and developed from now on. 

Looking at cathode choices specifically, IDTechEx notes that the past decade has seen the majority of the EV market outside China rely on NMC (nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide) and NCA (nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide) cathodes due to their high energy density, which provides long EV ranges. 

These technologies, however, have evolved over time. As an example, the report mentions the increasing nickel content used in cathode materials to the detriment of the amount of cobalt

“NMC 111 (equal parts Ni, Mn, Co) has been replaced by NMC 532 and NMC 622, the use of NMC 811 is expanding, and major cathode manufacturers are looking to move toward 90+% nickel in NMC and NCA,” the dossier points out. “This is being driven by a desire to reduce expensive and potentially problematically sourced cobalt, as well as to increase capacity and energy density as much as possible. Difficulties remain in ensuring the safety and longevity of these materials.”

In the view of the market analyst, while NMC and NCA cathodes will remain important, especially in Europe and North America, pressures seen on battery prices through 2021 and 2022, and the potential for future material supply disruptions, will continue to force EV makers and battery manufacturers to re-think strategies. Examples are Tesla, Volkswagen, Ford, and Stellantis, who have outlined plans to make use of cheaper LFP (lithium iron phosphate) cathodes in some regions for mass-market or lower-cost vehicle segments. 

“LFP has already regained market share over the past two years due to its recapture of EV market share in China in particular. IDTechEx expects LFP’s share of the total Li-ion market (by GWh) to increase over the next 10 years.” 

The document also predicts that LFP production capacity will grow at a CAGR of ~31% over the next five years, while NMC and NCA production capacity is expected to grow at a CAGR of ~19%. 

“This growth in LFP will be driven by pressure to reduce battery prices for both electric vehicles and stationary battery storage systems. While LFP is already well suited for stationary applications, for an electric vehicle, where energy density remains a key performance metric, technological innovations could help minimize the impact of its lower energy density compared to NMC/NCA and make LFP an even more attractive proposition,” the report states. “These improvements could stem from the use of silicon anodes, cell-to-pack designs, or other drivetrain efficiency gains.”

The problem IDTechEx sees with the push to limit reliance on cobalt and nickel by shifting to LFP is that reliance on China is set to grow, as the vast majority of LFP production is coming from Chinese companies operating domestically with relatively few plans for LFP production outside the country. 

Other options

The market researcher notes that in addition to the “traditional” cathode chemistries, high manganese cathodes have started garnering attention, with South Korea’s EcoPro BM and Belgium’s Umicore joining BASF in outlining their intention to commercialize high manganese cathodes. 

“Development of these cathodes is also driven by a desire to reduce costs, while they also benefit from allowing comparable energy density to NMC/NCA. Voltage fade and low cycle life remain key barriers to adoption,” the whitepaper reads.

LNMO (Lithium Nickel Manganese Oxide) cathodes, which are cobalt-free and high-voltage, may also join the race as they offer comparatively low costs and opportunities for improving the efficiency of battery pack designs. 

These cathodes are seen as capable of reducing lithium consumption by having a lower kg/kWh lithium intensity compared to other cathodes, which could become highly important if supply constraints materialize and manufacturers are forced to find ways to minimize the impact of high lithium prices. 

The issue with LNMOs is that, like the high-manganese cathodes, cycle life, as well as the need for a stable electrolyte, remain key barriers.

“Ultimately, IDTechEx forecast that NMC, NCA, and LFP will continue to be the dominant cathode materials used through to 2033, with the choice of material determined by a trade-off between price, performance, application suitability, and availability,” the dossier states.


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