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Lead prices rise in US as auto-industry recovers

Tue, 09/10/2013 - 16:58 -- Ruth Williams
Auto-industry is recovering in the USA

 

The US auto-industry is recovering and shipments of new and replacement automotive batteries are rising accordingly. Vehicle sales for August 2013 were 17% higher than a previous year, at 16.1 million.

Reports from auto-makers of strong car and truck sales in August indicate the market is recovering, which has lead to a rise in the price of lead.

Shipments of new and replacement batteries in the US rose to 10.5 million units over 12 months, up 2.2% on the previous year. Battery Council International (BCI) cites new car sales as the driving force behind increased sales. Total year-to-date sales show the continuing growth, with replacement battery sales up 7% on the previous year.

Increased demand is raising the premium on the price of lead in the US to up to US$0.15 above the London Metal Exchange rate, twice the figure of a year ago.

Bolivia takes first steps in lithium manufacture

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Bolivia will receive a US$2.9 million Chinese-made pilot plant for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in the next few weeks, with production expected to start up in the second half of this year, according to government officials.

Uyuni Salt Flat

According to Corporacion Minera de Bolivia official Luis Alberto Echazu, the plant will be used to train Bolivian technicians, who will learn how to operate an industrial plant that will be constructed in the future.

The project is part of a government plan to develop the Uyuni Salt Flat, located in the southwestern Andean province of Potosi, on its own to produce batteries for electric cars, computers and cell phones.

President Evo Morales is promoting the development of the lithium industry without foreign partners, but he has proposed a partnership with Japan to manufacture electric cars in Bolivia that would use domestically made lithium-ion batteries.

The Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a more than 10 000sq kilometer (some 4 000-sq mile) area, is the world's largest reserve of the planet's lightest metal.

The Bolivian government says the salt flat contains 100 million tons of lithium reserves, although the U.S. Geological Survey puts the figure at just nine million tons.

The Morales administration has been working since 2009 to install a pilot plant to make lithium carbonate at Uyuni and its goal is to show results in ‘industrialising’ the metal before 2014.

Stan Ovshinsky 1922 - 2012

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

The inventor of nickel-metal hydride chemistry has died. Stanford Ovshinsky, a self-taught scientist, died of prostate cancer aged 89 on 17 October 2012.

Stanford Ovshinsky

Widely regarded as a genius, if not a savvy businessman, he developed the NiMH battery licensed companies worldwide.

His pioneering work spanned the development digital memory, battery technology, optical media, solar energy and hydrogen storage.

Born in 1922 in Ohio to Lithuanian parents, Ovshinsky was a self-taught scientist; his curiosity of how things work led him to spend much time in libraries. 

One of his earliest papers covered the links between machine and human intelligence, and this resulted in a research job Wayne State University.

Alongside this, he founded a product development company called Energy Conversion Devices in Detroit with his second wife Iris. Here he developed the nickel-metal hydride battery chemistry that he patented in 1998.

His innovation continued throughout his life including solar energy laminates and panels, flat screen liquid crystal displays, rewritable CD and DVDs and nonvolatile phase-change memory.

Ovshinsky is survived by his third wife Rosa, seven children and six grandchildren.

East Penn expansion

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

East Penn Manufacturing Co. is planning to expand its battery-manufacturing site at Lyon Station, Pennsylvania, with a new US$80 million manufacturing plant.

The proposed plant would create more than 300 jobs when functioning at full capacity, according to Graham G. Anderson, Vice President of facilities, engineering and maintenance at East Penn.

The 564 000-square-foot, two-story plant is expected to open in 2015 to produce industrial and automotive batteries. The current facilities for industrial and automotive batteries are nearing capacity.

Daniel Langdon, President of East Penn, said, "It will be a multifaceted facility and flexible enough to be able to support growth in all segments of lead-acid batteries."

"We are going to call it a multipurpose plant," Anderson said. "We'll be making automotive and industrial lead-acid batteries. It's going to be a complete battery-manufacturing facility with all the required equipment to build a battery."

EU move 'deeply regrettable' on REACH

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Battery making in Europe still hangs in the balance as lead remains under scrutiny by the European Commission’s REACH division. Four lead compounds irreplaceable in battery making were formally added to the candidate list in December 2012.

If authorised, battery makers would incur a significant cost to continue using them. Lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, tetralead trioxide sulphate and pentalead tetraoxide sulphate were added to the REACH list following proposal in August and public consultation that ran until October.

The ILA called it “deeply regrettable” that the European Commission chose to pursue this route rather than carrying out a risk assessment before identifying the substances as SVHCs, (a substance of very high concern).

EUROBAT’s EU Affairs Manager Michel Baumgartner said: “It didn’t come as a surprise because it’s the logical conclusion to the consultation – lead substances are repro-toxic. What we do regret is that it’s a political decision to achieve the target number of chemicals on the list before the end of 2012.“

At this stage there are no obligations for battery manufacturers using the lead substances. Baumgartner said: “It constitutes an information obligation along the supply chain and it starts with whoever makes the substance. But because there is none of the substance in the finished article, it does not pose an obligation to the battery manufacturers themselves.”

Agreeing to evaluate the risk management options before taking further action on lead is a move welcomed by the ILA and EUROBAT. It will be conducted by ECHA over the coming year. For this companies may be asked to prepare additional information to ECHA. The conclusions should be available in January 2014. By then it should be known if ECHA is proposing authorisation or any other restrictions.

Exide gets a warning from ratings agency

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Moody’s, the credit rating agency that gave Exide a tough time a decade ago is once again putting the company’s financial performance under the microscope.

Exide Technologies has seen weak operating performance over the last two financial quarters that has resulted in a poor credit rating.

Moody’s Investor Services changed Exide’s rating outlook from stable to negative. The company’s rating is categorised as highly speculative in the categories of Corporate Family and Probability of Default Rating, as well as its liquidity rating.

In an attempt to remedy this, and raise its credit rating back to its previous level, the company has closed battery transportation and recycling facilities in Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania. The company hopes the savings on operational costs from closing these facilities will improve earnings for 2013.

These combined actions will bring North American capacity down to demand level and limit the company’s exposure to volatile core costs related to recycling.

The company could be in further trouble if it cannot manage fluctuations in commodity costs; if the global demand for battery products dips; or not being able to offset lower demand with restructuring savings could lower operating performance.

If Exide cannot achieve a sequentially consecutive improvement in operating profits, Moody’s could further downgrade it.

The company can be considered for a stable rating when it can sustain EBIT (total expense from interest payments) over 1.0x; generate positive free cash flow; and maintain an adequate liquidity profile.

The sale of the smelter in Frisco, Texas should gain the company US$37million, which will strengthen the company’s US$74 million in cash on its September 2012 balance sheet.

Exide's ‘highly speculative’ Corporate Family Rating of B3 reflects the company's business focus on markets that enjoy greater stability. The automotive aftermarket replacement battery market represents about 75% of Exide's transportation revenues (44% of total revenues). About half of Exide's revenues are generated in North America where industry reports indicate shipments of both aftermarket and OEM batteries have increased on a year-to-date basis through October 2012. 

Partnership for Euro automotive interests

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

EUROBAT has joined CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers.

Membership to CLEPA means EUROBAT can represent its own members’ interests in discussions on European and global vehicle standards; batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles; and the economic benefits of manufacturing in Europe.

CLEPA is a valuable stakeholder in Brussels and the United Nations, making it a useful partnership for EUROBAT members that work in the automotive battery sector.

Green Grid white paper offers fresh perspective on UPS ‘eco mode’ for data centres

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

The Green Grid has published a white paper on how Eco Mode can improve data centre efficiency and overall Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) when appropriately deployed.

The paper, Evaluation of Eco Mode in Uninterruptible Power Supply Systems, offers an extensive look into UPS systems, and makes recommendations to data centre managers regarding other power distribution equipment to ensure a reliable power system.  

In order to help understand and deploy what is typically the highest-efficiency mode, the white paper breaks down key elements such as UPS technology and performance, critical power systems configuration, IT power supply ride-through, and utility grid reliability. The white paper explores each of these ideas and their trade-offs, helping data centre operators understand Eco Mode from the ground up.

According to The Green Grid, transfer-time is “one of the most salient performance characteristics for eco mode.” This is the amount of time during which the UPS will not output any power.  

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