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The Minerals Manhattan Project

Author: Emily Hersh

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The Manhattan Project allowed the US to defeat Nazi Germany. Project Apollo put a person on the moon and hastened the defeat of the Soviet Union. Today, western supply chains are more vulnerable to China than you probably realize. Does the US want to stay a Superpower?Welcome to the Minerals Manhattan Project - I’m your host Emily Hersh.
24 Episodes
Did Tesla Battery Day leave you scratching your head? If so, you're in good company - if you consider Emily Hersh good company that is.Alex Grant, Principal of Jade Cove Partners returns to the Minerals Manhattan Project to talk through the article he co-wrote following the announcement that Elon Musk is planning to extract lithium from clay in Nevada using salt and water.Alex explains the different mechanisms that could be plausible explanations for how this saline process could work, as well as some lithium clay basics.For the full article, written by Alex Grant (Jade Cove Partners), Dr. Mike Whittaker (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), and Dr. Aaron Celestian (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles): Alex on Twitter @alexjadecoveRead more of Alex's clever papers on his website:
The Minerals Manhattan Project welcomes Teague Egan, Founder and CEO of Energy X.As the world is steadfast in transitioning to sustainable energy, Energy Exploration Technologies Inc. (EnergyX) has a mission to power the future. Founded by serial entrepreneur, Teague Egan, and a team of the world’s leading scientists and sustainable energy veterans, EnergyX is creating revolutionary technology to support the shift to clean energy.
How does someone go from being an astronaut to running the United States Geological Survey?Jim Reilly, Director of the USGS, joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to explain the role of minerals in everyday life. From coal to petroleum to critical minerals, Director Reilly takes us through how humanity has obtained energy has changed over the last 100 years. Renewable energy depends on critical minerals that have to be mined and processed.Director Reilly explains how the USGS coordinates with states and other federal agencies to find and characterize critical mineral deposits, and his vision for the importance of mining to the future of energy. He also discusses the importance of recycling.Director Reilly shares how the USGS coordinates with NASA to map the terrain on Mars to allow spacecraft to land.Check out the USGS resources here - and see if there's a stream gauge near you!
Solid state lithium batteries were on everyone's minds last week following the announcement that Volkswagon-backed battery company QuantumScape was going public via a SPAC.Emily Hersh, host of the Minerals Manhattan Project, virtually sits down with Doug Campbell to understand the context of solid state batteries in the race to electrify transportation. We cover:The basics of solid state batteriesDifferent kinds of solid state electrolytesWhat implications solid state batteries would have on mineral supply chainsDoug's view on the QuantumScape SPAC deal"Anodeless"lithium metal batteries vs. lithium metal foilChallenges and timelinesA must listen episode leading up to Tesla's battery day next week
Howard Klein, aka the Lithium Ion Bull, joins your host Emily Hersh on the Minerals Manhattan Project to dissect how the emergence of a "New Nemaska" looks to the original retail investors.Howard breaks down the bankruptcy process of the infamous Nemaska , as well as how Orion Mine Finance, Pallinghurst, and Investment Quebec finalized a structure to breathe new life - and money- into the now infamous Nemaska Howard gives us a timeline from a rights issue offering through bondholder disputes, as well as how Softbank ended up losing 100 million dollars. Howard explains his opinion on how WeWork collapse peripherally influenced the implosion.This provides a jumping off point to discuss how none of the debt for Nemaska ever went into the ground - and what that can teach equity investors about capital structures for early stage projects.Howard also explains some of those stock terms like SPACs, and how platforms like Robinhood are bringing in a new generation of retail investors.Howard answers the question, are there any stock movements that investors should watch out for?@lithiumionbull
Emily Hersh, host of the Minerals Manhattan Project, is joined by Simon Moores, CEO and founder of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Simon and Emily chat about ExxonMobile going from the Dow's most valuable company to falling off the index, and what that means for when the critical minerals supply chain will catch up to supply the world's battery gigafactories. We chat about the role of government in recovery from Covid, and Simon shares how Eminem's grammy speech inspired the show-stopping testimony he gave in front of the US Senate. In chatting about possible policy responses from the US Government, Emily suggests borrowing the portfolio approach taken by the pharmaceutical industry in developing a vaccine for Operation Warp Speed.We go through a few rumors in the lithium market and catch up on where we think next year is headed.To keep up with Simon, follow him on Twitter at @SDMoores and Benchmark Minerals at @benchmarkmin
Your host Emily Hersh of the Minerals Manhattan Project is joined by Cassandra Garrison, Argentina Correspondent for Reuters, to break down just exactly how the United States is planning to counter China's role as the investment bank for mining and infrastructure projects in Latin America.Cassandra has recently published a series of articles focusing on the controversial nomination of hardliner Mauricio Claver-Carone to head the Inter American Development Bank, a role that has traditionally been filled by someone from Latin America.Cassandra explains why Claver-Carone is controversial, and why the IADB (or BID by it's Spanish acronym) matters in the region despite limited lending capacity of roughly US $ 12 billion.Cassandra puts the Claver-Carone controversy into context with the other US initiatives to bring supply chains closer to home, including a newly empowered Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the America Crece initiative, and others.Cassandra breaks down the scope of China's investment in Latin America, and gives us an idea of what would be necessary from the United States to stack up to the famous Belt-and-Road initiative bankrolling infrastructure and mining projects in America's backyard. 
Emily Hersh and the The Minerals Manhattan Project catches up with Joe Bryan after his testimony before the United States Senate to understand why all the attention on critical minerals hasn't translated into more aggressive action within the US. Joe shares his path from working with the US Navy to his current roles today in Washington DC, and how US military technology is increasingly reliant on batteries that have logistics support chains.Batteries solve the logistics challenge presented by convoys that transport fuel in hostile territory by widening the range of power sources, and the shift in energy is impacting the US geopolitical position especially with China.
David Livingston, Senior Analyst with Eurasia Group joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to discuss how deeply China dominates critical mineral supply chains, and why that is a result of direct, strategic planning that has taken place over the past two decades.David explains the different stages of supply chains that are dominated by Chinese actors as well as equity ownership via investment. He shares his views on how partisanship and short-term action have shaped US action in the past on these critical minerals supply chains.@DLinDC
As the world moves towards an electric vehicle future, a great deal of attention has been given to the effects of mining and environmental impact of producing batteries. One major area of attention is what happens to these batteries at the end of life, and how to keep them from being thrown into the trash.But what does recycling mean, and is it actually as environmentally friendly as we'd all like it to be?Tim Johnston, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Li-Cycle, joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to walk us through what it means to recycle a battery.We talk about traditional and newer battery recycling processes and compare their waste streams, carbon emissions, and products they produce.Tim explains how a battery comes apart into plastic, metals, and "black matter" - the active material in the battery - and what different recycling streams can be used to product new products.Emily drills Tim on the economics of each step of the recycling process, from the plastics to the metals through the black mass active material for manufacturing new batteries. Tim describes the hydro-metallurgical process used by Li-Cycle to recover lithium, nickel, cobalt, and graphite ready to re-enter battery and other industrial processes.
Tesla has announced that Battery Day 2020 will happen September 22, and rumors of a "million mile battery" have dominated headlines.But what exactly does a"million mile" battery mean? The Minerals Manhattan Project catches up with Sam Jaffe, Managing Partner of Cairn ERA to understand what Tesla's announcements mean for the battery industry.Tesla's announcements matter for the entire battery ecosystem, who will be judged against where Tesla is. Sam breaks down what $ per kwh means as a metric for battery costs, and why the magic US $100/kwh as a parity point with ICE vehicles is an oversimplification.We discuss vertical integration vs. specialization, with Sam predicting that EV companies will not become fully integrated battery makers.Sam shares what he sees as the most important technology developments within the battery (thicker electrodes), and what pack design is doing to improve energy density (cell-to-pack). We get into cathode chemistries and costs of raw materials, including the LFP vs high nickel debate.If you want more Sam, you can follow him on twitter or check out his website:@SamJaffe
A week ago, Alex Grant, Emily Hersh, Carlos Daniel Galli, Daniel Jimenez Schuster, Murray Brooker and chatted for two hours on the question, "Is lithium brine water?"We discussed hydrogeologyenvironmental impactswhose responsibility it is to ensure that a lithium brine project does not impact water availability for humans, animals, and other things which we value.The consensus was that the lithium industry has done a poor job at communicating its water impacts. Also, that decades of hydrogeological data from operating projects should be leveraged to ensure that expansions and new projects don't create unacceptable environmental impacts. Scientific data is key for making these decisions and we need more of it.We believe lithium brine operators should act more like a collaborative industry even if they are competitors. Together, these challenges may be addressable, and the water "question" hanging over brine operations could go away. If that doesn't happen, it could prevent South American brines from capturing much of the growth in the lithium market, which they have already failed to do in the 2010s. This wouldn't be a good outcome, since brines are a low CO2 emission source of #lithium chemicals.If you'd like to read the summary, you can find it here:
Of all the battery metals, the cobalt supply chain has been under the most scrutiny due to illegal and unethical mining practices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).Trent Mell, the CEO of First Cobalt, joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to dispel some myths about the cobalt supply chain, and discuss the possibility of building up a battery quality cobalt chemical supply chain completely in North America.Trent and Emily discuss the misconception that any cobalt sourced from the DRC is related to child labor or unethical practices. Trent explains why First Cobalt's strategy has focused on beginning with the advanced processing step and getting qualified into the battery supply chain first, and taking on the mining portion second.We discuss how ESG and lifecycle analysis are changing what's expected of mining companies, and why Covid19 may accelerate the electrification of transportation and customers demands for understanding the supply chain.We consider how buzzwords like blockchain simplify the complex process of a more holistic approach to responsible mining.Trent Mell and First Cobalt are a leader in developing North America's ability to compete in battery metals and the battery supply chain.Follow Trent Mell on Twitter here: First Cobalt on Twitter here:
What can we learn from islands? Especially in the age of virtual events and supply chain disruptions, quite a bit.James Ellsmoor, Director at Island Innovation, joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to share lessons in sustainable development from islands.Islands present an interesting case where electricity is sometimes orders of magnitude more expensive than other locations, even though income is lower. This theoretically provides an incentive to innovate more quickly, because high energy costs should make new technologies economically viable more quickly. In practice though, islands are a case study in short term action that can be detrimental to the development of long term sustainability. Small populations make it difficult to deliver government services such a healthcare because of lack of scale. Food dependency and vulnerability to natural disasters are also weaknesses highlighted in the current environment.James's experience bringing islands together via virtual summits has also come to be an in demand skill set in this age of seemingly endless zoom meetings and seminars. James shares the psychology behind creating a virtual summit that can allow participation and connection even from behind a screen.Follow James on twitter @jellsmoor or get in touch with him about virtual summits here:
Elena Piech is usually the production talent on the other side of the microphone, but for episode 10 of the Minerals Manhattan Project I sat down with her to talk about the advanced technology related to augmented and virtual reality.Especially during this period of lockdown and quarantine, people are getting more and more accustomed to living greater parts of their lives online. Zoom has become a household name, and every person you know using a virtual background or filter has incorporated augmented reality into their daily lives.Elena and I discuss the impacts that going virtual will have on multiple industries, especially on conferences and other events that are usually in person.We talk through the physical supply chains for these advanced technologies, and how Covid19 actually disrupted the ability to get ahold of VR headsets. Elena shares her insight on why even technology-savvy people don't grasp that the metals and materials that make up their devices started in a mine.A timely look at how the virtual world is becoming increasingly more important in our lives.
CEO of US Critical Minerals Jesse Edmondson joins the Minerals Manhattan Project from the heart of coal country in the southeast of the United States.Jesse gets into why -  despite the fact that the United States is a mineral rich country - there are few critical minerals mining projects active today.As a geologist, Jesse walks us through the mineral exploration process from discovery through the decision to build a mine, and why it has lengthier timeline than those outside the industry appreciate. He puts critical minerals into context with the "all mining is coal mining" mentality that pervades the United States to explain why most mineral exploration - even in the United States - is undertaken by publicly listed Canadian or Australian companies.Jesse explains the lack of federal regulation or oversight for mining in the United States, and how mineral rights and surface rights are related but impacted by history. Critical minerals differ from traditional commodities because of an advanced processing step required to get them "technology ready," a hurdle that makes advancing new projects in the US challenging due to supply chain qualification processes.For more Jesse Edmondson on Critical Minerals, the link below is  Jesse giving a presentation in collaboration with the Payne Institute of the Colorado School of Mines and the Institute of the Americas
Emily Hersh is joined by Hamutal Ben Bassat, the VP of Business Development at Nano One Materials Corp. Hamatul discusses the pendulum swing between full specialization at one extreme, and pure vertical integration at the other, and industries oscillate between the two at different points of history.Hamutal uses the silicon chip industry and IBM's experience to show that companies face a conflict between increasing profit margin and maintaining control.In the current battery and electric vehicle markets, this is a shift. Traditionally, Auto OEMs have been able to focus on the core competencies of the power train and design, but successfully been able to outsource manufacturing and leverage control while enjoying lower prices.The rise of the EV is based on the battery, and OEMs have realized that they cannot afford to be so far removed from these supply chains without losing margins. In a global economy without limitations like tariffs, taxes, and logistics, control isn't necessary and the pendulum swings to towards full specialization. At this point in history however, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Vertical integration driven by complex supply chains and a desire for control are driving EV battery supply chains.  
Jeremy Martin is the VP for Energy and Sustainability at the Institute of the Americas. He joins the Minerals Manhattan Project to share his thoughts on the rising role of China in the Americas.Jeremy tells the story of why the Institute of the Americas was founded, and the market-based private sector push to better the relationship between the role of commerce and economic development in communications.We get how the Cold War and private sector influenced the relationship between the United States and Latin America, but tied into a new reality where low and negative oil prices have influenced both the United States and Argentina to enact anti-market policies to prop up the market.Jeremy shares how populist leaders in Latin America like Mexico's AMLO play with terms like "neoliberalism" while implementing austerity. At the same time, the United States has turned inwards with anti-trade, anti-immigration rhetoric. Emily challenges what she sees as a "capitalism on the way up, socialism on the way down" approach from policymakers in the United States, and Jeremy counters with the intersection of policymaking and politics. We discuss the sad reality that the current pandemic is destroying the idea of American exceptionalism and "values".Pivoting to China, we discuss whether or not "China" has crept up as a major force in the Americas. Jeremy goes into the Belt and Road initiative, demonstrating the state directed push to invest in Latin American energy assets and infrastructure. In Latin America, China is playing the kind of long game that the United States is just not good at. Jeremy gives his "hot take" on the relationship between multilateralism and leadership, and what it means as the United States pulls back from global leadership roles, emphasizing the rise of bilateralism. In the Americas, the concept of a just energy transition has a special weight because there are dependencies on oil and gas that can't be ignored.We end the conversation discussing what Jeremy sees unfolding over the next decade, using the former fear of "peak oil" to demonstrate how much uncertainty really exists technologically. 
Anthony Milewski, Chairman of Conic Metals, joins the Minerals Manhattan Project on a historic day: one day after oil prices went into negative territory.We discuss the relationship between power and minerals, and the difference between the stock market and the real economy. While governments can print money and stimulate the economy with excess liquidity in financial assets, the phenomenon in oil shows that there is a dichotomy between the financial paper world and the real physical, tangible things that have to go somewhere. Over the past decade, technical investment strategies have defined the stock market. Anthony describes how in a post 2008 world, risk management has moved money away from exposure to illiquid assets especially in periods of volatility, as well as into ETFs and algorithmic trading rather than active management.In a COVID19 environment in a technically driven market, all assets become risk assets. This shift has hit mining companies more than other players, as large pools of passively managed, risk-intolerant capital can't provide the growth equity mining companies need. As Anthony puts it, for passively managed capital, "There's no one to call up."Oil's dive into negative territory illustrates how risk is being quantified by the market - everyone wants liquidity at any cost, and fund managers want out at any cost. When you add leverage to the picture and the entire market grosses down, the de-levering process can cause the whole asset class to go down.As central banks around the world jump in to backstop economies across the world, the relationship between currencies and commodities is going to come into focus. Anthony shares his thoughts on the USD as the global trade currency, and whether or not this will be a tipping point in unwinding US dollar hegemony. Linking that back to the US dollar, this ties into the geopolitics of large oil exporting nations tied to an unfriendly currency. When you consider the role of energy in mining a cryptocurrency like bitcoin, or mining gold, there are relationships between these activities.We go into whether the outcome of COVID19 will be deflationary or inflationary, with Anthony making the case that technology is inherently deflationary, while printing money in the long term is inflationary. The unintended result of government intervention will be that people who are long financial assets will become richer, which will compound income distribution inequality and fuel populism.And so - where are the opportunities? As things normalize, there will be runs on metals like copper or nickel where a supply crunch is inevitable due to time from discovery to mine. If we hit an inflationary cycle, commodities will all benefit, but they might not have hit their lows yet. Infrastructure spending will benefit copper, iron ore, and maybe even coal. Saving the stock market is less a master plan and more of need to prop up a system, but will not in the long run benefit the majority of Americans. Anthony sees further supply chain consolidation from China as financial actors in the United States continue to prioritize short term quarterly and annual goals rather than long term goals. 
One of the bright young minds in the lithium extraction space gets into the nitty gritty of a hot technology topic: Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) from lithium bearing brines.Alex gets into how the DLE vs conventional debate is a myth, as there is no such thing as a "cut and paste" evaporation process that works across all lithium brines. In 2020, the case to separate the lithium directly from the brine is stronger than ever as lithium demand is growing at 15-20% per year, while the other byproducts are growing at GDP rates.Alex uses his philosophy degree to walk us through the five different processes or technologies that make up a DLE toolkit, and how they work:AdsorptionIon ExchangeSolvent ExtractionMembranesElectrochemical We discuss the addition of other reagents to brines, and the "golden rule" of DLE: you're not allowed to add any chemical or reagent that wasn't there before or it becomes contamination. In the same vein of conversation, we address how re-injection of brine could affect dilution and future recovery rates.Alex shares how adapting geological techniques from the oil and gas industry can help improve modeling the behavior of brine resources over time, taking into account extraction and re-injection.One of Alex's major touch points is that DLE is not new - FMC and Livent have been using an adsorptive DLE process for the better part of two decades.  Alex gets into what is new - but how the process of going from the lab to scale requires time and is not straightforward.The most important takeaway is that DLE processes are very project or brine specific - and the growth in the community of new technologies that are under development has created an innovative ecosystem.Emily takes Alex on a trip down memory lane to the Qinghai brine story that was all the rage in 2018, and whether or not the lithium carbonate produced was lower quality and why. How much of quality is determined by brine feedstock vs. extraction technology? And how does dependence on brine quality change as your DLE toolkit becomes more developed.Alex explains how size still matters with DLE, and that low grade and small resources are still not interesting projects despite the technology. DLE makes access to infrastructure more important as processes require additional energy and reagents.We finish off by considering how COVID19 could promote more local supply chains, as well as unlock creativity in technology and help develop a nuanced approach to building our future. 
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