Big Lithium and the Golden Rule - a tailing of 2 elements

Posted On: Monday - September 18th 2023 7:18PM MST
In Topics: 
  China  Economics  Geography  Science

Just a couple of decades ago, the idea of a realistic electric vehicle was not very easy to imagine, because the energy storage ability was just not there. Running practical EV's is all about the ability to store energy in batteries. The physicists, electrical engineers, chemists, chemical engineers and materials scientists have made some great headway as of late. Of the new materials that are used, Lithium is a component of the biggest, newest battery technology*. The lithium ion batteries that are used in electric vehicles are also in all the iCrap now, a 2nd big market (with many more instances of use, but at a couple of orders of magnitude lower energy storage).

The lithium ion batteries store a LOT of energy, an amount unimaginable last century. That these batteries can cause serious and difficult-to-extinguish fires and ought not to be let ride in the un-reachable cargo compartments of passenger aircraft give us an idea. These are not your Grandaddy's Dry Cells. They are not your energizer bunny power supplies, unless you like to see your bunny running energetically down the bunny trail with its fluffy tail on fire.

To be fair now to "fossil fuels", let me say that, as of right now, these batteries are said to have an energy density of ~ 1 MJ/kg tops, while the chemical potential energy in gasoline is 45 times that much, 45 MJ/kg. Batteries, you got a long way to go, baby!

It's not as blessed as America is with many resources, but when it comes to the newly-in-demand Rare Earth metals (for motors) and Lithium, China has been indeed blessed. (It helps that nobody is let to get in the way of the big projects too, but that's a subject for another China post.) However, Nevada, "The Silver State", has been blessed with material resources too. Whatever else would you do out there but ranching, playing blackjack, operating the oldest profession, burying your silver stash, and digging some more to get stuff OUT of the ground.

The biggest news there is the finds of massive amounts of Lithium in what's called the McDermitt Caldera in northwestern Nevada. A large mine has been started up at Thacker Pass. The latest find, after this, has resulted in back-o-the-envelope calculations of 20 to 40 million tons of Lithium there, off that dirty Winnemucca Road, near the Oregon border in an area of ~600 mi2. If you've ever driven through the State, as I have on probably 6 different full routes across, you may understand that this is a small chunk of land in Nevada.

It's a YUGE find. This is some good news. Granted, mineral extraction is not manufacturing - it, along with farming and lumbering, are known as "primary industries". Manufacturing, to me, is somehow more important, just one of the reasons for which I'll explain shortly. Still, this mining of Lithium is wealth creation, in America, something to see, baby... Less reliance on the Chinese economy is a good thing for us.

While reading about the Thacker Pass mine on the wiki page, I ran into something concerning. The company that's operating it is 1/4 owned by the Chinese! Great, so we're trying to be less reliant on that economy, but with a 1/4 share, I'm pretty sure the Chinese investors will have a bias as to where much of this Lithium will go. Sure, one may say, this mineral is a commodity, and it'll go to the highest bidder, but then the Chinese are one people, a tribe, if you will. That free market stuff is used for their purposes, when it helps, but they do not play fair when it's not good for China.

Will America, like Australia pretty much is right now, become an economic colony of China? Right now, lumber is cut down here and in Canada, shipped across the Pacific freaking Ocean, made into furniture in China, and shipped back across the Pacific freaking Ocean... bulk one way, and bulky stuff in containers the other way. We are a colony when it comes to this furniture industry (albeit, not completely). That's what an economic colony is about, as with the sugar and coffee plantations in Latin America. Extract raw goods and ship 'em home, manufacture finished goods out of them, and sell some of that back to the colonies.

"Well", one may say, "just make some laws about the ownership of companies - and real estate while we're at it - by foreigners". I ask the reader at this point, if he's still interested, to read the 2 3/4 y/o Peak Stupidity series Will America be looted by China?:
Part 1: Intro.
Part 2: Housing
Part 3: Big Biz
Part 4: The Fruited Plain
Part 5: The Wilderness
Part 6: Conclusion - The Golden Rule

That title of Part 6 does not refer to the Christian Golden Rule about "Doing unto others..." The much more widely adhered-to International version goes "He who hath the gold, maketh the rules." America is figuratively and literally giving the gold to China on a yearly basis to the tune of about half a Trillion dollars.

Yeah, so who's in charge of our economy again and these big Lithium mines?

PS: That one article I linked to and the wiki page on that Thatcher Pass mine have a lot of info on objections to this industry by various usual suspects. We'll have at least one more post on that subject.

* See, we're talking actual technology that doesn't mean a software package, though software is involved in getting these things charged and discharged efficiently, I'm sure.

** Don't take the quote marks for my not believing at all in the theory of these fuels originating from fossilized life. I'm no geologist, biologist, whatever - I don't know, but one wonders ... Quote marks are there just to delineate the term.

Adam Smith
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 10:25PM MST
PS: Good evening, Mr. Moderator,

Cheers! ☮
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 8:52PM MST
PS: Adam, thanks for the coal-burning EV meme. I missed that earlier.

Also, about Uber, in China, there's an entity that I believe is an uber-Uber. I need to find out more, but I think that most taxis in the country, and there are a LOT - use the system. I'll write about that, but I may need to find out more info first from someone.
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 8:50PM MST
PS: "If you did the math, the parent had a negative value net of its share of the subsidiary. Which was ridiculous " Indeed. It got pretty ridiculous in general, but at one point, I was || this close to getting a 2nd mortgage to do some day trading. (I had a real job at the time, but STILL!)

My friend did very well with 2 or 3 of his brothers' money, sometimes making them 3 or 4 grand in a day - a lot more 25 years ago. When he started "investing" his own money, he kind of lost his ass. Different psychology of his own, I guess.
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 8:46PM MST
PS: Thanks for the interesting comments, all! About the market cap thing, I was never much in "the market", so the first time I remember thinking of this idea was during the dot-com bubble period right at 25 years ago. "OK, so you're selling pet food over the internet, so your company is worth how many Billion $ again?"

"Goodwill", as they call it, the marketing, sales, and customer base that's been developed is worth something, but still... Boeing has huge manufacturing facilities with these Billions of bucks worth of tooling, jigs and engineering development knowledges. You guys have some server space, phone lines, some desks, what else? Yet the internet company would have a market cap more than some big actually industrial corp. It didn't make sense, but the psychology of it kept it going a while.

Amazon was an exception as it kept growing market share without making a profit for many years. Did Bezos know it would end up this big?
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 5:37PM MST
Market capitalization has a number of oddities about it. For many companies you look at their profits and shares and do a little math to see what the dividend stream will give you if you own shares.
If a company doesn't declare dividends, or hasn't yet declared a profit, then how can you value it? Basically you look at what it could grow into, when it does finally become profitable.
This can lead to a lot of wild guessing, depending on what the rest of the market is doing. If some other similar companies (or even one other company) does well, then suddenly it may be worth more (It's a bigger market than we thought!) or less (the other company will eat this one's lunch!).
This is hardly the first time there have been unrealistic valuations though. I vaguely remember one (internet, exciting) company back in the dot-com era which was 20%(?) owned by another (non-internet, boring) company, but both were public, and so you could calculate their market caps.
If you did the math, the parent had a negative value net of its share of the subsidiary. Which was ridiculous - it's not like the parent was in financial trouble.
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 12:00PM MST
Yes, Mr. M, many of these commercial interpreters / business agents in China are very presentable. I once spent some time conducting scholarly research through the bios on a website where they advertised (Freeiva). Most include photographs showing that they are presentable, and some, in the self-authored bios, say that “I want to be not just your business agent, I want to be your friend.” Perhaps you, as a Moderator, smile with professional admiration for the mutually agreed-upon use of the brilliantly ambiguous code word, “friend.”
Adam Smith
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 11:17AM MST
PS: Me again,

Read though my rant, Lol... Please excuse my typos. 🙃

“Oh, on the tracking and other data collection, that's with all cars now, though maybe more prevalent in the EVs. I try to find the fuses for the GPS unit in rent-a-cars...”

Yeah, all the cars are rolling cell phones these days. Not sure that electric cars are any worse than the others. They're all fly by wire and hackable. I'd imagine some of the iSpy tracking features are easier to disable than others. You might even have to pull a few computer modules like the OnStar system found on many GM cars and trucks.

Time to go outside. Cheers!

Adam Smith
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 11:05AM MST
PS: Greetings, Mr. Moderator,

“Is the performance factor in the advertising of EV's due to Tesla's influence?”

Well, I don't know how much of the performance factor is due to Tesla's influence alone (as most American cars tend towards horse power and performance over economy and frugality) but I think it's fair to say that Tesla has indeed influenced the design of EV's in general. If Tesla had focused on economy type cars (or offered an economy option at all) then perhaps other EV makers would have followed suit.

But, it seems to me that because of the high cost of electric cars there is a limited market for these toys. This means that the people who can afford to buy them must be persuaded to do so. (The people who can afford them are exerting influence over which sort of EV's are produced.) These people, it seems, prefer a performance car over an economy car. (Obviously if the people who can afford a Tesla wanted an economy car they could save a bunch of money and buy a Prius or some other less expensive hybrid that was more fuel efficient. Or they could buy a 2000 Mercedes e320 which gets about 30mpg on the highway. I have a feeling that the people who buy a Tesla are doing so partly because of the prestige that comes with owning one.)

Interestingly, Tesla didn't turn any sort of profit for their first 18 years in business. The company first achieved profitability in 2020 with a modest $862 million. And I'm not sure how much of that profit, if any, came from car sales, as Tesla also sells solar panels and battery storage for home use. Apparently they netted $5.5B in 2021 and $12.5B in 2022.

But, again, I'm not sure how much of this came through car sales. Without "government" subsidy and the regulatory carbon credit scheme I don't know that Tesla would be a viable company at all. I really don't understand why Tesla has a market cap of $833B. They do have revenue, and perhaps they've put much of it into infrastructure and such, but with so little profit I don't understand why the company is valued so highly.

And this ideological driven business isn't the only one. Uber is another good example of a company that has never really turned a profit...

“It's taken 14 years and nearly $32 billion of cumulative losses, but ride-sharing and food delivery company Uber (UBER 1.20%) is finally a profitable company.

Uber reported a net income of $394 million in the second quarter. That number includes a $386 million unrealized gain from equity investments, so it's not quite as good as it looks. But still, reporting a GAAP profit is an achievement for a company that has been a chronic money loser for so long.”

Uber enjoys a market cap of $96.27B. How is this even possible. Does wall street really have the power to make winners out of obvious losers?

(To continue my rant...)

Let's look at Occidental Petroleum for a moment. Oxy is a company that, it seems to me, has been punished by wall street for ideological reasons. They value of oxy, much like uber is divorced from reality.

Oxy is one of the world's largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies and a major North American chemical manufacturer. Oxy is the largest oil producer in Texas and the largest natural gas producer in California, with additional operations in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Oxy own's vast mineral interests in the Permian basin and in the Rockies, among other places.

In 2022 Oxy outperformed Tesla with $13.3B in net profit.

Oxy's market cap... $58B!

How is it that OXY, a company with so much real value, is valued at $58B while uber, a company with no real assets that produces nothing and has never really turned a profit is valued at $96B?

How did the market get so divorced from reality here in clown world???

Anyway, that's the end of my rant. I need to go outside in the sun for awhile. Maybe I'll mow the lawn and burn some weeds with my garden torch.

Hope you have a great afternoon, Mr. Moderator & Friends!

Tuesday - September 19th 2023 4:49AM MST
PS: Yes, Adam, the self-immolation is particularly bad because, from what I understand, the oxidizer for the reaction in inherent in the batteries. I.e., of the 3 elements, heat, oxygen, and fuel, that a fire needs to sustain itself, one can't kill it by suffocating it - gotta cool it down, or let it cool. I'm glad to hear about that new type.

Is the performance factor in the advertising of EV's due to Tesla's influence? In the old days of the "Oil Crisis", people would have been proud to driver a Flintstones like vehicle 5 miles from home and back, to spend the night recharging. They've come a long way, but not enough still to compare with hydrocarbon-based fuel. (Of course, where the electricity comes from, well... the neighbors don't see that. They just see your virtuous EV parked next to your LittleFreeLibrary. Nothing against the latter, BTW.)

Oh, on the tracking and other data collection, that's with all cars now, though maybe more prevalent in the EVs. I try to find the fuses for the GPS unit in rent-a-cars...
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 4:41AM MST
PS: Bill, the articles I've read discuss the controversy between what I'd consider real environmentalists v the ones concerned about the not-really-understood non-problem of Global Boiling. It's popcorn time, when it comes to this.

I read about the chemical processes at Thacker Pass. They produce the sulfuric acid there so it won't have to be shipped - potentially even more harmful. It sound pretty nasty. However, I've been all over that desert wasteland, and there's room enough to do these things. But, yeah, you can't call this environmentally friendly when compared to the long-established oil/gas business and the modern cars.
Tuesday - September 19th 2023 4:30AM MST
PS: Thanks again for the book on-line, Adam. Though it's pretty old news - from '09 - I highly recommend "Poorly Made in China", not so much for the advice but for an illustration of the mindset of business people there.

I didn't put in a link to the review last night:
Adam Smith
Monday - September 18th 2023 10:54PM MST
PS: Greetings, Bill,

Funny how what liberals/leftists believe about electric cars (and most everything) is a complete inversion of reality. It's like the people making these policies are either completely stupid or purposely destructive because they're evil.

Perhaps it's both.(?)

Happy evening!

Adam Smith
Monday - September 18th 2023 10:47PM MST
PS: Good evening, Mr. Moderator,

Electric cars are pretty much expensive, fire prone toys compared to real automobiles powered by ICE engines. But, the difficult-to-extinguish fires problem they enjoy could be fixed by using LiFePO4 batteries instead of lithium ion. They pack a little less punch, but they don't self immolate. Of course you'd still have all the other problems the current electric cars have such as charging (refueling) time, weight of the car wearing out tires, brakes and roads faster, cost of battery pack replacement, and the cars themselves being little more than soulless appliances that track your travels. (Among other things.)

Always amazed me that if electric vehicles are supposed to somehow save the environment that the cars they build are all about performance. I would think they would be more like early 80's economy cars. I guess it doesn't much matter as switching to an all electric fleet is a fever dream.


PS: I didn't read the last post. 😉

Bill H
Monday - September 18th 2023 10:34PM MST
PS The Wiki article tries to make the process of mining and processing lithium sound very benign. It is not. On the contrary, it is a positively hellish and highly toxic process.

The Thacker Pass mine will require the transport of 75 semi-trucks daily, 3 million pounds, of molten sulfur to the mine. That’s 3 MILLION POUNDS PER DAY of MOLTEN SULFUR.

It gets worse. This sulfur is BURNED to produce SULFURIC ACID, at the rate of 5800 TONS PER DAY. This acid is mixed with the lithium ore, and the mixture is then pressed through filters which separate the elemental lithium. Once the lithium is removed, what is left, including 5800 tons per day of sulfuric acid, IS RETURNED TO THE PIT.

Previously excavated sections get filled with tailings as the operation progresses, so all of that sulfuric acid is left permanently in the ground.

This is the price of “environmentally friendly” electric cars. Thousands and thousands of tons of sulfuric acid buried in our land in unlined pits, draining into our water tables.
Peak Stupidity Book Club
Monday - September 18th 2023 10:10PM MST
PS: Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the Tactics Behind China's Production Game...

Monday - September 18th 2023 9:21PM MST
PS: Thanks, SafeNow. I didn't know much about this business. I imagine some of these ladies are very attractive too.

The book "Poorly Made in China" that I reviewed may touch on this sort of thing. It was from '09, when America still had the upper hand.

I can tell a story about interpreters and corruption though. You've really gotta get someone you trust to do this work.
Monday - September 18th 2023 9:10PM MST
Often ignored is how China facilitated the capture of American manufacturing by starting a university-level program in commercial interpreting/business agent. Tens of thousands of super-smart, Chinese ladies became English-fluent business agents. Thus, the American company team gets picked up at the airport, driven to its hotel, taken to dinner at a great Chinese restaurant, and the next day the factory tours begin. All for about $200 a day for the services of the high-IQ, proficient, personable, consecutive-or-even-simultaneous interpreter who advertised the particular industries in which she specializes. I wonder if
China is now doing the same thing for Mandarin/Russian business assistsnts.
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