Molybdenum's Time Has Come: Nano Particle Technology for the Future

by: James Finch

Finally, the financial markets have caught on as to how hot molybdenum stocks could get. While we began researching molybdenum about a year ago, and only first publishing in July 2006, molybdenum commentator Ken Reser has practically been the lone voice in the moly wilderness for investors. (We understand there have been several tout sheets hyping molybdenum stocks for nearly as long, but we can’t include those in serious discussions about this metal.)

Now that molybdenum traders have grown more bullish about the metal, we expect molybdenum pricing to continue higher. Ferro moly prices have continued firming up. Some quantity is now selling at US$76 per kg in Europe. One report indicates a recent moly oxide sale at $31/pound.

The emergence of the Sprott Molybdenum Participation Fund (SMPCF.PK) might only suggest the beginning of stronger institutional interest in primary molybdenum producers and on-the-horizon molybdenum producers – those whose projects could be online by 2010 or sooner.

In March 2005, Ken Reser penned a short editorial entitled, “Molybdenum: The 21st Century & Beyond Metal.”

Mainstream analysts had not really bothered to investigate the numerous uses for molybdenum prior to Ken Reser’s discussion. Since then, molybdenum stocks have had an incredible run. Mainstream media, such as Canada’s Globe & Mail, Dow Jones MarketWatch, The Australian and London’s Daily Telegraph – have featured molybdenum in their articles and named some of the favored companies.

Now that moly’s time has come, many have passed Ken Reser by, aside from our Australian colleagues, This is often the fate of pioneers who pave the road and point the direction where investors should head. Pioneers are oft forgotten, although streets are later named after them.

That’s not going to be the case if we have any say in this. Ken Reser’s moly repertoire has been extensive. Editorials since his seminal article have discussed moly uses in oil and gas de-sulphurization, catalysts, coal liquefaction, energy pipelines, oil super tankers, drill stem tubing, super alloys, nuclear reactors and turbines among others.

What many thought was fiction Reser preached, more than two years ago, are ideas now at the forefront of mainstream discussions among highly respected analysts. The International Molybdenum Association [IMOA] should be thankful Ken Reser attracted such a high level of investor interest to the moly mining sector over the past two years.

Well, the pioneer is alive and well. Ken Reser has more insights into molybdenum’s future. And we invited Ken to publish them in his commentary below.

Ken Reser’s Commentary

Little attention has been given to a few other aspects of this metal of mystery, in a world growing and changing so rapidly. I have little doubt there are more than a few uses of moly. New discoveries are waiting in the wings.

One case in point is Nano-Particle technology involving molybdenum.

American Elements Corp; The US leading manufacturer of Rare Earth & Advanced Material products had this to say about Nano-Particle Molybdenum:

Molybdenum Oxide (MoO) Nano-powder or Nano-particles, nano-dots or nano-crystals are ferric and ferrous spherical or faceted high surface area oxide magnetic nanostructure particles. Nano-scale Molybdenum Oxide Particles are typically 20-80 nanometers (nm) with specific surface area [SSA] in the 10 - 50 m 2 /g range and also available in with an average particle size of 100 nm range with a specific surface area of approximately 7- 10 m 2 /g.

Nano Molybdenum Oxide Particles are also available in ultra high purity, and high purity, transparent, and coated and dispersed forms. Applications for Molybdenum Oxide Nano-crystals include in electrochemical capacitors, and in coatings, plastics, nano-wire, nano-fiber and textiles and in certain alloy and catalyst applications. Further research is being done for their potential electrical, dielectric, magnetic, optical, imaging, bio-medical and bioscience properties.

Applications for molybdenum nano-crystals include as a high surface area catalyst and catalyst support and as the catalysts in the synthesis of vertically aligned carbon nano-tubes and in coatings, plastics, nano-wire, nano-fiber and textiles and in certain alloy and catalyst applications.

Super Alloys Created by use of Nano-Particle Reactants

(Courtesy of Materials Research Society: Lab Data)

Advancements in nano-technology for material processing have spurred the development of super alloys that provide improved protection against corrosion and wear. Nano-scale reactant particles offer unique thermal properties and increased homogeneity that may improve the micro-structural features and macroscopic properties of the final product.

In this study up to 10-wt % nano-scale molybdenum tri-oxide (MoO3) particles were added to micron scale nickel (Ni) and aluminum (Al). Results show that adding MoO3 increases the flame temperature and produces greater ignition sensitivity produces a more homogeneous microstructure and increases the overall wear resistance of the product.

Some other uses of nano-particle molybdenum include integrated in paraffin, lubricants, ceramics, nuclear reactor fuel (low enriched uranium), propylene production, high temperature grease, optical fibers, plasma televisions, fuel cells, and much more.

Hollow sphere nano-moly particles now developed show greatly increased effectiveness in the bonding ability of de-sulphurization catalysts. Solar cells are now built on a backing of molybdenum foil. Nano-particle pigment coatings, glass works, dietary and medical products, including artificial limbs.

Weldability of nickel-based superalloys can be approved with ‘weld filler. The invention relates to weld filler which includes these constituents (in wt %): 17.5%-20.0% chromium (Cr), 10.0%-12.0% cobalt (Co), 9.0%-10.5% Molybdenum (Mo) and 0.1%-3.3% titanium.

Hydro De-Sulphurization Catalysts

The unique HDS (Hydro De-Sulphurization) Catalyst aspect of this approach is to use nano-sized MoS2 particles for two reasons:

1. Nano-sizing increases surface area and therefore the number of "active-edge sites" per unit catalyst volume

2. Amorphous nano-particles may overcome steric resistance in sulfur-containing large aromatic molecules making the sulfur susceptible to catalytic attack during HDS.

This approach has three aspects:

o Characterization of sterically hindered organic sulfur compounds that are typically present in crudes but resistant to conventional HDS catalysts,

o Reaction behavior of these sterically hindered sulfur compounds with nano-sized MoS

o Formulation and evaluation of supported nano MoS2-based system for ultra deep catalytic HDS of heavy oils and distillates.

Worldwide, many millions of pounds of molybdenum are annually used in refineries. New refineries are now under construction in Asia, and on the drawing board in various other parts of the world.

Fuel Cells and Batteries

By alloying molybdenum with platinum, and carefully controlling the particle size and loading level of the alloy particles, engineers from the E-Tek Division of De Nora, N.A. have developed Pt-based anode catalysts for polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells that show excellent resistance to carbon monoxide poisoning.

APS Physics (March 2007) comments on Nano-Structured Molybdenum Oxides for Lithium-Ion Batteries:

Lithium-ion batteries are the current power sources of choice for portable electronics. Although such batteries are commercially successful, they are not keeping pace with the rapid advances in computing technologies. Also, further improvement of performance and simultaneous reduction in cost as well as material toxicity remain the subject of intensive research.

Here we report the synthesis and electrochemical performance of a novel molybdenum oxide nano-particle anode that dramatically improves current Li-ion battery technologies. Crystalline MoO nano-particles have been grown by an economical hot-wire chemical-vapor-deposition (HWCVD) technique and a recently developed electrophoresis technique is employed for the fabrication of porous nano-particle anodes. Both cycling stability and rate capability issues are addressed by employing these porous molybdenum oxide films that consist of nano-scale active particles.

These materials will impact the next generations of rechargeable lithium batteries, not only for applications in consumer electronics, but also for clean energy storage and use in hybrid electric vehicles.

More Nano-Particle Uses

Other new uses include development of new molybdenum- (Nano-Particle) strengthened martensitic steels and other Super Alloys. It is also possible to fabricate large-area porous films of molybdenum oxide nano-particles using a novel electrophoresis deposition technique.

Nano-particle films have led to profound advancement in state-of-the-art electrochromic technologies. MoO films are promising for new lithium ion batteries. There are many newly discovered uses as well for nano particle molybdenum in ION space thrusters, space lubricants, space craft metals and even in space telescopes searching the heavens.

Although molybdenum-based catalysts have already been developed for use in the crude oil refinery process and coal liquefaction, the greatest leaps forward could come from the development of nano particle moly-based Catalysts.

Drilling every deep-depth oil well uses as much as 15% Molybdenum for every pound of drill stem steel. Considering the massive number of pounds (tons actually) of drill stem tubing annually used around the globe, I’m sure we would be amazed when extrapolating the actual amount of molybdenum used in just that one sector.

If you also consider that just one kilometer of typical crude oil pipeline uses approximately 2000 pounds of molybdenum in the steel, and there are globally between 80,000 and 100,000 miles of proposed pipeline projects, one can easily visualize the exponential growth pattern of moly demand in years ahead.

As I have stated in past, now you can see why the world is viewing molybdenum in a different light. It isn’t just the demand from China, India or other rapidly developing nations driving the demand, the price and the different uses.

Molybdenum is truly a metal for and of the twenty-first century. It will play an ever increasingly important part of future base metals demand. And this could very well prove a boon to primary molybdenum mining stocks. Many have strongly rallied in tthe past year as molybdenum prices went north, instead of south as many 'experts' forecast. Primary molybdenum producer Blue Pearl (OTC:BLEFF), imminent producer Roca Mines (OTCPK:ROCAF), and near-term producers such as Adanac (OTCPK:AUAYF), Idaho General (NYSEMKT:GMO) and Australian-based Moly Mines (OTCPK:MYMNF) appear to be the investor favorites for 2007.

James Finch and Ken Reser co-authored this article. Ken Reser is a research consultant to Adanac Molybdenum Corp.