A new generation for critical minerals

It is not easy to find a tipping point: that one moment that can signify a definitive and fundamental change. In the past, true change in minerals and metals has happened over a longer period of time through a series of trends.

But where our industry stands today in 2015, these trends are becoming shorter and change is more rapid. During the past 18 months, there have been more tipping points in our industry than in the entire period since the global financial crisis of 2008.

For critical minerals and metals those key moments of change include: the shale boom and collapse in oil prices, Tesla Motors’ Gigafactory, the subsequent surge of battery megafactories, Apple’s boom in iPhone sales which saw it become the most profitable company in history (p26), and China losing its rare earths WTO case, to name only a few.

Disruptive events are becoming more commonplace in what are fragile and inflexible industries. Disruptive companies, outsiders, are entering these sectors with different rules.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence occupies a privileged position in this time of change. We are to be able to independently analyse those supply chains that are becoming increasingly critical. To start with, we have chosen the battery supply chain and the raw materials of graphite, lithium, cobalt and vanadium.

Benchmark has been established with the mission of providing global supply chain visibility, all the way upstream to the mine. We are independent onlookers to the three core market fundamentals of supply, demand and prices.

Our commitment to this cause is demonstrated with our Supply Chain 20/20 seminars hosted as part of the Benchmark | World Tour 2015 (p3). This is an ambitious tour of eight cities across four continents, and has never before been done in our industry. And what’s more, it’s free, for every delegate from London to Hong Kong.

All of our product offerings will be built upon the bedrock of first-hand data collection.

Benchmark’s analysts collect prices and production data from the source by travelling around the world to see the mines and processing plants that create the products we evaluate.

Our own in-house, transparent methodology will ensure the accuracy, reliability and trustworthiness of this data. The expertise of our analysts will ensure relevance, telling you what the data means, why something is happening and where we are heading.

Niche minerals, major markets 

With our world becoming increasingly mobile, the need for better, longer-lasting, lower cost batteries is paramount. We could not have these batteries without the graphite, lithium and cobalt that make up the anode and cathode components.

A host of critical minerals and metals make smartphones and tablet PCs possible, including rare earths, antimony, gallium and tantalum. Meanwhile, the majority of electric vehicles are still reliant on a permanent rare earth magnet, let alone a huge battery.

On the energy side, the US shale boom rests upon a specific grade of sand or engineered mineral products known as proppants. The growing need for cleaner energy sources is driving up demand for uranium feedstock for nuclear power, but it could take up to a decade to finance and build a new mine.

The recent resurgence of solar power is increasing pressure on its most critical of raw materials, silicon, which is derived from a handful of high-purity quartz mines around the world. Meanwhile, wind turbines cannot operate without a neodymium (rare earths again), high-performance magnet.

These renewable energy sources will become increasingly reliant, again, on batteries: this time large stationary units to store the intermittent power generated.

If we rewind the clock five years, knowledge of these critical minerals was not widespread. Few anticipated the importance and scale of the role they would play in future technologies. But these raw materials feed global industries that are on the tipping point of becoming industrial-sized sectors influencing every part of our daily lives.

It is no longer that change is coming, but change is here. We are in a new era for minerals and metals, driven by a new generation.