EMN 3.54% 54.5¢ euro manganese inc

Goodbye Cobalt, Hello Manganese

  1. phw
    603 Posts.
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    From today's Mining News:
    by Robin Bromby

    It's not as if Elon Musk's announcement at his company's battery day this week should have come as a great surprise.

    Musk is going to dump cobalt in its battery cathodes for Tesla electric vehicles (EV) and increase manganese content.

    Not only is cobalt expensive (its elimination will lower car prices closer to those of gas guzzlers, the company claims) but it gets around the whole iffy Congo supply chain dependence issue.

    As he stated: "It is reasonably straightforward to do a cathode that is two-thirds nickel and one-third manganese, which would then allow us to make 50% more cell volume with the same amount of nickel".

    Is this a game-changer for manganese, so long a base metal and immediately associated with steel production?

    Well, maybe: it depends, as explained below, if US carmakers can get their hands on battery-grade manganese.

    Manganese is the fourth most used metal in terms of tonnage after iron, aluminium and copper and 90% of all manganese consumed annually goes into steel as an alloying agent.

    As Geoscience Australia notes, no satisfactory substitute for manganese has been identified which combines a relatively low price with outstanding technical benefits such as the ability to combine with sulphur and the powerful de-oxidation capacity.

    But the ground has been changing and Musk's latest plan will have it brought that home to many.

    Yet, there has been plenty written about manganese and its battery potential.

    For example, in June 2018 Australian financial firm Moore Stephens sent out a report headed "Manganese: is it the forgotten battery metal?"

    It pointed out that the then current preferred battery cathode compositions used manganese, cobalt, nickel and aluminium. "Of these compositions, manganese is by far the cheapest mineral to mine and produce," the report noted.

    But it's not quite that simple. Cheap, yes, but there are supply chain issues for the North American (and European) EV sector.

    Christopher Ecclestone at London-based commodity analyst Hallgarten & Co this week sent out a client note about manganese headed "A base metal no more".

    The bulk of the report deals with the technical issues involved and it would be unfair to try and boil that down into a few sentences here.

    But it is at the end of the report where Ecclestone addresses the supply issues around battery metals and this will make interesting reading for any miner that has a finger in the manganese pie (or now may possibly yearn to).

    Lithium: seemingly a supply situation with little in the way of constraints for the foreseeable future.

    Cobalt: relatively scarce, with China having cornered the main supply source, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    There has been no shortage of investment comment on both those battery metals.

    Ecclestone argues, however, that manganese remains the "unspoken metal" in the lithium-ion battery mix, and often dismissed as "easy to get" and "cheap".

    Ah yes, but what about the fact that there are no current local supplies of manganese in the US or Canada?

    Then there's the fact that battery-grade manganese processing capacity is "held in a headlock by the Panda" (aka China).

    "US ambitions in the EV space are essentially at the mercy of whatever scraps the Chinese feel inclined to sweep off their table," he writes.

    "The US is reduced to the status of a manganese scavenger unless it has access to not only non-Chinese sources of ore (which it has in Disallowedon and South Africa — for now) but also, more importantly, regional manganese sulphate sources," says Ecclestone.

    He believes there is clearly rising concern in Washington regarding that issue, and warns: "It needs more, though, than just ferreting away a few months' worth of consumption; it needs a complete North American supply chain".

    (It's the rare earths story all over again.)

    Nevertheless, Hallgarten sees that increased manganese weighting in new lithium-ion battery formations is driving a re-focusing on the potential of this metal.

    It is the least problematic battery metal because of its cheapness and not being "difficult". Moreover, says Ecclestone, the wild gyrations in the price of vanadium has made manganese a tempting option to replace — in part — vanadium in redox flow batteries for mass storage.

    But it's going to come down to one crucial factor: the lack of resources in North America puts the spotlight on manganese deposits elsewhere, which could become crucial assets in the hunt for non-Chinese supply chains for lithium-ion batteries.
    Last edited by phw: 24/09/20
 
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