Archive for the ‘rare earths’ Category

The heavy health toll of China’s graphite mining

November 21, 2016

Inhaling particulate matter can cause an array of health troubles, according to health experts, including heart attacks and respiratory ailments.

But it’s not just the air. The graphite plant discharges pollutants into local waters…

IN YOUR PHONE, IN THEIR AIR  A trace of graphite is in consumer tech. In these Chinese villages, it’s everywhere.Washington Post, Story by Peter Whoriskey   Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez  Videos by Jorge Ribas   October 2, 2016 At night, the pollution around the village has an otherworldly, almost fairy-tale quality.

“The air sparkles,” said Zhang Tuling, a farmer in a village in far northeastern China. “When any bit of light hits the particles, they shine.”

By daylight, the particles are visible as a lustrous gray dust that settles on everything. It stunts the crops it blankets, begrimes laundry hung outside to dry and leaves grit on food. The village’s well water has become undrinkable, too.

Beside the family home is a plot that once grew saplings, but the trees died once the factory began operating, said Zhang’s husband, Yu Yuan.

“This is what we live with,” Zhang said, slowly waving an arm at the stumps.

Zhang and Yu live near a factory that produces graphite, a glittery substance that, while best known for filling pencils, has become an indispensable resource in the new millennium. It is an ingredient in lithium-ion batteries.

Smaller and more powerful than their predecessors, lithium batteries power smartphones and laptop computers and appear destined to become even more essential as companies make much larger ones to power electric cars.

The companies making those products promote the bright futuristic possibilities of the “clean” technology. But virtually all such batteries use graphite, and its cheap production in China, often under lax environmental controls, produces old-fashioned industrial pollution.

At five towns in two provinces of China, Washington Post journalists heard the same story from villagers living near graphite companies: sparkling night air, damaged crops, homes and belongings covered in soot, polluted drinking water — and government officials inclined to look the other way to benefit a major employer.

After leaving these Chinese mines and refiners, much of the graphite is sold to Samsung SDI, LG Chem and Panasonic — the three largest manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries. Those companies supply batteries to major consumer companies such as Samsung, LG, General Motors and Toyota.

Apple products use batteries made by those companies, too (more…)

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Pollution problem as lithium use increases

November 21, 2016

IN YOUR PHONE, IN THEIR AIR  A TRACE OF GRAPHITE IS IN CONSUMER TECH. IN THESE CHINESE VILLAGES, IT’S EVERYWHERE. WASHINGTON POST, STORY BY PETER WHORISKEY   PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ROBINSON CHAVEZ  VIDEOS BY JORGE RIBAS   OCTOBER 2, 2016 “……DEMAND RAMPS UP

While U.S. consumers may seem uninvolved in — and untouched by — the Chinese pollution, the truth is more complicated.

The U.S. demand for cheap goods helps keep the Chinese factories going. More than a quarter of the emissions of two key pollutants in China — sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — arose from the production of goods for export, according to research published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The largest share of exports goes to the United States.

Moreover, the same researchers found that some of the pollution in China reaches the United States — the air pollution drifts across the ocean and raises ozone levels in the western part of the country, according to the study.

“Outsourcing production to China does not always relieve consumers in the United States . . . from the environmental impacts of air pollution,” according to the authors of the study, which was conducted by a consortium of scientists from China and the United States.

Now the rise of the electric-car industry promises a huge surge in the lithium-ion battery business.

Making batteries big enough to power cars will cause a daunting leap in demand. A laptop requires just a handful of the familiar, thin, cylindrical lithium-ion batteries known as “18650s.” A smartphone requires even less. But a typical electric car requires thousands of times the battery power.

Today, the best known “gigafactory” for electric-car batteries is the one being built by Tesla in the Nevada desert — a plant the company says will produce 500,000 electric-car batteries annually. But it’s just one of many. About a dozen other battery gigafactories are being planned around the world.

This is “not just a Tesla story,” said Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a firm that tracks demand and assesses prices for raw materials in the industry. “The demand is rising everywhere, especially in China.”   Todd C. Frankel and Yanan Wang in Washington and Xu Jing contributed to this report.

Decline of the #nuclear industry poses challenges

July 31, 2015

The decline of the nuclear industry poses huge challenges –  nuclear experts need not fear unemployment.

RADIOACTIVE WASTE DISPOSAL.  If all nuclear reactors stopped today, and all nuclear weapons were “turned off”, the world would still be left with a massive unsolved problem of disposing of the wastes.

BURYING THE CORPSES of nuclear reactors – (they prefer that nice word “decommissioning”) – a huge part of the unsolved waste problem.

ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Renewable energy is taking over –  it is supposed to be “clean and green”. And digital communications are also taking over the world.

But at present, both of these require “rare earths”

RARE EARTHS     On the one hand, these play a  part in the renewable energy future, for example in making wind turbines, and in electric car batteries.  Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements ( yttrium and the 15 lanthanide elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium)    Rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as: computer memory, DVD’s, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, car catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting and much more.  http://geology.com/articles/rare-earth-elements/

On the other hand, – the downside of rare earths  –  in the mining and processing of these rare earth minerals, radioactive wastes are produced.

Rare earths and the Lynas Malaysia project

February 2, 2015

Crikey Clarifier: what’s all the fuss about rare earths? http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/07/01/crikey-clarifier-whats-all-the-fuss-about-rare-earths/ by Crikey Intern Bondi resident Natalie Lowrey was suddenly released without charge on Friday night after five days’ detention in a Malaysian prison. Lowrey, who was born in New Zealand, was arrested last week in Kuantan, Malaysia, for protesting against the processing of rare earths by Australian minerals giant Lynas Corp. We delve into some of the issues surrounding the case.

What are rare earths?

Rare earths are chemical elements found in the earth’s crust that are vital to many modern technologies, including electronics such as speakers, computers, hybrid cars and wind turbines. Rare earths have unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties that help technologies perform more efficiently. They are particularly valuable for use in smartphones, and are in high demand.

What is Lynas Corp, and what is it doing in Malaysia?

Lynas Corporation Ltd is an ASX 100 listed company based in Sydney, Australia. It is currently constructing the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP), a rare earth processing plant at Gebeng, near Kuantan, Malaysia.

Lynas’ rare earth project has sparked protests in Australia and Malaysia over fears about possible negative health, environmental and economic impacts once the plant begins its operation, as it will produce radioactive material as a waste product. Although the rare earths are extracted in Western Australia, the potentially hazardous processing will take place in Malaysia.

Is there any evidence processing rare earths is dangerous?

Mitsubishi Chemicals Asian Rare Earths, a plant in Bukit Merah, Malaysia, was shut down in the 1992 after at least eight cases of leukaemia and a sudden surge in birth defects and miscarriages in the area. The plant was finally closed after an eight-year battle and is currently undergoing the largest clean-up in the rare earth industry at a cost of US$100 million. Cleaning up requires digging up the entire area of contamination and entombing it inside a mountain.

A spokesperson from Lynas told Crikey: “The Asian Rare Earth plant used the waste from tin mining as its raw material. Lynas raw material contains naturally low levels of thorium, which are 30-40 times lower than rare earth concentrates from tin mine tailings. By all international standards, the Lynas raw material is classified as safe, non-toxic and non-hazardous.”

But Dr David KL Quek, former president of the Malaysia Medical Association, has said:

“Thorium is an acknowledged waste product from the planned Lynas refinery of rare earth ores. Due to the various refining processes thorium will be enriched and concentrated to levels which could reach quantities that are difficult to contain or be safely sequestrated.

“Based on the preliminary Environmental Impact Agency report, thorium residues would lead to a sizeable radioactivity dose of some 62 Becquerel per gram. For 106 tonnes this would be an enormous quantity of radioactive residual thorium.”

Wastes from production will include radioactive thorium and uranium and their radioactive decay products such as radium and radon. Australian authorities have explicitly refused to allow the wastes to be shipped back to Australia for safe disposal.

Why Malaysia?

The Malaysian government has been more open to rare earths processing than the Australian government.

Phua Kai Lit, an associate professor of the Jeffery Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash University in Malaysia, told Crikey: “The Prime Minister, as well as the Chief Minister of the state of Pahang, are both strong supporters of the project. Similarly, political appointees such as the various ministers from ministries involved with the project echo the government’s line. The head of the main regulatory body, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board, also echoes the government’s line.

“The government has been criticised for granting a two-year TOL [temporary operating licence] in spite of no detailed environmental impact assessment or health impact assessment. Only a preliminary environmental impact assessment was carried out,” he said.

A spokesperson told Crikey Lynas plans to recycle the waste from the LAMP refining process into co-products such as plaster boards and cement. Two out of three of these products have been certified as non-radioactive by the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board.

The AELB is in charge of approving and monitoring radioactive industries and received an undisclosed sum by Lynas Corp in 2011. However the AELB denied the sum was a requirement.

Misinformation from the thorium lobby is hampering the rare earths industry

February 2, 2015

It’s anybody’s guess how long Thorium, with its “peacenik” aura, will take to get traction in corridors well-trodden by the US nuclear energy lobby, who have singularly shown zero interest in the blandishments of Thorium.

Thorium lobby thunder intent on hijacking rare earths’ coattails   Investor Intel August 12, 2014 by  Anyone in the Rare Earths space knows that Thorium frequently appears as an unwanted guest at the party. Explorers have worked on various ways to get around the issue. However there is a small group out there who we would call the “deniers”. They absolutely love Thorium. They are like Swedes liberated from the sauna in the dead of winter and would roll around in the stuff naked, if they could, to prove their commitment. While greater love hath no man to a chemical element than the Thorium crowd to their object of desire, the more measured amongst us realize that the mineral has been stuck for decades like a racehorse suffering a starting-gate malfunction.

What are we talking of here

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. ……..

Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust, and is chiefly refined from monazite sands as a by-product of extracting rare earth metals……..

The application that gets Thorium’s boosters most hot and bothered is its use in alternative nuclear reactors. Canada, China, Germany, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have experimented with using thorium as a substitute nuclear fuel in nuclear reactors. When compared to uranium, there is a growing interest in thorium-based nuclear power due to its greater safety benefits, absence of non-fertile isotopes and its higher occurrence and availability. India’s three stage nuclear power program is possibly the best-known and best-funded of such efforts. Once again we see the sideline for REEs as the beach sands exploited for Thorium in India are also the source of its REE production. We might also mention in passing that Great Western’s Steenkampskraal mine in South Africa was really a Thorium mine in its prime, with the end-use being in X-Rays.

Having said that though, the reality has not measured up to the expectations with much talk of pebble-bed reactors and micro-reactors etc. not having led to any significant adoption besides India’s efforts with a home-grown resource.

A boondoggle by any other name…

Never let it be said that the US Congress is lacking in those suffering the legislative equivalent of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The problem with this is that matters of great import (the US vulnerability on the strategic metals front) is oft confused by lesser worthy issues that have more strident (or generous) advocates. Thorium has gained quite a bit of traction and in the process has left prospective REE lobbyists having to try and differentiate themselves from a welter of (mis)information from Thorium’s advocates who have appropriated some of rare earths’ attractions for their own purposes by claiming that REEs and Thorium appear together, thus assistance to the Thorium industry must by implication help the REE crowd. This is bogus to say the least.

The main putsch of the Thorium clique is in the form of a piece of legislation under the moniker HR 4883. This bill advocates the promotion of heavy rare earth extraction and the storage of thorium.

The money phrase though is: “(5) Direct links exist between heavy rare-earth mineralogy and thorium”. Never let it be said that legislative agendas are subtle but this one is blatant piggy-backing. Then even more specifically it claims as its statement of policy: “It is the policy of the United States to advance domestic refining of heavy rare-earth materials and the safe storage of thorium in anticipation of the potential future industrial uses of thorium, including energy, as –

  1. thorium has a mineralogical association with valuable heavy rare-earth elements;
  2. there is a great need to develop domestic refining capacity to process domestic heavy rare-earth deposits; and
  3. the economy of the United States would benefit from the rapid development and control of intellectual property relating to the commercial development of thorium-utilizing technology”.

Reading between the legalese we see an attempt to stockpile Thorium, combined with an outreach to receive some sort of research funds to generate thorium applications. Pork-barrel is the word that comes most to mind. Indeed its groupies have even produced a video, but to say it’s gone viral with 1,400 hits would be over-exaggeration!

One of our deep throats in the REE space commented, “We are in an interesting position. Unlike others, we have a private-industry developed solution for our thorium that we have spent a good deal of time and money developing. We believe that HR 4883 attempts to have the Government develop a solution to a problem that does not exist while potentially benefiting a very select few and not the industry as a whole. A bigger concern is that it distracts legislators from focusing on Bills that could really benefit the industry, like HR761 and SR1600.”

Conclusion

Like the Norse god after whom it was named Thorium is prone to loud and intermittent booms before fading again into the night. Those who would hope to accelerate its destiny as the cure for all global ills seem reliant upon the US Congress for their salvation. Good luck with that… The more worthy REE sector have been waiting outside the Congress to be tossed some scraps for years (and they have military applications). It’s anybody’s guess how long Thorium, with its “peacenik” aura, will take to get traction in corridors well-trodden by the US nuclear energy lobby, who have singularly shown zero interest in the blandishments of Thorium.

The Thorium lobby is quite clearly intent on stealing the thunder (pardon the pun) of the Rare Earth lobby by coat-tailing on a more serious issue and trying to bathe in the strategic aura that REEs still possess. Frankly if their cause was so worthy they would be able to make the case for Thorium on its own merits rather than hijacking Rare Earths’ more evident virtues to give themselves momentum.  http://investorintel.com/rare-earth-intel/thorium-hard-swallow/#sthash.oLAfp4tD.dpuf