3 Metals That Will Shape the Future of Mining
This was originally published by Tony Barnard, Business Manager West, Davey Bickford Enaex.
It’s no accident that certain types of ore – such as iron and coal – have long stood atop the list of the world’s most commonly harvested minerals. The applications for these raw materials are widespread; in many cases they are deeply built-in to the mechanisms of industry.
But thanks to the rules of supply and demand, the list of minerals commonly pursued by mining companies is starting to change. We can trace these changes to a litany of social, environmental, and technological factors – such as the shift toward renewable energy, and the unprecedented focus on digital devices.
Here’s a closer look at three metals that will play an increasingly important role in shaping the minerals trade, both here in Australia and around the world.
Deloitte’s 2018 Tracking the Trends report discusses, among other things, the meteoric demand for battery storage and its effects on the lithium trade. According to the report, demand for lithium could double or even triple in the next decade. This projection is strengthened by the fact that 14 federal governments have made specific commitments to the adoption of electric vehicles, and that China is moving to dominate the global production of lithium-ion battery storage.
Most of the world’s known supply of lithium is located in Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. As mentioned in the Deloitte report, technical delays in some of these mines have increased lead times and thereby stimulated positive price dynamics.
Overall, the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries in consumer electronics – and their increasing use in things like sweepers and lift trucks – will be a major factor shaping the global minerals trade for the near-future.
This sedimentary rock is the world’s main source of aluminium – and while there is nothing new about it, understanding its modern applications can give us a renewed perspective on its standing in the minerals trade.
Fuel efficiency is a good place to start – as more of the world’s transportation goes electric, and as fuel efficiency targets are set higher, aluminium will play a key part in reducing the weight of vehicles. For this reason alone, many automotive experts project that the average motor vehicle will contain 250 kilograms of aluminium by the year 2025. Global bauxite production is currently led by Australia, followed by China, Guinea, Brazil, and India.
This metal got its name from German miners who called it “kobold” or “goblin ore” due to the blue pigments it could produce, and the noxious fumes generated by the smelting process. That was before the true value and safe processing of these ores was discovered.
Cobalt is prized for the resilient and magnetic alloys it makes possible – alloys that are used in everything from jet engines to orthopaedic implants. It is also an important material for lithium-ion batteries.
The majority of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, with most estimates attributing around 60% of global production to those countries. Many analysts have raised concerns about the political stability of that region, and how cobalt supply could be affected. The aforementioned Deloitte report points out that most cobalt (around 95%) is a by-product of nickel and copper, which means that tumult in those markets can impact cobalt production in turn.
Broader perspectives on 21st century mining
There are, of course, many other metals that look increasingly relevant to the future of mining – graphite, nickel and copper to name a few. It’s impossible to say exactly what the mining business will look like in ten years. That said, looking more deeply at individual metals – including the technological applications, underlying social trends, and geopolitical dynamics that underpin their production – gives us a clearer picture what’s happening in the minerals market. As a result, our efforts as mining and METS companies can be informed by deeper contexts and broader perspectives.
This article originally appeared on www.DaveyBickfordEnaex.com.