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DARPA EMBER program seeks bioengineering approaches to facilitate rare earths separation and purification

A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program— Environmental Microbes as a BioEngineering Resource (EMBER) (HR001121S0035)—seeks…

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This article was originally published by Green Car Congress

A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program— Environmental Microbes as a BioEngineering Resource (EMBER) (HR001121S0035)—seeks to develop novel, bio-based technologies to overcome key challenges facing domestic supply of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) critical to the US and Department of Defense (DoD).


Although the US has domestic REE resources, its supply chain is vulnerable due to dependence on foreign entities for separation and purification of these elements.

“Biomining,” an approach that uses microbes to extract or separate target metals such as gold or copper from a variety of sources is not yet useful for REEs because of poor specificity and selectivity of the microbes for REEs.

The EMBER program will leverage the diversity, specificity, and customizability of environmental microbiology to enable new biomining methods for the separation, purification, and conversion of REEs into manufacturing-ready forms. Microbes (and/or biomolecules), including those from extreme or metal-rich environments, can be biologically engineered or adapted to bind, assimilate, and manipulate individual REEs.

These biological components, once developed, may be assembled into an in-line separation, purification, and recovery workflow resulting in individual, purified REEs.

EMBER is targeting REEs from under-utilized domestic sources such as phosphate mine waste, acid mine drainage, and electronics recycling processes.

Scalability of EMBER’s approach will be demonstrated with proof-of-concept, pilot scale studies aligned with existing mining/waste treatment infrastructure.

The EMBER program will aim to fill a critical DoD supply chain gap. The program will target the development of bioengineered organisms/biomolecular approaches for REE purification, then translate these to practical biomining modules (e.g., biosorbent, biofiltration) that can be integrated with domestic REE sources.

—Dr. Linda Chrisey, EMBER program manager

The four-year program will address two Technical Areas (TAs) and be divided into three phases.

The goal of TA1, “Bioengineering for REE Utilization,” is to establish a platform for engineering organisms and/or biomolecules to enable the binding of REEs under harsh conditions. “Organisms” envisioned for this TA include microbes, fungi, or bacteriophage; use of photosynthetic organisms (cyanobacteria, microalgae) as chassis must include justification of the additional energy demands that these organisms require.

TA2, “REE Biomining” will focus on developing and testing a biomining workflow to purify individual REEs from actual source materials. Recovered REE materials may be in the form of salts (e.g., halides or nitrates), phosphates, oxides/hydroxides, or reduced metals, and should be devoid of biomass and impurities. Teams will develop and test a biomining workflow to purify individual REEs from complex source mixtures, likely using a combination of geological, chemical, and/or process engineering steps. Studies will progress from the laboratory bench scale to a pilot scale demonstration capable of generating at least 700 grams total REEs per week. It is anticipated that the pilot scale demo will need to be co-located with the REE source material site.

Teams must propose to both TAs to develop comprehensive, enduring solutions.

During Phase 1, efforts will focus on developing microorganisms and biomolecules suitable for use in REE separation—a challenging task due to the chemical similarity between REEs. In Phase 2, performers will work on improving the efficiency and scale of REE separation from actual source materials. Phase 3 will culminate in an aggressive, pilot-scale REE biomining demonstration. Throughout the program, the teams will work with an Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) team established by DARPA.

EMBER aims to deliver multiple capabilities, such as the separation of REE mixtures into individual elements; inter-conversion of REE salts/oxides to facilitate production of manufacturing-ready forms; and new assays for high-throughput analysis of REE-containing cells and biomolecules.

—Linda Chrisey

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Mining battery metals from the sea floor – could it soon be a low-impact reality?

Low-impact sea mining could become a reality for one ambitious company with the arrival of a 228m ship in Rotterdam … Read More
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Low-impact sea floor mining could finally become a reality for one ambitious company with the arrival of a 228-metre ship in Rotterdam earlier this week, heralding a critical milestone in its plans to become a producer of battery metals sourced from the deep ocean.

Named the Hidden Gem, the vessel is the key to The Metal Company’s (NASDAQ:TMC) vision of developing the world’s largest source of battery metals from the ocean floor with commercial production plans targeted for 2024.

TMC’s strategic partner, Allseas, will be converting a former deep-sea drilling vessel into a subsea mining vessel, retrofitting the ship with equipment to gather polymetallic nodules on the seafloor within contract areas held by TMC in the Pacific Ocean’s Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ).

The Hidden Gem. Pic: Business Wire

These potato-sized polymetallic nodules contain high grades of critical minerals such as nickel, manganese, copper and cobalt, which are integral to the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries and other renewable energy technologies.
 

Enough to power 250 million EVs

Back in April 2020, TMC acquired its third seabed contract area to explore for polymetallic nodules from Tonga Offshore Mining Limited (TOML), which opened it up to a further 74,713km square block of exploration rights.

The third contract area comprises an inferred resource of 756 wet tonnes of polymetallic nodules, meaning its expanded footprint now contains enough nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese to build more than 250 million electric vehicle batteries.

Speaking to the TOML acquisition, TMC’s chairman and CEO Gerard Barron said the project will enable The Metal Company to bring more critical minerals to market to break through the bottleneck and shift away from fossil fuels.

“Our research shows that ocean polymetallic nodules can provide society with these metals at a fraction of the environmental and social impacts associated with land-based extraction.”

Pic: Supplied

 

Environmental concerns about sea floor mining

The environmental concerns which surround mining of the ocean’s floors are well documented, with several jurisdictions and regulatory bodies imposing bans and strict regulations on subsea mining due to the lack of understanding around the environmental impacts and growing fears about the irreversible effects these practices may have on the fragile ecosystems that we know very little about.

Many scientists believe that far more resources have been spent researching ways to mine the ocean floor rather than studying the impact this type of mining might have on the underwater environment.

TMC, however, believes that the Hidden Gem subsea vessel, which will deploy a 4.5km riser to collect the nodules off the seafloor without drilling, blasting or digging, can avoid much of the environmental disturbance associated with traditional sea floor mining methods.
 

Past failures

Planning to mine the oceanic crust’s wealth of mineral resources is a well-trodden path that’s seen many companies fail to deliver on their promises of production due to regulatory and financial hurdles.

Companies such as Nautilius and its high-grade Solwara 1 copper-gold project off the PNG coast is one recent example.

Nautilius had plans to turn its Solwara 1 project into the world’s first underwater copper-gold mining operation but wound up delisting from the TSX and going bankrupt in 2019.

The Canadian company had developed three undersea robots to mine hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor before funding issues became a problem midway through construction.
 

On the road to meeting deep-sea battery metals goal

There are examples of successful mining ventures in the ocean such as in Indonesia’s tin industry, diamond extraction in Namibia, and gold mining off Alaska’s coast, however these ventures are often heavily scrutinised by environmental lobby groups and constantly face the risk of being shut down due to increasing global environmental awareness and a trend towards greener policies from the governments who licence them.

While there is still plenty of obstacles and work to be done, TMC, with the help of Allseas and their new vessel, which is expected to be the first ship classified as a sub-sea mining vessel under American Bureau of Shipping, are much closer than many of their peers to realising the goal of supplying the market with battery metals from the seafloor.

The post Mining battery metals from the sea floor – could it soon be a low-impact reality? appeared first on Stockhead.

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Energy & Critical Metals

Pilbara Minerals’ Ken Brinsden on that record-breaking lithium auction and why high pricing is ‘expected to persist’

Pilbara Minerals sold an 8,000t spodumene cargo on the spot market for a record $US2,240/t. Where do prices go from here? … Read More
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Last week, the share price of Aussie hard rock lithium miner Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) hit an all-time high off the back of its second Battery Material Exchange (BMX) auction.

The miner sold an 8,000t spodumene cargo on the spot market for an extraordinary $US2,240/t, essentially doubling the $US1,250/tonne received via the inaugural auction held late July.

This is a record price for spodumene concentrate — far above the peak at the last price cycle in 2017/18, where the highest spodumene price reached $US1,000/tonne.

The first PLS auction price (green cross below) was so far outside the trendline it caused the average price to spike in July.

BMX #2 will have an even bigger impact.

While the super high price can be partially attributed to the relatively unique and competitive form of sale (open auction), it also verified what has long been suspected – there is not enough lithium being produced to meet current demand.

Good news for miners.

Pilbara Minerals managing director Ken Brinsden says significant participation in the first round of the BMX auction, combined with lithium chemicals pricing continuing to accelerate, meant the company was always confident of strong response in the second auction.

“We were optimistic it would be a healthy price and well bid. That was certainly the case,” Brinsden told Stockhead.

“As to the final price – look, we were probably a little surprised as to where it landed.”

While a date has yet to be set, Brinsden expects at least one more BMX auction before the end of the year.

“We would say the lot size would not be much different – 8,000 to 10,000t, up to a maximum of 15,000t,” he says.

“What it boils down to is the restart of the Ngungaju operation because that’s where the volumes for the spot market will come from.”

The restart of the ‘Ngungaju’ facility at Pilgangoora — or the former Altura operation – is a very important part of the business.

At full capacity that plant should be about 200,000t of uncontracted spodumene concentrate by about the middle of next year.

“It will be about 30% of our underlying production from Pilgangoora,” he says.

“Those tonnes are well positioned to feed the emerging spot market.”

 

A maturing lithium market

Brinsden says the Pilbara Minerals would consider having other lithium companies use the BMX platform “because we advocate for greater transparency in pricing”.

The contract market — where most tonnes are sold — has traditionally been very opaque, with prices determined behind closed doors.

This, amongst other things, makes it harder for aspiring miners to get finance.

“Greater volumes in the spot market makes sense because it represents a step toward the maturity of lithium markets,” Brinsden says.

“Greater transparency is going to translate to greater, more definitive pricing outcomes, the potential for futures markets, hedging instruments – all the financial tools being built around the industry that support the flow of capital.

“That is very natural, and it happens in the growth of just about every commodities market.

“Lithium raw materials won’t be any different.”

 

The lithium price boom ‘expected to persist’

This high pricing is fundamental, Brinsden says.

“It’s all about the next round of incentive pricing to attract capital to lithium raw materials supply,” he says.

“That is what is going to be required to grow the pool of producers to support this pretty significant global demand.”

Solving the lithium shortage isn’t as easy as turning on production.

“In the hard rock space – at least as it relates to merchant spodumene supply – the next available [production] uplift besides us is probably late next year at the earliest, I would say,” Brinsden says.

Australia’s next miner is shaping up to be Core Lithium’s (ASX:CXO) ‘Finniss’ project in the NT, which is targeting first production in the second half of 2022.


 

That is why tightness in the market is expected to continue.

And while one cannot say that the market price for spodumene is now ~$US2,000/t — when the majority of spodumene supply is currently being shipped for between $700/tonne and $1,100/tonne – it does demonstrate that more is needed, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence analyst George Miller says.

“Spodumene prices such as this indicate that converter margins are being passed upstream to where the tightness is in that market — spodumene supply,” he says.

“Feedstock inventory with many spodumene converters is either non-existent or quickly dwindling.

“Meanwhile, very little additional tonnage [will] come online in the near-term as a result of underinvestment and low prices within the lithium industry over the past three years.”

 

The post Pilbara Minerals’ Ken Brinsden on that record-breaking lithium auction and why high pricing is ‘expected to persist’ appeared first on Stockhead.

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Precious Metals

Soaring Stocks Shrug Off Debt Ceiling Doubts As Taper Tantrum Sparks Bond Bloodbath

Soaring Stocks Shrug Off Debt Ceiling Doubts As Taper Tantrum Sparks Bond Bloodbath

Since The FOMC released its hawkish statement, the dollar…

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Soaring Stocks Shrug Off Debt Ceiling Doubts As Taper Tantrum Sparks Bond Bloodbath

Since The FOMC released its hawkish statement, the dollar is down modestly, gold has been monkeyhammered, bonds have puked, and stocks have soared...

US equity markets rallied overnight then tumbled on Evergrande headlines early in Europe's day that SOEs are preparing for the developer's collapse. Weak jobless claims sent stocks down another leg ahead of the US cash open, but once the bell went off, algos were buying stocks with both hands and feet and ripped everything higher (Small Caps outperformed as Nasdaq lagged). This chart shows the major US equity's performance since 1400ET (FOMC statement) yesterday...

...hawkish Fed, weak claims data, ugly PMIs, Evergrande offshore bond default, debt ceiling & stimulus size doubts... BTFD!!! (Simplfied as 'bad news is good news' for stocks again!)

All the major US equity indices broke back above key technical levels...

Energy and Financials are the best performers in the last two days with Utes the only sector underwater...

Source: Bloomberg

All except Nasdaq are now green on the week...

As real rates spiked dramatically higher, value stocks (Russell 2000) outperformed growth (Nasdaq)...

...and as the chart below shows, if rates continue here then big tech will be a big underperformer...

Source: Bloomberg

And while stocks were incessantly bid, elsewhere there was pain as Powell hinted at 'cutting the rope'...

The dollar plunged back to yesterday's lows after spiking on the Fed statement...

Source: Bloomberg

Yields exploded higher today as a mini-taper-tantrum begins...

Source: Bloomberg

Steepening the yield curve, erasing most of yesterday's flattening...

Source: Bloomberg

30Y Yields could not push past critical resistance though...

Source: Bloomberg

As the market prices in a full rate-hike by the end of 2022...

Source: Bloomberg

Crypto rallied notably off yesterday's lows with h Bitcoin extending gains after Twitter announce its BTC tips feature...

Source: Bloomberg

Gold was clubbed like a baby seal today (even as the dollar dropped)...

Oil surged once again, with WTI back above $73 (and Brent closed at its highest since Oct 2018)...

Finally, did no one actually notice that Evergrande did actually default on its offshore dollar bond today?

Source: Bloomberg

We guess everyone was too busy buying US stonks and Evergrande equity... because, well who the f**k knows anymore.

Tyler Durden Thu, 09/23/2021 - 16:00
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