2014 – A Breakthrough Year for Technology Metals

Monday December 29, 2014 13:26

It is impossible to create a connected, mobile and sustainable society without technology metals (precious metalsspecialty metals and rare earth elements) enabling it. Lithium stores energy in our rechargeable batteries; neodymium’s magnetic properties run electric motors of which there are many in our lives; silver helps collect sunlight and turn it into renewable energy. Tech Metals Insider reported about these and many other applications throughout the year.

2014 has seen many of these technologies emerge from development to prototype, or even mass production.

These are just some of the more mainstream examples of new technology metal applications. Thousands of individuals and startup companies around the world are working on groundbreaking new concepts that at first look unbelievable. Which is the general takeaway from this year’s journey through the world of technology metals: nothing, nothing is impossible. The next couple of years will see industries, metal markets and paradigms shift, re-arrange and assemble in new and fascinating ways. Many of today’s inventors will fail, some may even lack credibility, but others will build on their failures and create new products or technologies at an ever increasing pace. In most cases, technology metals will be at the core of them.

  • In May, a U.S. startup named Solar Roadways broke crowdfunding records with the idea of using solar panels as road surfaces. In parallel, SolaRoad of the Netherlands even opened the first stretch of public road to the public, using the same basic concept. Immovable solar panels, while not the most effective method of producing energy, will effectively add a secondary use to surfaces that are already exposed to sunlight.
  • Throughout the year, institutes like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as well as development companies of all sizes, like Lattice EnergyLockheed Martin or investor Bill Gateswere exploring new fields of energy generation involving low energy nuclear reactors (LENR), promising an abundance of energy without the risks of conventional nuclear fission. The reactors used rely on gold or palladium to operate.
  • As part of some of these processes, scientists of Lattice Energy and Toshiba Heavy Industrieshave discovered that a transmutation of metals takes place during operation, turning radioactive waste into rare earth elements and non-ferrous into precious metals. A Tech Metals Insider interview with Martin Burger of Blue Eagle Refinery, a group of modern day alchemists claiming to have created gold from broken glass in a modified microwave oven stirred much controversy over the summer.
  • At the same time, scientists are of course working on alternatives that would not require precious metals at all to operate, making them less expensive and more marketable. In March, a company from Liechtenstein introduced the “QUANT e”, a sports car using a flow cell batterywith sea water as the source of energy. While the world was debating the validity of this concept the U.S. Navy published results of trials with their own version of the same process, proving that it actually works.
  • Most visibly, of course, 2014 was the year of the electric car. Tesla and Elon Musk, its charismatic leader, kept making headlines while other manufacturers like Volkswagen Group, Hyundai, Ford, Mitsubishi, BMW, Mercedes Benz and others joined Nissan in offering a portfolio of short range electric vehicles that are slowly gaining traction in their market segment. Supply and environmental impact of lithium are heavily influenced by the success of electric cars.
  • 2014 was also the year in which hydrogen fuel cells emerged from laboratories to make appearances in cars as well as in residential power and heating systems.

I hope you have enjoyed Tech Metals Insider this year and will keep following us on our fascinating journey in 2015.