January Newsletter – 09.01.2023

Behre Dolbear will be attending the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh, 10-12 January 2023.
Please come and visit us at our booth.

  • China coal buyers may be left wanting in Australia even after ban lifted
  • Mystery of why Roman buildings have survived so long has been unraveled, scientists say
  • This $136m lithium deal may be just the start of something big
  • Mining investments on the rise in Peru
  • Scientists one step closer to turning coal into graphite
  • Floods-caused collapse kills eight illegal miners in South Africa
  • The View from England: When copper production was dominated by the Welsh

China coal buyers may be left wanting in Australia even after ban lifted

MELBOURNE, Jan 5 (Reuters) – China is preparing to resume coal imports from Australia after a two year freeze as it looks to stave off a domestic shortage, but it may be forced to pay higher prices given that Australia’s miners have already found new customers.

China’s state planner has allowed three central government-backed utilities and its top steelmaker to resume coal imports from Australia for the first time since Beijing imposed an unofficial ban on coal trade with Canberra in 2020, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Australia was China’s second-largest coal supplier before the ban, which followed a souring of diplomatic relations. The ban eventually expanded to wine and foodstuffs worth billions of dollars.

The coal ban’s end follows a thawing of relations after a change in Australia’s government, highlighted by a meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers in Beijing last month and messages between their two leaders.

But in the meantime, Australia sold more coal to existing customers and found new ones, as the war in Ukraine left European power producers seeking to replace Russian coal.


Mystery of why Roman buildings have survived so long has been unraveled, scientists say

The majestic structures of ancient Rome have survived for millennia — a testament to the ingenuity of Roman engineers, who perfected the use of concrete.

But how did their construction materials help keep colossal buildings like the Pantheon (which has the world’s largest unreinforced dome) and the Colosseum standing for more than 2,000 years?

Roman concrete, in many cases, has proven to be longer-lasting than its modern equivalent, which can deteriorate within decades. Now, scientists behind a new study say they have uncovered the mystery ingredient that allowed the Romans to make their construction material so durable and build elaborate structures in challenging places such as docks, sewers and earthquake zones.

The study team, including researchers from the United States, Italy and Switzerland, analyzed 2,000-year-old concrete samples that were taken from a city wall at the archaeological site of Privernum, in central Italy, and are similar in composition to other concrete found throughout the Roman Empire.

They found that white chunks in the concrete, referred to as lime clasts, gave the concrete the ability to heal cracks that formed over time. The white chunks previously had been overlooked as evidence of sloppy mixing or poor-quality raw material.

“For me, it was really difficult to believe that ancient Roman (engineers) would not do a good job because they really made careful effort when choosing and processing materials,” said study author Admir Masic, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Scholars wrote down precise recipes and imposed them on construction sites (across the Roman Empire),” Masic added.


This $136m lithium deal may be just the start of something big

They are the majority owners of Australia’s best lithium address, but now IGO Group and Chinese company Tianqi want to spend $136 million muscling into a second lithium province in Western Australia.

The companies, which have acted in partnership on lithium matters since late 2020, agreed to pay $136 million to acquire lithium explorer Essential Metals under a plan to get a foothold in the lithium production zone between Kalgoorlie and Norseman.


Mining investments on the rise in Peru

The Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem) issued its latest Mining Statistical Bulletin which shows that accumulated mining investments rose by 3.2% through November 2022 to $4.6 billion compared to the $4.4 billion accrued the year before.

Quellaveco mine in Peru.

November was, in fact, the best-performing month last year, adding up to $467 million, a 7.8% increase from the $434 million reported in the previous month.

According to the Bulletin, Anglo American (LON: AAL) was the top investor in 2022 with $964 million. The London-based company’s share in all mining investments was 20.9%.

Next to Anglo was Minera Antamina, which is co-owned by Glencore, BHP Group, Teck Resources and Mitsubishi Corp. The joint venture invested $394 million last year and was is followed by Newmont’s (NYSE: NEM) Minera Yanacocha whose investments reached $332 million and Southern Peru, which invested $238 million.

Altogether, the four companies were responsible for 42.7% of the mining investments in Peru in 2022.


Scientists one step closer to turning coal into graphite

A team at Ohio University carried out a series of simulations showing how coal can be converted to valuable—and carbon-neutral—materials like graphite and carbon nanotubes.

Using the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s Bridges-2 system, the researchers simulated coal and graphite in computer software and recreated the coal-to-graphite conversion virtually. Generations of scientists know that, at least in theory, it is possible to convert coal to graphite if the fossil fuel is put under enough pressure at a high enough temperature.

Pure graphite is a series of sheets made up of six-carbon rings. A special type of chemical bond called ‘aromatic bond’ holds these carbons together.

In aromatic bonds, pi electrons float above and below the rings. These “slippery” electron clouds cause the sheets to slide easily past each other. Pencil “lead”—a low-grade form of graphite—leaves a mark on paper because the sheets slip off of each other and stick to the paper.

Aromatic bonds have another virtue, important in electronic technology. The pi electrons move easily from ring to ring and sheet to sheet. This makes graphite conduct electricity, even though it is not a metal.

Coal, by comparison, is messy chemically. Unlike the strictly two-dimensional nature of a graphite sheet, it has connections in three dimensions. It also contains hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and other atoms that might disrupt graphite formation.


Floods-caused collapse kills eight illegal miners in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 8 — Eight illegal miners have been killed after they were trapped underground following a collapse Friday at Burgersfort in the northernmost Limpopo Province, the South African police said Sunday.

The illegal miners were digging for chrome at ga-Maroga village when heavy rains pushed the soil that blocked the only point they were using for entry and exit, thereby suffocating them, according to the police.

The deceased include one South African, three Mozambicans and four Zimbabweans, the police said.

“We have established a team to deal with illegal mining activities around the province, especially in the areas along the R37 road in Sekhukhune District and many illegal miners have been arrested and mining equipment confiscated,” said Provincial Commissioner of Police Thembi Hadebe in Limpopo.

Hadebe said charges in terms of the Immigration Act will also be preferred against the seven deceased as they were in the country illegally and illegal mining will also be registered against all of them.


The View from England: When copper production was dominated by the Welsh

The Dolwyddelan Ruins in Snowdonia National Park, Wales UK. Credit: Sara Edwards/iStock.

The U.K. no longer springs to mind as a mining giant, but we used to have a dominant role in the global industry. The extraction of non-ferrous metals on these islands, particularly copper and tin, dates back to before 2000 BC, and surface workings for coal and iron ore were widespread after the beginning of the Iron Age around 750 BC. This mineral wealth was one of the things that attracted the attention of Rome. 

The nation’s mining history comes to mind with the recent news (courtesy of the ‘North Wales Live’ website) that after 37 years of clearance work, volunteers are nearing their goal of breaking through to an unexplored section of Llandudno’s Ty Gwyn copper mine. Although worked for just 18 years in the mid-19th century, this mine was briefly thought to be the most profitable copper operation in the world. 

Dating from only 1835, Ty Gwyn (meaning ‘white house’ in Welsh) started much later than the other two mines on the Gt Orme peninsula (the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Great Orme operations) and was geographically separate. 

Great Orme (Norse for sea serpent) is a carboniferous limestone hill immediately to the west of the seaside town of Llandudno. Mining of Great Orme’s dolomite-hosted malachite was extensive 3,500 years ago (circa 1700-1400 BC) and the main site was worked again from 1690 to 1860. The original Bronze Age tunnels (over 8 km of them) were only discovered in 1987, and the prehistoric site was opened to the public in 1991. 

The Great Orme mines were part of a group of operations in Caernarfonshire (the others being in Snowdonia) but the estimated total output of 3,000 tonnes of copper metal was dwarfed by production at Parys Mountain on the nearby Welsh island of Anglesey. 

Evidence of copper mining on this hill (it has an elevation of only 150 metres) dates back nearly 4,000 years. Originally called Mynydd Trysglwyn (a tree-topped hill) the ‘mountain’ was renamed in 1406 after Robert Parys, who had received the land from Henry IV (1367-1413) as a reward for collecting taxes and fines from inhabitants who had supported the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndwr.