Weekly Nugget

Volkswagen's One Umbrella Battery Strategy

Volkswagen's Chief Technology Officer Thomas Schmall in an interview highlighted its battery ambitions with an investment in US-based QuantumScape.

In the interview, Schmall was questioned on the strategy behind Volkswagen battery production. Schmall noted that with batteries, raw material costs are the important factor as they amount to 80% of the costs of a battery. 

When asked about any specific contracts with lithium or cobalt producers, Schmall noted that Volkswagen Swedish partner Northvolt has already done several and this could provide a direction for VW to consider across their entire material supply chain. 

The German reporter continued to interrogate about responsibility over sourcing raw materials and Schmall avoided a direct answer as to whether they would get into mining. 

“If the basic logic is that we do everything under one umbrella and run the planned factories uniformly, the answer is yes. We want to pivot to the battery business. We at Volkswagen want to sit in the driver’s seat and steer the operative business with the new factories. This will also ensure that we can introduce the announced standard battery across all Group brands.” 

While no direct answer over whether Volkswagen would get into mining, it is clear that they will have to look into where and how their material arrives at the battery factory floor.

Back in September 2020, Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape, a solid-state cell battery company, listed on public markets through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company "SPAC" Kensington Capital and now trades on the NYSE under the symbol "QS."

The automaker invested a total of $300 million in QuantumScape since 2012, including $200 million in 2020.

In March, Volkswagen outlined a plan to have six 40 GWh cell manufacturing plants with a total of 240 GWh of capacity by 2030. 

Prospector Portal has 136 lithium and 131 cobalt projects with technical reports.

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Rio Tinto Makes Historic Aboriginal Appointment to Board

Rio Tinto has made its first Aboriginal board appointment, hiring ex Western Australian state treasurer Ben Wyatt as it hopes to rebuild its reputation following last year’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge rockshelters.

Wyatt, 47, retired from state parliament in March after a 15-year career that included time as Aboriginal affairs minister, where he helped reshape legislation to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Wyatt has family ties to the Pilbara region. He will join Rio as a non-executive director

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Barrick Inching Towards Porgera Gold Mine Restart, Papua New Guinea

Barrick Gold’s (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD) chief executive Mark Bristow met with Papua New Guinea prime minister, James Marape to negotiate the details around opening the open pit gold mine. 

A deal, outlined in April 2020, sets up a joint venture where PNG stakeholders will have a 51% stake and Barrick Niugini Ltd. (BNL) 49%. PNG interests will own the mine, but BNL remains as the operator of the mine.

The agreement outlines for 10% of the 51% in the agreement to be allocated to Porgera Landowners and the Enga Province. The details of this arrangement are yet to be determined. 

Bristow estimates that if everything runs smoothly, Porgera will be able to restart later this year.

The operation has been closed for over a year, after Barrick and its Chinese partner, Zijin Mining, disputed with the PNG government and Marape refused to renew the companies’ mining license.

Porgera is an open pit and underground gold mine in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea, about 600 kilometres northwest of Port Moresby. It produced ~600,000 ounces of gold in 2019 before the dispute.

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Brazil's Bolsonaro Makes Anti-Mining Pledge with Indigenous group 

Cecilia Jasmine of the Northern Miner reports that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil promised the Yanomami indigenous people that he would respect their wishes to keep mining out of their Amazonia reservation. However, he still has plans to use other indigenous lands for agriculture and mining.

The group is the largest of South America’s indigenous tribes and live in relative isolation from the outside world. The group had asked the right-wing president to protect their lands from mining, particularly from illegal operations and mines.

“If you do not want mining, there will be no mining. There are indigenous brothers in other places, inside and outside the Amazon that do want mining, that want to cultivate the land, and we are going to respect their wishes.”

Bolsonaro’s gestures stem from allegations that the tribe’s lands are being seized while they themselves have come under attack from illegal miners, known locally as garimpeiros.

In the past year, the Yanomami have been warning of conflict on their reserve of 96,000 square kilometers spread over the states of Roraima and Amazonas and home to ~27,000 indigenous people.

Bolsonaro had advance a military operation dubbed "Operation Green Brazil" to help protect the Amazon from wildcat mining operations and illegal logging. 

However, this push appears to be more a part of an exercise in sovereignty over the vast wilderness filled with valuable minerals, crop lands and logging.  

The Washington Post obtained an unpublished government plan to address challenges in the Amazon which spoke more about control over natural resources than environmental protection and indigenous reconciliation. 

“The survival of the hegemonic power of countries like England, France, Germany and the United States depends on access to a vast international frontier of strategic natural resources...The entrance of China . . . illustrates a new global reality, in which regions rich in strategic natural resources will be targeted by the Chinese government.”

Brazil primarily extracts iron (the second largest global iron ore exporter), copper, gold, aluminum, manganese, tin, niobium and nickel. 

This pledge may just be a small concession, in broader plans.

There are 100 technical reports filed for Brazilian mineral projects on Prospector Portal.

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