José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, a Brazilian chemist and statesman, in a mine at the island of Uto in Sweden, found in 1800 a mineral called the petal. Initially, it was not known that this mineral contained lithium and only 17 years later, Johan August Arfwedson, by careful analysis of the petal sample, discovered the presence of a new element that formed compounds similar to sodium and potassium. Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Arfwedson employer, named new element Lithium, from the Greek word litos, (stone). In pure form lithium is a soft metal silver colour that oxidizes quickly when it comes into contact with air or water. At the same time, it is easiest solid elements with a density of about half the size of water. Production and use of lithium has undergone a number of drastic changes in history.
The first widespread application was after World War II when it was used as a lubricant for aviation engines. Demand increased considerably during the Cold War when lithium was used in production of nuclear weapons, and the US became the first manufacturer in the world. It is used in the manufacture of glass, metallurgy, in the form of salt used in medicine for the treatment of various bipolar disorders, for fireworks and air purification in submarines and spacecraft.
But all this is negligible in comparison to the impulse that this metal has been using for the last decade, and forecasts are increase of production up to four times in the next 8 years. Reasons are of course the batteries in where lithium is present since the end of last century, when potential of lithium as the electrolyte compound was discovered.
Due to the low atomic mass and the favourable power and weight ratio, lithium non rechargeable batteries were produced. But the real boom came with the emergence of a lithium-ion battery that can be charged and has a high energy density. After cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices, lithium-ion batteries have become the main power supply for electric cars.
World stocks of this rare metal are scarce and concentrated only in some countries. The total world reserves of lithium are estimated to about 40 million tons. Today Chile has the biggest reserves (7.5 million tonnes) followed by Bolivia (5.4 million tonnes) and China (3.2 million tonnes), which is also the largest battery manufacturer. At the same time 70 to 80% of the world's lithium production is held by three companies, of which the largest is Chilean SQM. Chile is already calling Saudi Arabia the future because it has the largest proven lithium reserves in the world.
According to some authors, the title Saudi Arabia the future, will be maybe more appropriate for Bolivia. In the Andes, at 3,600 meters above sea level is a salt lake Salar de Uyuni, surfaces of 10,000 square kilometres, where local geologists estimated that total reserves of lithium reach 30 to 50 million tonnes, about the same, or even more than the rest of the world.
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This winter, natural gas prices have been at their lowest levels in decades. On Monday, February 10, the near-month natural gas futures price at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) closed at $1.77 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). This price was the lowest February closing price for the near-month contract since at least 2001, in real terms, and the lowest near-month futures price in any month since March 8, 2016, according to Bloomberg, L.P. and FRED data.
In addition, according to Natural Gas Intelligence data, the daily spot price at the Henry Hub national benchmark was $1.81/MMBtu on February 10, 2020, the lowest price in real terms since March 9, 2016. Henry Hub spot prices have ranged between $1.81/MMBtu and $2.84/MMBtu this winter heating season (since November 1, 2019), generally because relatively warm winter weather has reduced demand for natural gas for heating. Natural gas production growth has outpaced demand growth, reducing the need to withdraw natural gas from underground storage.
Dry natural gas production in January 2020 averaged about 95.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to IHS Markit data. IHS Markit also estimates that in January 2020 the United States saw the third-highest monthly U.S. natural gas production on record, down slightly from the previous two months.
IHS Markit estimates that U.S. natural gas consumption by residential, commercial, industrial, and electric power sectors averaged 96 Bcf/d for January, which was about 4.4 Bcf/d less than the average for January 2019, largely because of decreases in residential and commercial consumption as a result of warmer temperatures.
However, IHS Markit estimates that overall consumption of natural gas (including feed gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, pipeline fuel losses, and net exports by pipeline to Mexico) averaged about 117.5 Bcf/d in January 2020, an increase of about 0.2 Bcf/d from last year. This overall increase is largely a result of an almost doubling of LNG feed gas to about 8.5 Bcf/d.
Because supply growth has outpaced demand growth, less natural gas has been withdrawn from storage withdrawals this winter. Despite starting the 2019–20 heating season with the third-lowest level of natural gas inventory since 2009, by January 17, 2020, working natural gas inventories reached relatively high levels for mid-winter. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) data on natural gas inventories for the Lower 48 states as of February 7, 2020, reflect a 215 Bcf surplus to the five-year average. In EIA’s latest short-term forecast, more natural gas remains in storage levels than the previous five-year average through the remainder of the winter.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), January 2020 was the fifth-warmest in its 126-year climate record. Heating degree days (HDDs), a temperature-based metric for heating demand, have been relatively low this winter, which is consistent with a warmer winter. During some weeks in late December and early January, the United States saw 25% to 30% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average. This winter, through February 8, residential natural gas customers in the United States have seen 11% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center data
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b
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