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Metal Market News - February 2018

2018 looks like another exciting year for our sector, full of dramatic fluctuations, new discoveries and fresh ways to harness metals for the good of humankind. Welcome to the rollercoaster ride. Here’s the latest.

New welding tech essential for the US’ ageing nuclear energy plants

America’s nuclear power plants are getting old. Most were constructed back in the ’70s but they still generate as much as 20% of the nation’s power. As nuclear power plants age, materials that have suffered from decades of exposure to powerful radiation will probably need repairing or replacement. Which means advanced welding techniques are essential for extending the plants’ operational lives.  

As reported by Science Daily, US scientists are busy testing a new system designed to advance welding technologies to the point when they can repair these super-irradiated materials, developing ideal processing conditions and evaluating the properties of the best post-weld materials.  

The welding system is housed inside a special ‘hot cell’ at ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. This keeps the equipment safely enclosed so laser and friction-stir welding can be tested. The idea is to  pin down the best techniques, those which introduce less stress than conventional welding and also cut the risk of cracking. Let’s hope they succeed! 

CopperBank Resources’ fast-growing copper mountain

Mining News North features an article about CopperBank Resources Corp, which drilled an impressive 13 holes through 2017, adding over 160 million pounds of copper to its Alaska Peninsula-based Pyramid project. And by all accounts it only took a small investment to drive the increase. 

CopperBank’s Executive Chairman Gianni Kovacevic believes copper has a bright future as a ‘green’ metal thanks to the exponential growth in demand for tech running on electricity. He predicts a 50% hike in demand as greener power generation takes over from fossil fuels. Take electric cars, just one element of an equation set to see the widespread electrification of global energy. Wind turbines are another. They need 500% more copper to generate every megawatt, and when you site them offshore, that percentage doubles.  

The government’s focus on Brexit leaves our steel industry out in the cold  

Redcar, in Teesside, sits at the heart of the country’s steel industry. When over 100 workers, industry experts and politicians attended a conference there, including representatives from Tata, Liberty and Celsa, plenty of them expressed concern that the government’s strong focus on all matters Brexit is getting in the way of the badly-needed new steel sector deal they’ve been promised. At the same time, the steel community union is sure that a new ‘golden age of steelmaking’ is entirely possible, as long as there’s a real and lasting commitment to overcome the challenges faced today.

According to Jon Bolton, the chief executive of Liberty Steel, it is getting quite difficult at the moment to get attention from politicians. And this all-consuming focus on Brexit and its impact means some key areas of the British economy are being neglected. At the  same time steel’s market conditions are better than they have been for a while, since a fall in the value of the pound has made exporting the metal cheaper and EU tariffs have been slapped on Chinese and Russian imports. 

The UK government says it’s working to help protect and grow the industry, and the Business Minister Richard Harrington MP acknowledges the steel sector is in serious need of investment, research and development. All this stands against a landscape where UK crude steel production is seen by most as stable, even though global production of the metal went up by 5% last year. 

As metal stockists we don’t stock gold – but this is such a brilliant story!  

Some metal news is just too good to resist. We don’t stock gold, obviously, but we were fascinated to hear about a particularly clever kind of bacteria called C. metallidurans. It doesn’t just withstand intense concentrations of heavy metals, which is amazing enough in itself. It also digests them and gives off actual gold as a by-product. Scientists have recently figured out how the mineral and heavy metal soil-loving bacteria do it. They’ve found a way to avoid being poisoned, and the process naturally creates something called ‘secondary gold’, a finding recently reported by Metallomics magazine (http://www.rsc.org/journals-books-databases/about-journals/metallomics/). 

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