Sunday, 1 November 2020

October: the second wave hits hard

A depressing month in which the virus surged throughout Europe, and strict regional lockdowns were imposed on many parts of the UK. The month's international news was dominated by President Trump and his wife Melania testing positive for the virus, along with half of the White House staff. Hardly surprising considering the almost complete lack of precautions which had been observed during the preceding weeks. The President, pumped full of a cocktail of drugs, declared himself fit and well and raring to go within a few days of being taken to hospital, and was soon back on the campaign trail, addressing a huge crowd of socially-undistanced followers in Florida.

Also in the news last month:

Back here in UK, the Government has been considering bringing forward its date on which petrol and diesel cars will be replaced by electric vehicles from 2035 to 2030, but with little thought, as ever, as to how the raw materials  supply would meet the demand, something which I mentioned in my recent interview with the Critical Minerals Association

Copper is not only vital to all types of batteries but also to other components of electric vehicles, such as motors and charging equipment, so copper is expected to dominate the surge in demand for battery metals by volume over the coming decades.

However a deficit in the copper market is set to deepen over the next several years as supply of the widely used metal struggles to keep up with strong demand, compounded by the proliferation of electric vehicles, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence commodity analyst Thomas Rutland.

"Refined output is expected to increase by 4.3% year on year to 24.7 million tonnes in 2021 after decreasing by 2.1% to 23.6 Mt in 2020, primarily as a result of disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic,"  he said.

Work stoppages due to measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus have stalled existing capacity and have delayed investments with long-term repercussions for supply. Chile has been the worst affected followed by the U.S. and Peru. As of late September, 2.9% of annual global supply remained suspended due to the pandemic, with Chile and Peru accounting for more than half of the missing 702,000 tonnes of output estimated for 2020 and in the U.S., 217,000 tonnes of capacity was lost.

There is also a growing demand for lithium for use in the batteries for electric vehicles and hi-tech technologies. 

Most of the world’s lithium for electric cars is currently extracted from brines in Chile and Argentina and from hard rock mined in Australia and processed in China. Last year China produced 79% of the world’s lithium hydroxide that is used in most electric cars in Europe and the US. 

Lithium extraction in Chile, which involves evaporating the brine in vast evaporation ponds, has been opposed by local indigenous groups who say it threatens the water supply and fragile ecosystem of the Atacama Desert, one of the world’s driest deserts. Lithium from Australia is also coming under increased scrutiny due to the fact it is processed in China using fossil fuels.

The UK has no lithium production at present but just over a month ago  it was reported (posting of 18th September) that Cornish Lithium had found “globally significant” lithium grades in geothermal waters and was preparing for pilot plant work to extract lithium in a zero-carbon operation. In mid-October the company began a crowdfunding campaign, the goal being to raise £1.5 million, but within 30 minutes the target had been exceeded and by mid-afternoon it had raised £3.9 million from more than 2,400 investors to support the company's next phase of development. When crowdfunding ended after three days £5.2 million had been raised, a wonderful vote of confidence in Cornish Lithium, which bodes well for the future.

It was also announced in September that Cornish Metals, who are redeveloping the old South Crofty mine in Camborne, had reported a high-grade intersection of 2.19% tin more than 100 metres below any historic mining at South Crofty. A week later the company reported findings of 10.33% tin at depths of between 974.20m and 976.80m, including 39.60% tin from 975.77m, so the future looks promising for mining in Cornwall. 

So some good news amongst the gloom, but October for us was particularly depressing as half of it should have been spent in Cape Town, for Hi-Tech Metals '20 and Process Mineralogy '20 at the Vineyard Hotel, and then the IMPC at the Convention Centre. All cancelled of course and now we have the 'new normal' of virtual conferences. I "attended" my first last month, the Canadian MetSoc's Conference of Metallurgists and while it was very well organised, with access to live and pre-recorded presentations, it certainly highlighted the enormous benefits of pre-Covid physical meetings. However there is little doubt that we must get used to these online events, at least for the foreseeable future, as an abrupt end to the pandemic does not appear to be on the near horizon.



  1. Thanks, Barry, for such a summary--we are still in an "unknown territory" in all aspects. Let us hope and pray that we get back soon to normal; take stock of things-political, technical, social-- and make sure that a NEW SOCIETY EMERGES.
    I also attended a couple of virtual technical meets--the less said, the --

    1. I'm sorry to hear that you have obviously had bad experiences with online events, TC. Virtual meetings are in their infancy in the minerals industry and there are going to be teething problems, but with the right online platforms I am sure that they will be an effective substitute until physical meetings are once again possible, and maybe the future will be hybrid events where there is a mix of face to face and online presentations.

      Although meeting online can never be as effective as a physical meeting in terms of making new contacts etc, the virtual events have the tremendous advantage of allowing people such as young researchers to take part in conferences which they might otherwise have been unable to attend, due to travel and accommodation costs, and the added costs (and hassle) of visas.

      So in the next few months, years, or whatever the future holds, we have a choice, of either retreating to our ivory towers or embracing the "new normal" of virtual reality.

  2. I agree with you considering the present conditions--hope this doesn't become a norm.

    Coming to minerals, let me reiterate what I might have already done in this blog. Do not expect much from politicians and beauracrats to "think and come to help mineral industry". Politicians are in position for limited period; beauracrats implement what politicians want(they also get shifted from Dept to Dept)
    Minerals are site specific and finite. Let us pause and think at the wider picture--there is no sphere of Hunan Activity(survival)--may it be health, agriculture,housing. Infrastructure and what not--all of them need minerals in one form or the other. So, Society has to realise the essentiality of mineral industry. When once Society realises, it would have proper appreciation. Professional societies and professionals of all branches of science and technology have to understand this "unique essentiality" of minerals.
    Many times I wonder on why the Management /Business Schools do not discuss this--how would they create wealth and manage if they ignore mineral resources.
    Hope I conveyed my view.

  3. I fully endorse Prof Rao view on minerals and thinking process.As demand grows for copper because of pandemic (importance of copper as antibacterial and antiviral material ).The hospitals and operation theatres door knobs will be replaced by copper make.Huge demand for Li in EV require new resources and reserves either as primary or secondary byproduct’s . GTK , Finland came up with innovative methods for search of LI ,Global mineral programmes have to designed in the same vigour as we gear up for vaccine research.As Robert Boyle book on GOLD quotes “Gold is there whereit is, It is us to find it out”


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