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The increased global interest in minor metals will shape the Commodities Review and Outlook ferroalloys and minor metals’ presentation at the 2012 Investing in African Mining Indaba, says commodity research and consultancy company Core Consultants.
Feature speaker, Core Consultants MD Lara Smith, tells Mining Weekly the company will particularly highlight minor metals cobalt and tantalum, as well as rare earths, as these metals are increasingly used in everyday technology and are experiencing an increase in demand.
“Cobalt, for instance, is used in lithium batteries and, with the manufacturing of electronic devices booming, we are seeing greater demand for cobalt as most electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, rely on this type of battery for power,” she explains.
Further, she notes that 50% of global cobalt reserves are along the Copperbelt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, with only 5% of copper refined in the DRC and the rest refined in China.
However, Smith highlights that, although cobalt represents an opportunity for Central Africa through global demand, supply will be a challenge.
“Mining licences have been granted in the DRC but logistics are still a major concern,” she says.
Nevertheless, Smith predicts the price of cobalt will increase if supply is disrupted.
Meanwhile, tantalum, which is used in the production of capacitors for automotive and electronic equipment, is also experiencing increased demand.
“Supply of tantalum was traditionally supplemented by secondary sources, including DLA inventory sales and recycling. However, in 2007, the DLA ceased selling tantalum.
“Recycling has become increasingly costly as, in many instances, the recovery costs outweigh the extraction of tantalum owing to the miniaturisation of electronic devices.”
Also experiencing high demand are rare earths, the bulk of which are concentrated and produced in China.
Smith says substantial funds have been raised by Japan and invested in the research and development of rare earths recycling methods, as more countries attempt to diversify away from reliance on Chinese rare- earth material.
She notes that the introduction of new rare earths producers in other countries will be costly, compared with China, where the orebodies are more favourable and amenable to extraction and capital, and labour and environment costs are lower.
Smith will also provide Core Consultants’ price projections for these metals to attendees of this year’s Mining Indaba.
By: Reggie Sikhakhane
Faith leaders and business groups are colliding over a coming SEC ruling on little-known provisions of Dodd-Frank which require companies to track the use of “conflict minerals” in their production of certain consumer products.
One section of Dodd-Frank requires businesses to track – but not halt – the use of so-called conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including a private sector audit of tracking methods. Another requires those involved in the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals to disclose payments made to governments.
“It’s terrible what we’ve allowed to go on over the last few years without the world paying more attention to it,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), on a conference call Wednesday with faith leaders. “As many as 7 million people have been killed… this is a mechanism by which we could cut off the flow of money to the rebels [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. The rebels are controlling the mines, and selling minerals on the black market.”
The SEC will soon make a decision on how to interpret the law, and certain business groups are suggesting that the sections would needlessly increase compliance costs.
“We’re concerned that industry pressure on the SEC will be so intense that they’ll water down the law and it’ll become ineffective,”said Corinna Gilfillan, the head of Global Witness, a human rights group.
Conflict minerals are found in all sorts of consumer products, and are widely used in electronics. The four main minerals mined in the Congo are tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Tin is used in circuit boards, tantalum in electronic capacitors, tungsten to allow mobile phones to vibrate, and gold as a coating for wires.
Heavyweights like the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers have expressed concerns about the provisions.
On the other end, religious figures have stepped up to join human rights groups in urging for a full enactment of the conflict mineral provisions.
“There is broad consensus in the religious community that transparency of minerals coming from conflict regions is a vital responsibility… we’re all concerned with trying to get conflict minerals out of the system,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the conference call.
The faith leaders emphasized that their religions called them to treat other human beings with respect, which compelled them to support the Dodd-Frank provisions.
“What would it mean for us to be a neighbor to everybody in the supply chain used to make the clothes we wear, the computers we type on, and the cars that we drive? Our call to love is not defined by geographical proximity,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for the Christian group Sojourners. “We are all responsible for being good neighbors. It doesn’t matter if we have a good excuse… the people in the Congo are made in the image of God.”
“In the Jewish tradition, according to the Talmud, it was absolutely clear that there has to be transparency in the way that businesses went about selling their products. There were explicit prohibitions against deception, against watering down wine, against claiming something was something that it was not,” added Saperstein, also an appointee to the White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
By: Tim Mak
Copper indium gallium diselenide solar (CIGS) will double in installed capacity by 2015, according to a recently released research report from Lux Research. The market for CIGS is expected to be worth more than $2.3 billion by then.
“The big driver for us to look at this was all of the oversupply in the industry creating downward pressure,” said Lux analyst Pallavi Madakasiri. “For a new company to try to get in now is almost impossible.”
Traditional mono- and poly-crystalline solar photovoltaic modules have flooded the market causing dramatic price drops and lower profit margins for the companies building them.
In traditional thin-film technologies, First Solar completely dominates the market.
But CIGS have shown tremendous increases in conversion efficiency, reaching over 20 percent at the cell level, Madakasiri said.
Manufacturing and productions costs have also fallen off as processes have grown more efficient.
And most of the companies working in that market are still getting started.
“There has been a lot of interest and investment in CIGS,” Madakasiri said.
The technology is emerging with a lot of opportunity for growth, Madakasiri said, though it will face challenges, including a sharp fall in venture capital dollars.
Among those companies actively working in the market, some stand out.
“We used 12 different metrics to identify winners and losers,” Madakisiri said.
The criteria graded companies on their technical value, business execution, business maturity and capacity.
“Solar Frontier clearly leads the pack,” Madakasiri said.
That company has a solid position in the “dominant” quadrant of the Lux Research grid. Solar Frontier has already worked its way into emerging markets like India, where it is selling about 30 megawatts of CIGS cells a year.
“We also believe others have a very good chance of succeeding,” Madakasiri said.
Other contenders in the CIGS market are Global Solar, Avancis and Solibro. Madakasiri said she expects they could be very successful if they make good business decisions moving forward.
By: Amanda H. Miller
Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in using the heating action of lasers to actively cool a semiconductor. The phenomenon is achieved using a special gallium arsenide (GaAs) semiconductor membrane paired with mirrors to create an optical resonance chamber. When laser light is shot at the membrane, most of it bounces off, is reflected back by the mirror, and then resonates between the mirror and the GaAs surface.
Then the magic happens. Sometimes an atom in the membrane will absorb a photon of light, creating heat and a tiny bit of expansion. The movement of the membrane, the properties of the semiconductor, and the resonant frequencies then interact in a bizarre and wonderful way that cancels the molecular motion generated by heat, ultimately cooling the material to minus 269 degrees C. Although still in the experimental phase, this technique could be useful for cooling electrical components in super-sensitive sensors where thermal energy (as small as it is) creates more noise than the signal being detected. The results of the experiment are published in the January 2012 issue of Nature Physics.
By Joseph Parish
The Democratic Republic of the Congo: a region marked by violent conflict since 1996 in which torture, mass rape, forced displacement, and mass murder have been going on for years without much relief. It is a region in which armed groups are able to propagate the violence through the sale of the Congo’s mineral resources.
According to the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign,
“Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year by trading four main minerals: the ores that produce tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. This money enables the militias to purchase large numbers of weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against civilians, with some of the worst abuses occurring in mining areas.”
Most of these “conflict minerals” are used in the production of electronic devices in a process involving supply chains marked by a disturbing lack of transparency, so that by the time products such as cell phones or laptops end up in the hands of consumers, there is no way to know whether the purchase of those products contributed to the income of armed groups in the Congo.
The goals of many concerned activists are to find a way to ensure transparency in companies’ supply chains and to pressure companies found to be using conflict minerals to discontinue purchasing those minerals. The market for conflict minerals then, ideally, would be limited in terms of profit, reducing resources available to the armed groups, and thus pushing the armed groups toward peaceful resolution of the conflict which could open the region to other reforms.
There have been arguments that the initial attempts toward conflict-free policies have actually been detrimental to the Congo, by driving companies to search for minerals elsewhere, therefore crippling the economy and reducing the income of the general population. However, the UN Group of Experts recently issued a report stating that a conflict-free resolution proves to be an “important catalyst for traceability and certification initiatives and due diligence implementation in the minerals sector regionally and internationally,” and serves to reduce “the level of conflict financing provided by these minerals” in regions that have begun to comply to the due diligence guidelines. So, it seems that passing and implementing conflict-free resolutions are the first steps toward true reform and peace in the Congo.
Why not focus the fight for conflict-free reform on college campuses, which house a “particularly coveted demographic of electronics companies,” namely, students?
The Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign and STAND, a Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, have created the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, a “nation-wide campaign to build the consumer voice for conflict-free electronics, such as cell phones, laptops, and other devices that will not finance war in eastern Congo.” By focusing on college campuses, the initiative “draws on the power of student leadership and activism to encourage university officials and stakeholders, both of whom are large purchasers of electronics and powerful spokespersons, to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to take responsibility for the minerals in their supply chains.”
Organizing the student voice at the university level not only expresses the collective desire of individuals to ensure that they and their university do not participate in the perpetuation of the conflict in the Congo, but it also sends a powerful message to both political and corporate entities that consumers care about policies of those entities that may support the conflict. The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative explains:
“Universities are also a large client for most electronics companies and represent a large section of the buyers’ market for consumer electronics. By raising our collective voice as consumers, we can actually bring about a shift in corporate and government policy and help bring peace to Congo.”
Eight universities have issued conflict-free resolutions, including Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University; more than sixty other colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada have begun campaigns to do the same (including Yale University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Brown University, UC Davis, UCLA, UCSB, UCSC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown University).
The activism geared toward passing these conflict-free initiatives on college campuses has been successful in inspiring activity at the government level. California passed a bill prohibiting “state agencies from signing contracts with companies that fail to comply with federal regulations aimed at deterring business with armed groups in eastern Congo,” the first state bill to be passed regarding conflict minerals. Massachusetts is now also considering a conflict-free bill. Two cities, Pittsburgh, PA and St. Petersburg, FL, have also passed conflict-free resolutions.
If enough colleges, universities, towns, cities and states take the initiative in decisively acting to prevent the perpetuation of the conflict in the Congo by taking steps toward becoming conflict-free, perhaps the income of the armed groups committing mass rape and murder will be decreased sufficiently to prompt the beginnings of an end to the conflict.
Once the fighting ends, addressing the root causes of the conflict – including ethnic tensions – can be addressed through effective institutional reforms. But the fighting has to end before that can happen, and the fighting cannot end unless the actors in the conflict cannot afford to fight.
By: Cara Palmer
Commercial applications revenues will grow from less than one million dollars to reach nearly $58 million till 2015, says Strategy Analytics
Besides military applications, another area which is witnessing widespread deployment of gallium nitride (GaN) technology is commercial applications, according to a report entitled GaN Microelectronics Market Update 2010-2015, released by Strategy Analytics.
Targeted at GaAs and compound semiconductor technologies service (GaAs) and its Advanced Defense Systems Service (ADS) subscribers, the report forecasts that the overall GaN device market to grow at a CAAGR of nearly 29% to reach $178m in 2015.
Revenues from commercial applications, led by CATV and high power electronics, will grow from less than one million dollars to reach nearly $58 million till 2015, it adds.
However, according to Strategy Analytics report, military applications will be the major deployers of GaN technology.
But percentage of revenues from military applications will fall to 67% by 2015 from the present 98%.
Revenue growth rates for GaN devices in wireless infrastructure, high power electronics and CATV/VSAT (very small aperture terminals) will all exceed 100%, it is forecasted.
Strategy Analytics Director of GaAs and Compound Semiconductor Technologies Service Eric Higham said driven by performance advantages like efficiency, power dissipation and operating temperature, GaN is finally starting to generate interest in commercial market applications.
“GaN developments by device manufacturers like RFMD and Nitronex (for CATV applications) and International Rectifier and EPC (for power converter applications) are displacing other technologies. Operators and equipment manufacturers are recognizing the operating cost advantage that GaN can provide,” Hingham added.
ISTANBUL, May 4 (AFP) – Finance ministers from China, Japan, South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed Wednesday to expand their system of bilateral currency swaps under the Chiang Mai Initiative to a more multilateral system. The ministers, meeting as the “ASEAN-plus-3″ on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting in Istanbul, said this would make the Chiang Mai Initiative a “more effective and disciplined framework.” Under the currency swaps, an Asian country hit by a foreign exchange crisis like the one in 1997 could borrow borrow foreign currency — usually US dollars — from another country to bolster its reserves until the crisis had passed. An ADB analyst remarked that Wednesday’s accord was a step towards setting up an “Asian Monetary Fund,” although such an institution might never actually be created.
In a joint press conference, the 1O ASEAN and three East Asian financial ministers also called for a review of the quota of Asian countries in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “to properly reflect the current realities and their relative positions in the world economy.” The 13 ministers said an economic surveillance system would be put into place along with the Chiang Mai Initiative framework, to detect irregularities early and apply swift remedies. They also said a collective decision-making mechanism would oversee the current system of bilateral swap arrangements “as a first step towards multilateralization.”
This would make it easier to activate the bilateral swap arrangements in case of an emergency, the ministers said in a joint statement read after their three-hour meeting. Crisis-hit countries would also be able to draw down as much as 20 percent of the money under the bilateral swap arrangements without having to go through the IMF. Under the current arrangements, countries that draw more than 10 percent under their swap arrangements must have an IMF-supported program in place. The decisions of the ASEAN-plus-3 group apparently followed recommendations made during a meeting of the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean ministers a day earlier. Previously, the initiative launched in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in May 2000 involved only bilateral swaps but the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean ministers said they would look towards expanding this into multilateral swaps involving three or four countries. Asian countries had earlier proposed the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund after the 1997 fiscal crisis but the United States and the IMF had strongly opposed this. Chinese minister Renqing Jin said his country had already agreed to “double the scale of its currency swap,” from its current level.
However, when asked if they were setting up an Asian Monetary Fund, Japanese minister Sadakazu Tanigaki replied, “only the Chiang Mai Initiative was discussed”. The ministers said the initiative had been very helpful in maintaining the financial stability of Asian countries even if there had been no repeat of the 1997 crisis. Masahiro Kawai, special adviser to the ADB president, who monitored the ASEAN-plus-3 meeting, said the ministers wanted to increase the effectiveness of the Chiang Mai Initiative which now covers 16 bilateral swap arrangements. He called it a “step towards multilateralization,” adding that a “de facto Asian Monetary Fund,” may eventually be created. He said the United States and the IMF had opposed such a fund in the past partly due to fears it would increase the risk of moral hazard. But Kawai said this was why the ministers wanted to increase the surveillance function of the Chiang Mai Initiative. He remarked that in the past, China had not joined the move to create an Asian Monetary Fund and that if it joined with the other Asian countries, they might be more successful. mm/wai