Metallic Hydrogen – a new Era in Fuel Storage?

Since the Hindenburg disaster, hydrogen has been known more for its risks than its uses as a fuel component. In its liquid form it has of course been used as rocket fuel, and more recently it has made an entrance as a potential alternative to lithium-ion batteries in cars. Not only is lithium-ion not free from hazards itself, the batteries also add more weight and volume to a device than a tank full of H2. Setting up a supply infrastructure remains an issue, and storage risks make people uncomfortable.

Diamond Anvil

What if hydrogen could be produced in its metallic form? A metal, easy and safe to transport and store? What if this metal could be readily re-converted to its liquid state as needed to be used in fuel cells? A vision of a distant future, perhaps, but professor Isaac Silvera of Harvard University claims to have just taken the first step, the creation of metallic hydrogen. I had a very interesting conversation with him, the product of which was just published on Kitco News. Here is the link: http://www.kitco.com/commentaries/2017-03-21/Metallic-Hydrogen-a-New-Area-in-Hydrogen-Storage.html

 

Cobalt – from secret ingredient to superstar

Cobalt started coming into focus when the industry became aware of its crucial importance to lithium-ion technology. Since then, several Tech Metal Insider articles on Kitco News have dealt with the subject:

Cobalt – the secret ingredient in lithium ion batteries: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2015/10/02/cobalt-the-secret-ingredient-in-lithium-ion-batteries/

BYD (Build your Dreams) – cobalt vs iron oxide technology: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2016/04/28/byd-disrupting-the-markets-for-lithium-and-cobalt/

Ethical concerns on cobalt mining raised by Amnesty International: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2016/10/10/cobalt-prices-on-the-rise-amidst-ethical-concerns/

mitch-smithThe latter topic in particular raised the question of ethical alternatives for cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that just declared it had to postpone democratic elections for lack of funds. One company promising such an alternative is Global Energy Metals of Vancouver, Canada. Mitchell Smith, president and CEO of GEM who is also a very active supporter of alternative energy in social media, told me more about the company and its plans. Click here to read the interview on Kitco News.

 

Hydrogen is here – my interview with Trevor Milton of Nikola Motors

Nikola – Mr. Tesla’s first name, chosen not by chance, I suppose, as the name for the “other” electric car company completely focused on heavy duty trucks. Interestingly, although the canikola_one_10-87a4458ec7068a27e4fb41f4f9f91d4f9137d5ce938b9b917021f02663db242frs are – strictly speaking – battery powered, Trevor Milton and his team chose to add a hydrogen fuel cell for clean charging, and range extension.

And it doesn’t stop there – Nikola Motors wants the hydrogen to be produced in sustainable ways, too, and is therefore building a network of solar farms across the country to do so.

Click here to read my interview with Trevor Milton, CEO of Nikola Motors, on Kitco News.

Cobalt Prices On The Rise Amidst Ethical Concerns

Tesla Model X Launch 2015-09-29As predicted a while ago, the world’s insatiable hunger for battery materials is beginning to affect prices, in a big way. The increase may not hurt small electronic devices as much but it will definitely be felt by buyers of electric vehicles which employ large amounts of the metal.

This good news turns sour for at least some investors, though, in light of new reports about unsafe conditions and child labor in the mines that produce cobalt. Please click here to read my full report on the topic, which was published by Kitco News today.

Emergency Offshore Summit in Panama

With the “Live and Invest Overseas” conference just finished, the next event is already on the horizon. Lief Simon’s “Emergency Offshore Summit” is aimed at investors worried about the political future of the United States after the elections in November. One way or another, instability may be a result, and the conference focuses on legal precautions private investors have at their disposal to hedge against such effects.

The conference will be from October 24-26 in Panama City, Panama, and I will be speaking on two topics: physical investments in strategic metals, and in precious metals. Let’s not make it one of these:

To register for the event please click here. Looking forward to seeing you in Panama!

Platinum Group Metals: staring down a cliff?

TecDay Road to the Future – Drive TrainOne topic of my annual “Metal Megatrends” paper at the recent IPMI conference in Phoenix was sustainable mobility, and its impacts on metal consumption. In fact, if you read the story of how my column for Kitco News started four years ago (see the “Welcome” page of this blog), we have now reached a point where we can answer the question: “What if all cars in the world were electric?”.

The answer is now online on Kitco News (click here to read).

While my paper (available through the IPMI in a little while) was also critical regarding Tesla executives’ role in trash talking hydrogen it should also be disclosed that I am on the long list of people having pre-ordered a Model 3, and I share the admiration of Elon Musk by those who say he is shaping the world by his visions, perhaps in more significant ways than Steve Jobs ever has.

As a result of adding up all the facts in front of us the only logical conclusion is that the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. There will be a long tail, of course, with cars being passed on from some regions of the world to others, and with heavy duty engines as an unresolved issue. What about collector’s cars? Will a “boutique” style infrastructure emerge where we buy fuel in new ways, or is it back to the pharmacy like in the early days of the automobile?

Last but certainly not least: what will happen to pgm markets in the meantime? Assuming that the fuel cell will eventually gain traction, the loss of platinum on emission control catalysts might be offset by the growth of the FCEV. Palladium, which is already used in some fuel cells, might once again play a role as a substitute. Only for rhodium the direction is unclear in this environment.

That said, the unique properties of precious metals have always made them desirable, if not irreplaceable, in technology applications. I am optimistic that new uses will emerge as technologies advance further.

BYD -disrupting the markets for lithium and cobalt

A few weeks ago, during the hype of hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3 pre-orders, I saw a report on BYD (“Build Your Dream”), a Chinese car and battery manufacturer. While Tesla are scrambling to determine how they will meet the large demand they just created, BYD is already producing very large amounts of battery-electric vehicles today. I was drawn to their YouTube video (link below, the Spanish title seems to be an error on their part) in which BYD are demonstrating the safety of their lithium iron phosphate batteries.

These batteries are interesting because they are likely to do two things to metal markets:

  1. They will remove the issue of a cobalt shortage which is imminent – standard Li-ion batteries contain about 10% of cobalt, that’s 50kg per Tesla. Arithmetically, there just isn’t enough cobalt available in the world to prevent a market crash. See my earlier report on the topic here, and an excellent analysis by John Petersen titled “EV batteries and the cobalt cliff” here.
  2. The effect on lithium will be inverse: the metal, unchained from cobalt, can now be used more widespread than previously possible.

BYD-E6_3Intrigued by this scenario, I requested an interview with BYD which was promptly granted. I wish other companies were this forthcoming when it comes to asking about their technology. The resulting article was just published on Kitco News today, and it can be viewed here. Hope you will find it interesting.