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Jack Lifton  

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  • Stationary Energy Storage: Pipe Dream Or Lead-Pipe Cinch? [View article]

    The sad reality that all of your articles emphasizes is the ill-preparation, educationally and experientially, of many of your detractors. I note that today "graph reading" is actually a full course or a significant course segment in many engineering schools. I well recall that when science and engineering were noble and mostly selfless professions not at all entertained by those who just wanted to get rich there was no hope of a career for those who couldn't create and illustrate data with graphs much less for those who didn't understand statistics thoroughly.
    Your deductions are incontestable, and I find no flaws in your data or assumptions.
    As an aside I couldn't agree with you more that the application of Moore's law, which was specifically drawn to illustrate the growth of computational "power," has been misapplied to a multitude of areas such as battery energy density growth to which I doubt that Dr Moore, who I met in the late 1960s when he was in Detroit, selling (successfully as I recall) Stan Ovshinsky on the idea of letting Intel design and make the chips for the amorphous semiconductor memory, gave any conscious thought. It was just some 40 years later, by the way, that these "memory chips" became the basis of the SSD memories. I phoned Stan Ovshinsky to tell him that on the day I read the news in the journal of the IEEE, and he said "It took a while for the manufacturers to catch up to the dreamers." I wonder what Moore would have thought of that?
    Jan 9, 2014. 01:28 PM | 6 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • 1883 Interview With Thomas Edison On Energy Storage [View instapost]
    The battery and electric motor were strong contenders for passenger and freight vehicle power trains until the internal combustion engine became more practical in around 1912. It wasn't until after World War 2 that the American electric power "grid" was extensive enough to consider EVs again. However except in the cases where you needed enormous and instantaneous torque, such as in aircraft docking tow motors economics has defeated battery power. The automotive companies spent millions studying EV engineering between 1960 and 1990. The conclusion was that the limitations of EVs defeated their acceptance against internal combustion powered vehicles.
    The ONLY thing that has kept alive the EV idea is that IF there is "harmful" global warming caused by man made emissions of carbon dioxide then there is an urgent need to eliminate wherever possible the sources of carbon dioxide. Now that the global warming issue is fading and coming into ill repute as junk science the biggest driver (excuse the pun) for EVs is fading rapidly. If you cannot capitalize the environmental aspect the enterprise is still, today, an economic failure. The outcome of unprofitable schemes today, just as in Edison's day, and in Leonardo's day, and in Archimedes' day, is failure.
    Jan 1, 2014. 09:34 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Rare Earth Prices Are Poised To Rebound And Who Stands To Benefit [View article]

    I think you are correct in identifying the key issues.

    Essentially all of the world's rare earth permanent magnets are made in China and Japan. The Chinese rare earth industry believes it will NEVER have to import neodymium, praseodymium, or samarium. The Japanese, on the other hand, know they will ALWAYS have to import all of the rare earth elements they use. Lynas' ore is much richer in neodymium/praseodymium than Molycorp ore. This means that Lynas can produce LESS TREEs and get MORE Nd and Pr per unit of finished material. Lynas' production target could meet more than 50% of Japan's domestic demand for Nd and Pr. Molycorp could provide the rest, but there are two problems facing both Molycorp and Lynas.
    1. Molycorp has significant refining and manufacturing operations in the PRC. These operations are constrained to operate under Chinese environmental, legal, and import/export rules, and
    2. Japan is well advanced in developing its own rare earth supply chains in Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and Canada. Any Japanese successes will have a negative impact on both Molycorp and Lynas.
    Articles about the REEs markets that ignore the global picture, as almost all SA articles do should not be anyone's sole reason for investing in the REE space.

    Dec 9, 2013. 09:47 AM | 9 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Molycorp: Misconceptions And Reflexivity Present Opportunity [View article]
    My impression was based on 50 years experience with the chemistry of the rare earths, and the kerosene puddle(s!) at Mountain Pass didn't bother me at all. I have been in many chemical engineering operations.

    As my German colleague pointed out there was less background radiation in Kuantan than in his hometown of Karlsruhe.

    The issue for Molycorp is that they have spent too much money, as perhaps has Lynas, to "enter" a market too small overall to justify such expense.
    Dec 1, 2013. 10:51 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Molycorp: Misconceptions And Reflexivity Present Opportunity [View article]

    I was one of a committee appointed by the Malaysian Academy of Science to survey the LAMP last year, before it went into operation. Our group included the German scientist in charge of decommissioning Germany's civilian nuclear power system.

    I note that an urban legend is being repeated here. It is being said that at full capacity, 22,000 metric tons per year of rare earths, the LAMP will produce 51 tons of thorium in its residue. That is true, but the nonsensical claim that this will be a single 51 ton mass of thorium is ridiculous in the extreme.

    Due to the high grade of the Lynas feed stock-it is more than 12% in the ground (the highest grade rare earth ore in quantity in the world in fact)-the plant would process just 122,000 tons of mechanically beneficiated ore concentrates per year. The 51 tons of thorium will be dispersed in, at least, 100,000 metric tons of residue at a concentration of 500 parts per million or less.

    Although the Molycorp data are not as transparent as those of Lynas it is clear that since the ore at Mountain Pass is about half the grade of Mt Weld (and it is a totally different mineral) Molycorp will need to process at least twice as much ore as Lynas. I understand that the thorium containing residues will be "stored" at the minesite or "otherwise" disposed of.

    The ignorance of the SeekingAlpha readership about radioactive material management is not surprising to me; such management is a highly specialized field requiring many many years of study and experience. What does surprise me, quite frankly, is that "The Friends of the Mojave," the group that shut down (and killed) Molycorp in 1998 because of a small thorium leak(!) has not risen up this time to complain about Molycorp's resurgence.

    I think that SLSM and The Friends of the Mojave should call a joint meeting at Whiskey Pete's Casino in Henderson, NV, which is 9 miles from Mountain Pass and have a night of gambling, drinking, and ignorant fear-mongering. They won't need girls (or boys) because their antics allow them to screw themselves.
    Dec 1, 2013. 09:43 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Understanding Tesla's Giga-Scale Battery Challenges [View article]

    You couldn't be more right. I well remember when the OEM automotive industry "Giant," General Motors, told Formosa Plastics that it demanded steep volume discounts on its PVC purchases for adhesives and sealants based on its large use. The Formosa Plastics purchasing agent told the GM person that the volume use of PVC was for home decorating and that Formosa didn't care about the "few million" pounds that GM or its suppliers bought.

    It's really the same thing here, isn't it?.
    Nov 30, 2013. 06:00 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Understanding Tesla's Giga-Scale Battery Challenges [View article]
    That's certainly accurate
    Nov 30, 2013. 10:55 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Molycorp: Misconceptions And Reflexivity Present Opportunity [View article]

    Your analysis is very interesting, and I think mostly correct. Neo was and is, as Molycorp China, just one of many players in the separation and purification of the rare earths for making magnet alloys. It specializes in the neodymium (not praseodymium-neodymium = didymium) iron boron alloy used to make bonded magnets, which constitute just 10% of the overall rare earth permanent magnet market globally. Neo is not the smallest nor the largest player in rare earth refining in China.
    in 2009 I asked Constantine Karryanoupoulos why Neo didn't buy one of the even then numerous rare earth deposits under "development." He said that Neo was the only rare earth based business in North America making profits and that it was doing so without the anvil of a money-draining mining project hanging around its neck, he said, why should Neo go into mining?
    It seems to me that Neo was sold to Molycorp at the top of the market, so that Neo shareholders were rewarded as they could not have been before and never again could be.
    It also seems to me that Neo will ultimately become a freestanding company again perhaps getting some light rare earths from Molycorp, if that entity still then exists, and buying heavy rare earths in China as always.
    The great unknown now is whether anyone outside of China will develop a heavy rare earth production industry, and, if so, whether China will allow such raw materials to be imported so as to disrupt and negate its internal allocations. This has got to be the hope and the fear of Constantine Karryanoupoulos.
    Nov 30, 2013. 09:56 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Understanding Tesla's Life Threatening Battery Decisions [View article]
    In the late 1990s Energy Conversion Devices equipped an EV1 with NiMH batteries in place of the original Pb-acid types. As I recall the car's range went from 90 to 160 miles, but the cost was prohibitive.

    Note that the NiMH batteries used today in HEVs do not have the storage capacity or the need to power the car by themselves except in emergencies and even then just for a few miles. The NiMH batteries are there to hybridize the power train in the most efficient way.

    You are absolutely right that there just could not be enough lanthanum ever produced for even a conversion of the world's motor fleet to HEV powertrains. There might be if the habit of a multi-passenger vehicle carrying one passenger weren't so ingrained in our wasteful western culture. I well remember watching Romanian Dacia pickup trucks leaving the factory in Pitesti for export to China in the 1980s. A Romanian auto engineer said to me that these were Chinese "estate" wagons (in American English this is a "station wagon"). The pickup carried four Chinese in the cab and six more in the box, he said. Alas, my recent trips to China show me that the Chinese, at least in the cities, no longer do this. I see many large sedans moving in a river of cars along the Beijing streets around the clock with one person in them.

    Throughout history only the wealthy could afford to be fat. Now that everyone in the developed world can be fat, even on a budget wasting resources is the new insignia of wealth.
    Nov 22, 2013. 09:53 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Dissecting Tesla's ZEV Mythology [View article]
    So, a century into the transformation of motive power from a mix of steam and muscle to petroleum based internal combustion we, the human race, have now managed to recover 80% of the useful energy in oil? what is the equivalent calculation for batteries? What percentage of the energy used to charge a battery is useful?
    Nov 18, 2013. 09:18 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Tesla - Reality Is Beginning To Set In [View article]
    ICEs are not becoming or going extinct. In fact their use is growing substantially. Of this calendar year's production of "motor" vehicles I would estimate that more than 98% use ICE power. This percentage won't change, and it may decline. As the global economy grows so does the manufacturing of small cheap (ICE powered) motor vehicles.
    Look carefully at the percentage of the weight of a BEV that is the mass of the batteries. There you have the real problem. Our science and engineering are still in the Stone Age in this department, and the idea of a quick fix is a fantasy of those who do not know much about science, engineering, or manufacturing engineering.
    Nov 17, 2013. 08:17 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Molycorp Multi-Bagger Potential In 18 Months [View article]
    I note that Keith Delaney passed away earlier this year, and that REITA has been superseded by RETA, a unit of the American Chemistry Council, based in Washington, DC. Also I do not think that dr Stanley Trout is with Molycorp any longer.
    I'm afraid my confidence in this article is severely impacted by mistakes like these.
    The only real metric is based on meeting performance to objective criteria. In this case that objective is to make a profit mining, processing, and fabricating rare earth products. The question is now: is this project past it's sell-by date?
    You can divide the mass of Mountain Pass by the average belch volume in the Molycorp cafeteria and multiply that by the number of letters in MCP's presidents name and get just as good a figure for future profits here as any of the "predictions" I have seen. If this company is not profitable soon it will not survive.
    Nov 15, 2013. 05:38 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Long-Range BEVs Are An Economic, Energy And Emissions Abomination [View article]

    I take it that your point, as always, is that economic determinism, rules a truly free market. It doesn't take a Nobel prize to see that you are right. The market distortions caused by the attempt of politicians to influence the market through capitalization of moral imperatives of the moment always fade away as the effects on the pocketbook begin to be felt by Joe consumer.

    The mantra is that Mr Musk must be smart because he is rich. I think Mr Musk's thinking is tied to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Central London, and Dubai as markets. I think Tesla is already past its "sell by" date. The world actually needs a low cost reliable people's car, as it always has. The car that will be driven in the Philippines and in rural Nigeria is the business to go after. Eco-Bling is just boring. The future, as the past, belongs to efficient cheap transportation.

    Great, insightful, article as always, and as always "thus endeth the lesson."
    Nov 14, 2013. 08:40 AM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Tesla - Reality Is Beginning To Set In [View article]
    I think that George Clooney is simply a poor man's Clark Gable. However if I were Mr Musk I would be very worried when a rich-boy-man with a lot of followers in the High School scene tires of the toy I provided for him.

    The author is right. The actual buying public for any mass produced version of the Tesla is GONE. If nothing else the young set is just now becoming aware that their financial futures are wrecked by student loans, Obamacare, and the dead-slow growth of an erratic economy. Real car makers are panicked also by the lack of real economic futures for their most important demographic. Cars are already capable of very long service lives WITHOUT MAJOR PROBLEMS. It is the manufacturers who are not ready for the END of THE MODEL YEAR MARKETING CHARADE. Government safety regulations have really ramped up the quality of STANDARD safety features. I remember when Daimler did not offer cars by the year but by the model name and number. I'm sure we're going back to this future. Tesla was an experiment, but like most experiments it didn't work, or to be generous, it proved that the opposite of what it set out to prove was the better fit with the facts: ordinary people cannot and will not pay for luxury to achieve pedestrian (no pun intended) results.
    Nov 12, 2013. 12:11 PM | 6 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Molycorp: Misconceptions And Reflexivity Present Opportunity [View article]
    Contrary Jay,

    As I see it the problem for Molycorp is a universal problem among REE miners and juniors: No such venture can be profitable if its product price point is a process leach derived "mixed concentrate." Giving Smith and Company the benefit of the doubt I think they may have seen this problem close to when they began their trek into the stock market to raise capital. Their mistake was to assume that their separation plant added enough value to make them profitable with a product price point set based on separated salts of lanthanum, cerium, and didymium.
    The simultaneous error was a constant, perhaps dishonest, hyping of the total REE market as unthethered from the law of supply and demand. This came out as both demand and price would increase in lockstep.
    Mr Smith reacted to detailed criticism by, in my opinion, wildly overspending to acquire assets to mute the criticism with no thought as to how to integrate such assets into the Molycorp circus to make it into a smoothly operating system systematically reducing costs.
    The problem now being faced by Messers Bedford and Karyannoupoulis is how to restructure this mess while using Neo's business to carry the load. I don't think they can succeed, but I wish them the best. Mr Karyannoupoulis told some people I know earlier this year that he wishes that I would not try to be an expert at everything when I assess Molycorp. Nonetheless I will continue to analyze Molycorp's business model as I understand it from public records and my activity in the global rare earths community. I really do wish him the best, and I hope he rescues his former Neo business from the morass.
    Now you know what i think.

    Nov 12, 2013. 10:52 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment