Monday, November 23, 2009
What's in a Battery for Eureka County?
It is 5:58 AM, grab a cup and it looks like we're starting the week with another record. Gold popped above $1170 this morning in London, last Monday it broke the $1130 level - I could get used to starting the week this way!
The Colonel promised last week that we'd take a closer look at other metals that may play an important part in our future. The Report to date has identified lithium, vanadium and silver as key players in the emerging alternative energy world. There are massive lithium carbonate deposits in nearby Humboldt County, promising vanadium deposits in the southeast corner of our county and silver remains an important by-product of current gold production (silver is Nevada's fourth highest produced metal).
If you're just catching up with this exciting story here are some background articles:
The Next Big Thing in Northern Nevada (The Eureka Miner's Market Report, 9/28/2009)
A Big Step into the Future for Eureka County (The Eureka Miner's Market Report, 10/23/2009)
A Silver Lining for the Silver State? (The Eureka Miner's Market Report, 11/16/2009)
Today let's dig a little deeper in the mineshaft and understand what new roles each of these metals may play. A common challenge to alternative energy schemes is energy storage. Electric energy is what you pay Mt. Wheeler for and it flows reliably out of your wall plug whenever you need it. If we relied on a wind machine or solar panel to do the same we'd need someway to store energy when "the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine". High-tech batteries offer one solution to ensure continuous power from intermittent electric generation.
You may someday own an electric or electric-hybrid car to save gas on those Elko trips to WalMart while the F-250 rests at home for the tough work (say when gasoline is $10/gallon, heaven forbid). In either case, your new-fangled auto will carry a lot of high-tech batteries to get you there and back.
For applications like an electric car, "energy density" is very important. Now don't run out of the break room pardner, we don't have to return to that hated high school physics class to figure this one out. It just takes a little common sense. If you're going to pack around a passel of batteries, you'd probably like them to be light and not take up too much space. There's got to be somewhere to put your week's WalMart supplies or this whole electric concept isn't worth a bucket of horse you-know-what.
That's all energy density means and it has two flavors: energy-per-weight and energy-per-space. We're all familiar with that clunky lead-acid battery under our hood, let's use it to compare energy density with hi-tech batteries. Let's start with energy-per-weight and give that old Diehard a value of 1.0.
Energy per weight
Lead-acid - 1.0
Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) - 2.0
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) - 2.9 to 5.7
Silver-zinc - 3.7
Vanadium redox - 0.3 to 0.5
OK, that's pretty cool. The lithium-ion or silver-zinc batteries can store three to nearly six times as much energy as Mr. Diehard. The Vanadium redox battery is actually worse than our old friend but it will have a saving grace in a moment. What about space? Here's a similar comparison:
Energy per space
Lead-acid - 1.0
Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) - 1.7
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) - 1.4 to 2.0
Silver-zinc - 2.8
Vanadium redox - 0.08 to 0.14
Again the lithium and silver batteries are star performers offering significant space savings for the same energy stored. The vanadium battery looks like a real loser in this comparison but it has a terrific feature.
The Colonel likes to think of the vanadium redox battery as the old work horse; not worth a damn in a race but the only pony that can plow all day. For some applications, size and weight aren't as critical as they are for an electric-powered car. This is where vanadium shines. It is the only battery chemistry ideally suited for handling mega-watt power applications. For wind and solar farms, the energy storage device can sit in one place fat, dumb and happy. The vanadium redox battery offers almost unlimited capacity simply by using larger and larger storage tanks, it can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects and it can be recharged simply by replacing the electrolyte if no power source is available to charge it.
Furthermore, some scientists believe the vanadium redox energy densities can be improved someday for electric car applications. In this scenario, you'd fill your car up with a fresh electrolyte just like you fill with gasoline today. Another pump for Marge's Chevron buckaroos and vanadium is in our backyard at the Gibellini mine site!
Before we get too excited, remember that alternative energy demand for lithium, vanadium and silver are some years away and other battery chemistries may be discovered that are superior in the meantime. Whatever the case, the Colonel believes energy storage is a technology coming our way in one form or another and will prove economically beneficial to resource-rich Northern Nevada and Eureka County.
Enough future talk, let's walk the walk:
4-WD is OFF - the VIX or "fear index" is below 25, smoother road market conditions expected (what's this?)
Yellow light is ON for possible adverse regulation/legislation (mercury emissions)
Otherwise, all lights are green on the Eureka Outlook Dashboard (upper right, what's this?)
Oil is up $1.89 in early trading to $79.36 (January contract, most active); Gold is up $23.2 to $1170.0 (December contract, most active); Silver is up $0.380 to $18.820(December contract); Copper is up $0.0585 to $3.1665 (December contract); Molybdenum is steady at $12.00
The DOW is up 154.63 points to 10472.79; the S&P 500 is up 18.56 points to 1109.94. The miners are doing cartwheels:
Barrick (ABX) $45.33 up 3.07%
Newmont (NEM) $54.39 up 4.08%
General Moly (Eureka Moly, LLC) (GMO) $2.44 up 4.72%
Freeport McMoran (FCX) $83.73 up 2.55% (a bellwether mining stock spanning gold, copper & molybdenum)
Steel stocks are pouring metal, (a "tell" for General Moly):
Nucor (NUE) $42.10 up 2.36% - domestic steel manufacturing
ArcelorMittal (MT) $39.14 up 3.33% - global steel producer
POSCO (PKX) $122.69 up 3.14% - South Korean integrated steel producer
The Eureka Miner's Grubstake Portfolio is is up 2.79% to $1,311,181.93 (what is this?).