Help Needed for Critical Minerals
In this space two months ago the topic of entrepreneurship, citing several examples, prompted some (but not enough) reader interest. When mentioning FastShip, I forgot to cite the fact that the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) will outlaw high-sulfur (3.5%) bunker fuel in 2020, which will trigger a low-sulfur distillate shortage that may drive crude to ~$150/barrel.
Thank the “green guys,” and it probably is a good idea to eliminate the heavy-polluting fuel. As a result, comparatively expensive LNG, which is already 12% cheaper than bunker fuel, will drive efficiency efforts in the near-term, according to consensus views.
In another expected change, the Maritime Security Program and Department of Defense are looking at greatly improving ship efficiency via hulls of titanium (40% lighter) versus steel. An Australian low-cost process now makes titanium powders that cost only 25% more than steel powders. Add to this the 3D printability of large parts and you can see where the industrial forefront is today. A 50% weight reduction of ship hulls is entirely feasible and at an affordable price. See www.metalysis.com and www.titomic.com for a quick view.
Let’s move on to a different area where help is needed and you are urged to explore: critical minerals. The Pentagon has stated publicly that we “have an amazing amount of dependency on China” when it comes to rare-earth minerals. According to the USGS, there are 20 different items that the U.S. has no capacity to mine, refine or process. The sole U.S. rare-earth producer was forced into 2015 bankruptcy when China suddenly restricted exports and then flooded markets. The U.S. cannot minimize the economic damage when China leverages its mineral monopolies against us. But let’s not limit our discussion to rare earths.
Lithium is a primary ingredient in laptop computer batteries, electric cars and power-grid storage capabilities. Its price has tripled in the past year to about $20,000 per MT. Indeed, lithium has battery challenges, so design changes, while reducing efficiency, diminish “issues” such as possible battery fires. A potential alternative to these lithium products is an aluminum-ion-based alternative. That may be swell for car batteries, but we aren’t there yet, and the world still does not have all the lithium it wants and needs (at least from a reliable and honest source).
John Bosma (410-446-8198) and I are working to form a (small) consortium to address the matter of critical metals availability via field recovery. Consider that most aging oil and gas wells, especially those depleted, fill with brine that is often laden with the metals and minerals we seek. It is now estimated that over 80% of innovative manufacturing and production will involve partnering and that 60% of future industrial growth will be driven by new technology. Furthermore, it costs $100,000-$300,000 to reclaim or close the 75,000 inactive, brine-containing wells in Canada (especially Alberta). So, we have relationships with friends that have access to these brine wells and with another group that has new “membrane technology” that easily extracts and concentrates the minerals we seek.
This is all accomplished with patented procedures that employ corrosion-resistant, non-woven fibrous membranes and non-contaminating conductive ceramic electrodes using very cost-effective, low-power, on-site electric power procedures. Channelized membranes include layered, porous and capillary structures that can “commoditize” metals and remediate isotopes from sites without leaching of toxics into surface and subsurface soils and water tables. There are no known adverse environmental impacts for this process in field application.
What is suggested to interested readers is that you contact Bosma and submit credentials that describe your (corporate) interests together with suggested project participation. He and I will guide parties to the team leaders, where each player bringing something to the table can define and agree with all team members on roles, responsibilities and rewards.
This abbreviated introduction to several new technologies near the focus of most readers’ business interests is intended to spur participation. If not your company, then whose business and national interests are served? This raw-materials availability and foreign manipulation are quickly becoming matters of national concern.