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 May 13, 2014
Cobalt Is the Key to Future Chips, Applied Material Says
    Publisher: Wall Street Journal - Digits Tech News & Analysis from the WSJ
    Author: Don Clark

 
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Cobalt Is the Key to Future Chips, Applied Material Says

Few things get semiconductor experts more excited than a shift in the key materials used to make computer chips. Applied Materials (AMAT:NASDAQ) is proposing just such a change.

The Silicon Valley company, one of the best-known makers of semiconductor manufacturing machines, on Tuesday is announcing a way to head off defects that are becoming a stumbling block as manufacturers keep shrinking the size of transistors that act as tiny switches on chips. Applied plans to substitute the element cobalt to wall off the microscopic copper wires that connect the transistors together, replacing a material called tantalum.

"This is the first material breakthrough in the last 15 years in interconnect technology," says Sundar Ramamurthy, Applied's vice president and general manager of metal deposition products.

Applied's announcement follows a series of other changes spawned from the race to make smaller transistors, a pattern called Moore's Law that keeps driving down the cost of electronic functions. Intel (INTC:NASDAQ), for example, led a push to introduce the metal hafnium and three-dimensional structures into transistors to make them switch faster and use less energy.

As transistors get smaller, many more of them can be packed onto each chip--billions, in fact. Connecting them requires grids of wiring that are increasingly large and complex; the copper strands contained in all the chips fabricated on a typical 12-inch semiconductor wafer can measure 100 kilometers, Ramamurthy says.

But engineers run into problems as they shrink the size of those wires, which are formed by filling up furrow-like channels with copper. Like a large volume of water forced into a smaller streambed, current moves faster and causes impacts akin to the rocks or boulders moved by a rushing torrent, Ramamurthy says. The current can shake loose copper atoms, creating gaps called voids that lead to short circuits that cause chips to stop working correctly, he says.

The trick is to coat the sides of the copper-filled trenches with a thin film of cobalt instead of tantalum, as well as capping the channel with another cobalt layer, Ramamurthy says.

Encapsulating the interconnections with cobalt can bring an 80-fold increase in the electrical reliability of chips, Applied says.

There's another potential upside. Tantalum is what the industry calls a "conflict" metal, produced in parts of Africa where warlords sometimes control mining activity. Cobalt is available elsewhere.

Customers who want to make the shift will have to buy an Applied production machine to apply the cobalt, using a process called chemical vapor deposition. The company on Tuesday is introducing such a machine, an extension to an existing product line called the Endura Volta.

Ramamurthy says 75 of the CVD chambers for processing individual wafers are already in customer hands for testing purposes. The machines aren't likely to be introduced in large volumes until manufacturers are ready for their next process change to create smaller transistors.

After all, a switch in materials this basic doesn't happen often. "This is a big change," Ramamurthy said.

To read more or subscribe for the latest news and analysis follow on Twitter @WSJD,or subscribe your email address for the latest breaking news and reviews from WSJ personal-tech team

 
 April 22, 2014
China's cobalt concentrate imports up 13.3% in March
    Publisher: Metalbulletin

 
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MetalBulletin.com - April 22, 2014 - Shanghai

China's cobalt concentrate imports up 13.3% in March

China's cobalt concentrate imports rose by 13.3% year-on-year in March, according to the latest customs data.

Shipments last month were 11,555 tonnes, compared with 8,339 tonnes in February. The volume was within the normal range, market participant said, adding that cobalt concentrate imports...

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 April 14, 2014
Spotlight on cobalt: Juniors (T.FT) (V.GCO) (T.FCO) expect battery cathode output to drive demand
    Publisher: Stockhouse.com
    Author: Editorial

 
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Stockhouse Editorial - April 9, 2014, 2014

Spotlight on cobalt: Juniors (T.FT) (V.GCO) (T.FCO) expect battery cathode output to drive demand

Cobalt is a commodity that usually flies under investor radar screens.

But a number of developments are combining to put the spotlight on cobalt and companies that are aiming to produce the metal, including Fortune Minerals Ltd. (TSX: T.FT, Stock Forum), Global Cobalt Corp. (TSX: V.GCO, Stock Forum) and Formation Metals Inc. (TSX: T.FCO, Stock Forum).

The biggest one appears to be the recent announcement by Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA, Stock Forum) that it plans to open the world's largest battery factory in 2017, a move that is expected to increase demand for necessary raw materials, including graphite and cobalt.

While a site in the western U.S. has yet to be selected for the proposed Gigafactory, published reports say the factory is expected to produce enough rechargeable lithium-ion batteries each year by 2020 to power 500,000 Tesla electric vehicles.

Cobalt industry officials are welcoming the news that Tesla plans to source all the raw material for its proposed $5 billion U.S. battery factory in North America.

Cobalt is a critical component of super alloys and rechargeable batteries for uses ranging from mobile phones, laptops, and tablets, to hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.

Demand for cobalt should increase by as much as 4,000-5,000 tonnes if the Gigafactory comes to fuition, wrote analyst Chris Berry, in an April 2, 2014 edition of Morning Notes, a newsletter that focuses on geolpolitical, technological and economic trends.

However, cobalt is usually mined as a by-product of other metals including nickel and copper.

"So it doesn't gain the attention in the market that a lot of commodities do,'' said Mitchell Smith, head of corporate development with Global Cobalt, a Canadian company which is working to develop the Karakul Cobalt project in Russia's southern Siberia region.

Smith said cobalt tends to be overshadowed by other metals because of the lack of primary cobalt producers that are available for people to invest in.

An exception is Global Cobalt, which has a deal with Beijing Easpring Material Technology Ltd., a supplier of battery grade material to Panasonic, Tesla's partner. Subject to the approval of Global Cobalt, Easpring will arrange offtake agreements with a major Chinese processor.

Also, Formation Metals has a fully permitted cobalt project near Salmon, Idaho, comprised of a mine and mill. Future production is estimated to be 1,500 tonnes of cobalt annually.

By contrast, Sherritt International Corp. (TSX: T.S, Stock Forum) is gearing up to produce 5,600 tonnes of finished cobalt annually from its Ambatovy mine on the eastern coast of Africa. But that material will be produced along with an estimated 60,000 tonnes of finished nickel.

Meanwhile, a report by FastMarkets' and posted on the website of Formation Metals says cobalt production has exceeded demand in recent years, creating oversupply and putting pressure on prices, according to the United States Geological Society (USGS).

No change is anticipated in this pattern, USGS said in its latest update.

"This trend is expected to continue in the near-term as production from new projects and expansions to existing operations add to supply,'' it added.

World mine production last year rose to 120,000 tonnes from 2012's 103,000 tonnes, the USGS estimated.

China was the world's leading producer of refined cobalt -- much of its production is from cobalt-rich ore and partially refined cobalt imported from Kinshasa in the Congo, where it owns facilities.

Congolese mine production last year was 57,000 tonnes, up from 2012's 51,000 tonnes. Chinese production from internal mines was 7,100 tonnes, rising from 7,000 tonnes.

Canadian production also rose to 8,000 tonnes from 6,630 tonnes, while there was an increase in Australian production to 6,500 tonnes from 5,800 tonnes.

Russian production was up at 6,700 tonnes from 6,300 tonnes, while there was a rise in Zambian output to 5,200 tonnes from 4,200 tonnes, the USGS added.

Jack Bedder, a senior analyst with Roskill, a London, England-based metals research firm, recently said global consumption of cobalt increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.5% between 2008 and 2013. Roskill also said it expects future demand to grow at a similar rate, expected to be 6.1% annually to 2018.

As a result, cobalt demand will reach over 100,000 tonnes.

Roskill went on to say that demand for cobalt will be led by Asia, particularly China, South Korea and Japan.

"Growth in demand in these countries will be driven by increasing battery cathode production,'' it said, adding that demand for cobalt in battery applications is forecast to grow at 9.2% per year to 2018 and will continue to be the greatest contributor to increased demand.

Meanwhile, in late February, cobalt prices hit a two-year high on strong demand for batteries at a time of low producer supplies, according to a report by Metal Bulletin.

However, Metal Bulletin also said low grade cobalt prices dropped to $14-$14.90 per pound April 9, 2014, down from $14.10 to $15 per pound previously. High-grade cobalt prices fell to $14.10 to $15.10 per pound, down from $14.20 to $15.30 per pound.

Both traders and producers expressed an eagerness to sell, having watched prices stabilize for several weeks following the recent rally,'' MetalBulletin said.

Stockhouse Disclosure: Global Cobalt is a Stockhouse client

 
 April 11, 2014
China's cobalt prices rise on tight supply, stronger demand
    Publisher: Metal Bulletin

 
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MetalBulletin.com - April 11, 2014 - London, UK

China's cobalt prices rise on tight supply, stronger demand

China's cobalt metal prices have risen and are likely to rise further, according to market sources, amid recovering demand and tight supply.

On Friday April 11, cobalt metal rose to 199,000-208,000 yuan ($32,261-33,720) per tonne, compared with 198,000-208,000 yuan per tonne last Friday. Some market participants have reported stronger sales in recent weeks. "So far this month, our sales volume has increased by about 30% on the previous month. It seems the market is entering the busy season," a major smelter said. Another smelter agreed. "Major clients didn't...

To read more, Sign up for a Free Trial Metal Bulletin Membership

 
 April 09, 2014
DRC Seeking to Raise Cobalt Export Tax to 4 Percent
    Publisher: Resource Investing News
    Author: Charlotte McLeod

 
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ResourceInvestingNews.com - April 9, 2014, 2014

DRC Seeking to Raise Cobalt Export Tax to 4 Percent

Reuters reported yesterday that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is looking to double its cobalt export royalty from 2 to 4 percent.

Some, such as Pieter Deboutte, who manages the company that holds Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler's mining and oil interests in the country, believe the move could make companies less eager to do business in the DRC.

As quoted in the market news:

Notes from talks with mining investors, seen by Reuters, show Congo is seeking to raise royalties on copper and cobalt from 2 to 4 percent, and gold from 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

The government is keen to tap new revenue streams, partly to help pay for elections in 2016 when President Joseph Kabila is scheduled to step down. Deboutte, however, said the government should be patient as tax revenues were poised to jump in any case over the next three years due to rising production.

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

 
 April 09, 2014
Strong competition for consumer sales drives cobalt prices lower
    Publisher: Metal Bulletin

 
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MetalBulletin.com - April 9, 2014 - London, UK

Strong competition for consumer sales drives cobalt prices lower

Cobalt prices dipped this week, after competition for consumer business heated up.

Low-grade cobalt prices dropped to $14-14.90 per lb on Wednesday April 9, down from $14.10-15 per lb previously. High-grade cobalt prices fell to $14.10-15.10 per lb, down from $14.20-15.30 per lb. Both traders and producers expressed an eagerness to sell, having watched prices stabilise for several weeks following the recent rally. One producer reported reducing his...

To read more, Sign up for a Free Trial Metal Bulletin Membership

 
 April 07, 2014
Prepare to Be Electrified
    Publisher: Vancouver Sun
    Author: Paul Kariya and Merran Smith

 

Prepare to be Electrified

Zero-emission cars will soon be a much more common sight on our streets

By Paul Kariya and Merran Smith, Special to the Sun April 6, 2014

Starting in 2016, one in every 10 fleet vehicles bought by B.C. governments or companies should emit zero carbon pollution.

It's an internal combustion world out there. Spotting a zero-emission electric vehicle --- a Nissan Leaf, say, or a sparkling Tesla Model S --- on the streets of Vancouver remains something of a cheap thrill, at least for some of us.

But that's about to change.

Thanks to the Pacific Coast Action Plan --- inked last fall by British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon, and California --- starting two years from now, one in every 10 fleet vehicles purchased by British Columbia governments or companies should emit no carbon pollution whatsoever.

That's a remarkable commitment: Going off ICBC data and some simple assumptions, that adds up to about 3,000 new zero-emissions vehicles on the road in the province each year from the likes of Budget and Hertz, car2go, Canada Post, FortisBC, Modo (the Vancouver-based car-sharing co-op), municipal vehicles, universities, and others. Though the "zero-emissions" requirement is broad enough to include vehicles that run on fuel cells and biofuels, in reality the majority of the fleet vehicles meeting the requirement will be battery-electric.

Fortunately, several public and private fleets already have a jump-start.

Canada Post has run a fleet of electric mail trucks in Vancouver for several years. And every new light-duty vehicle purchased by the City of Vancouver runs on batteries unless there is a technical requirement for a different sort of vehicle due to size, range, or operational requirements. In fact, the City of Vancouver already meets and beats the 2016 requirement; last year, 16 per cent of the city's new vehicle purchases were electrics.

Others can follow the City of Vancouver's lead. In a recent study, Ontario consulting firm FleetCarma concluded that more than 90 per cent of our province's existing fleet routes could be covered with electric vehicles. The Action Plan commitment will help reduce pollution in British Columbia --- since B.C.'s electricity is overwhelmingly clean and renewable --- but it will also play a critical role in accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.

That's because fleets offer people an opportunity they would not otherwise have to drive and ride in EVs. That familiarity is sorely needed --- despite the success of the provincial government's policies to support EVs, such as rebates for vehicles and charging stations as part of the clean vehicle program.

There are now plenty of places to plug in, and plenty of people doing so --- more than 600 charging stations dot B.C. roads and parking lots, and dealers sold more than 500 EVs last year. Still, according to recent WWF Canada research, only eight per cent of West Coasters have ever seen or ridden in an electric vehicle.

This will change quickly as the action plan commitment starts to kick in. It's already well underway in London, England, on a bigger scale. By 2018, every new taxi in the city will be a zero-emission vehicle --- again, mostly electric.

B.C.'s action plan commitment will doubtless inject fresh energy into our province's small but vital low-carbon transportation sector, which currently employs about 1,500 people and contributes $110 million to the economy. The sector is developing batteries and power systems for current and future vehicles, while figuring out how to best integrate electric vehicles with our mostly clean energy grid.

Their solutions to these challenges will offer lessons to the rest of the world.

Energy systems around the planet are changing rapidly, and B.C. needs to remain competitive to stay in the game. According to research firm IHS Automotive, worldwide sales of electric vehicles grew by 44 per cent between 2012 and 2013, and the market is expected to increase by an additional 67 per cent by 2014 --- or just shy of half a million vehicles. Navigant Research forecasts six million electric vehicles will be plying planet Earth by 2022.

In sum, zero-emission vehicles are here to stay, and B.C.'s Action Plan commitment will help ensure this sector remains competitive.

Not that it will be easy. The provincial government is not planning to continue its rebate program and the zero-emission fleet commitment is non-binding. In addition, opinions differ how to achieve the commitment. Should rebates be reinstated? Should the province legislate its zero-emissions fleet requirement?

We look forward to working with the province and the other companies and organizations to wrestle these questions down to earth and advance electric mobility in B.C. --- for cleaner air, a stable climate, and a prosperous and diverse economy.

Paul Kariya and Merran Smith are members of The Energy Forum (energyforum.ca), an industry-NGO collaboration promoting better climate, energy and environmental policy and practices in the clean energy sector.

 
 March 31, 2014
Tesla's (TSLA) $5 billion battery factory will source raw materials from North America
    Publisher: Stockhouse Editorial

 Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA, Stock Forum), the electric vehicle maker co-founded by Elon Musk, plans to use only raw materials sourced in North America for its proposed $5 billion U.S. battery factory, Bloomberg reported Monday.

The Silicon Valley company won't look overseas for the graphite, cobalt and other materials needed for its so-called Gigafactory, said Liz Jarvis-Shean, a spokeswoman for Tesla in an email to Bloomberg.

The Gigafactory is important for commodity markets because of its sheer scale. While Tesla has yet to select a site in the western U.S. for the plant, plans that were first revealed in February envisage the production of enough rechargeable lithium-ion batteries each year by 2020 to power 500,000 Tesla vehicles.

The factory would singlehandedly double world output of lithium-ion units. The factory is so big that without more cobalt supply there will be a cobalt shortage, according to Stuart Burns, co-founder of Chicago-based pricing and analysis company Metal Miner.

TSLA shares eased 1.4% to $209.30 on Monday, leaving a market cap of $25.8 billion, based on 123.2 million shares outstanding. The 52-week range is $265 and $40.21.

-END-
 
 March 28, 2014
Tesla to Use North American Material Amid Pollution Worry
    Publisher: Bloomberg
    Author: Jack Kaskey and Simon Casey

 
THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL COMPANY NEWS RELEASE
- FOR THE INFORMATION OF SHAREHOLDERS AND INTERESTED PARTIES ONLY -




Bloomberg News - March 28, 2014

Tesla to Use North American Material Amid Pollution Worry

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the electric vehicle maker co-founded by Elon Musk, plans to source all the raw materials for its proposed $5 billion U.S. battery factory in North America.

The Silicon Valley company won't look overseas for the graphite, cobalt and other materials needed for its so-called Gigafactory, said Liz Jarvis-Shean, a spokeswoman.

"It will enable us to establish a supply chain that is local and focused on minimizing environmental impact while significantly reducing battery cost," she said in an e-mail.

The move comes amid heightened interest in curbing graphite pollution and a widespread corporate sensitivity about avoiding the use of industrial minerals from troubled parts of the world. China's government, for example, has begun to shutter mines producing graphite, a major ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, over air-quality issues, Bloomberg News reported March 14.

Tesla, which manufactures the $71,070 Model S, says the "vast majority" of the graphite it uses right now comes from Japan and Europe and is synthetic, not mined. The Palo Alto, California-based company prefers the synthetic variety, Jarvis-Shean said.

Natural graphite mined in China accounts for most of the material used in batteries worldwide, according to London-based Industrial Minerals Data. China, the biggest graphite producer, is closing dozens of mines and processing plants even as global demand soars.

High Costs?

The Tesla purchasing strategy is unique in the battery industry, according to Sam Jaffe, an analyst at Navigant Research. To make it work, analysts who follow the industry say Tesla may need to turn to graphite mines in Canada that have yet to be built. For cobalt, they say Tesla may have to go beyond existing Canadian output and look at prospective supplies in Minnesota and Idaho.

Formation Metals Management note: Formation Metals and the Idaho Cobalt Project is mentioned later in the article. Read the full article here: Tesla to Use North American Material Amid Pollution Worry

 
 March 24, 2014
A Revolution In Industrialization Is Underway
    Publisher: AheadOfTheHeard.com
    Author: Rick Mills

 
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A Revolution In Industrialization Is Underway



March 24, 2014, Rick Mills, Ahead of the Heard -

Imagine with me for a moment that the car market is at the start of a major transition. Why would I think that? Well...

I think that by 2020 battery-powered cars will become a no-brainer purchase for many of us.

  • Electric cars deliver full torque from a standstill so they have impressive acceleration. They are fun to drive!
  • Electric cars are quiet, there is no combustion, no muffler.
  • Electric cars do not use explosive fuel, there is no gas tank.
  • Electric cars are cheaper to operate, electricity being cheaper than gasoline.
  • Electric cars are also cheaper to maintain than combustion systems. Having far fewer parts makes the car less complex, easier and cheaper to maintain -- there's no ignition, exhaust, timing or cooling systems.
  • Electric cars can be plugged in at home and you wake up with a fully charged battery every day.
  • No more getting 'hosed' at the gas station, not even the day before a long weekend when combustion engine car owners are lining up.
  • Road trips have currently been extended to over 400 km on a single charge.
  • A network of charging stations is being built.
  • Tesla's car battery can be guaranteed for a full eight years. Other manufacturers will follow this achievement.
  • Old batteries can and will be recycled. Current technology saves a minimum of 70 percent on CO2 emissions involved in creating lithium-ion batteries from scratch.
  • Zero tail pipe emissions.

I think that by 2020 battery-powered cars will become a no-brainer purchase for many of us.

The most recognized name in electric cars at the moment is Tesla Motors whose goal is to ship 500,000 cars in 2020. To reach that goal would require the entire battery industry to more than double production. That's just Tesla - never mind other existing players and new entrants into the electric car market.

If ten percent of all cars on the road were to become battery-powered global battery production would require an astounding 20-fold increase.

Click here for the full story.

 
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