African-Mined Cobalt Shipped To Mexico Will Be Processed In Yuma

African-Mined Cobalt Shipped To Mexico Will Be Processed In Yuma

By Terri Jo Neff |

An Arizona company has announced plans to ship African-mined cobalt to Mexico, then truck it north to be processed at a new, state-of-the-art facility in Yuma County so it can be sold to companies that make batteries for Electric Vehicles (EVs).

EVelution Energy is expected to start construction of its Yuma cobalt processing facility next year, with a goal of being operational no later than early 2026.  It forecasts more than 1,000 construction phase jobs, along with 60 direct and 300 indirect jobs once the facility is fully functional.  

Cobalt is a rare, ferromagnetic metal primarily used in lithium-ion batteries and in the manufacture of magnetic, high-strength alloys. Dating back to 3000 BC, cobalt was mostly used for its blue coloring in the making of ceramics and glass.

Other uses were limited due to the fact arsenic fumes are a by-product of smelting. But new processing methods in the last few decades changed all of that.

In March, the Yuma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a special-use permit allowing EVelution to move forward with construction on 139 acres just east of the City of Yuma and south of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

The property, which spans Union Pacific Railroad tracks and U.S. Interstate 8, is located within one of Arizona’s Qualified Opportunity Zones which provide a wide range of tax incentives for private, long-term investments in economically distressed communities.

There are also various federal economic development incentives currently available for EVelution Energy’s project, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, nearly two-thirds of all mined cobalt (150,000 tonnes in 2019) comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (100,000 tonnes in 2019). The USGS also estimates there is about 4 million tonnes of cobalt reserves on the African continent, and another 3 million tonnes globally.

EVelution plans to transport cobalt hydroxide feedstock sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a port in Ensenada, Mexico, a roughly four hour trip by truck to the Yuma processing facility. And the company knows there is domestic market for its product.

Currently, more than 70 percent of the world’s battery grade cobalt is processed in China. That puts U.S.-based Electric Vehicle manufacturers overly reliant on imports.

The Yuma cobalt facility’s expected annual 7,000 tonnes capacity could meet 40 percent of the expected demand for U.S.-produced EVs in 2027.

The forecasted $55 million economic benefit from EVelution Energy’s project is very much needed, particularly in southwestern Arizona. However, two environmental concerns will be closely monitored even though Yuma County approved the company’s special use permit.  

First is the sourcing and disposal of water. EVelution expects to use 74 million gallons of water per month. The water will be sourced from aquifers running under the property, likely via wells which will run more than 1,000 feet deep.

“Our water usage is therefore not expected to impact the surrounding area’s water table/groundwater,” the company says, adding that a water treatment plant will allow for about 70 percent of its used water to be recycled.

The second concern is the disposal of “tailings,” which are the unused materials which remain after processing. EVelution intends to minimize risks of potential contamination to its or surrounding land by foregoing on-site tailing ponds.

“Tailings will be collected, transported and safely disposed of at a licensed local landfill located less than 20 miles away,” the company says. 

EVelution Energy is also focused on transitioning to a net zero carbon future. Getting there will mean building a 38.4 MW (peak) solar power array to power the processing plant. The company expects to use excess power from the day to recharge its battery storage.

There is also the possibility some of the excess electricity can be sold to a local power utility to service nearby agricultural companies.

“Solar power will heat the water and process solutions for hydrometallurgical cobalt processing,” according to the company’s website. ‘This heated solution will be stored at temperature in large storage tanks overnight. Using solar power rather than propane or natural gas will further reduce our carbon-footprint.”

As with most mining operations in Africa, there are concerns with the health impacts to workers and with the use of child labor. EVelution’s website shows the company is aware of those issues. 

“We are committed to sourcing cobalt in a socially responsible manner, preventing child labor and to promoting respect for human rights of people employed in or affected by our cobalt supply chain,” the website states. “We plan to source our cobalt only from companies that comply with the guidelines of the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.”

EVelution’s proximity to California could lead to further revenue streams, given that state’s early acceptance of EVs.

With EV batteries being quite heavy, and thus expensive to transport, the company is “well positioned to potentially recycle EV batteries from electric vehicles that reach the end of their product lifespan,” its website notes. “The oldest electric vehicles are predominantly located in California and therefore their batteries will be in need of recycling the soonest.”

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

State Not Resting On Its #1 Ranking In Foreign Direct Investment For 2022

State Not Resting On Its #1 Ranking In Foreign Direct Investment For 2022

By Terri Jo Neff |

In a move intended to further increase the state’s global competitiveness, two new Arizona Trade Offices are being opened, both in Asian countries.

The Arizona Commerce Authority currently has trade and investment offices in Tel Aviv, Israel and  Frankfurt, Germany, as well as three in Mexico (Chihuahua, Guanajuato, and Mexico City). The new offices will be located in Taipei, Taiwan and Seoul, South Korea, and will serve as a platform to further accelerate economic collaboration.

The recent announcement of the new endeavors was made in conjunction with Gov. Katie Hobbs’ International State of the State address, which highlighted the fact Arizona ranked first in the nation in 2022 in the amount of foreign direct investment (FDI).

According to FDI Markets, Arizona attracted expansion projects in 2022 from 35 international companies last year, representing $31.954 billion in investment. It was the second time in three years that Arizona led the nation for FDI, demonstrating the state’s leading attractiveness for investment from global technology companies.

According to the Arizona Commerce Authority, the state’s FDI total for 2022 was led a $28 billion project announced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which brought the total of the company’s years-long commitment to construct and operate two facilities in north Phoenix to $40 billion.

Other significant FDI in Arizona last year included Canada-based XNRGY Climate Systems, Taiwan-based Chang Chun Group and Sunlit Chemical, and Switzerland-based Nestle.

Hobbs’ announcement was timed to feature the decision by South Korea-based LG Energy Solution of a four-fold increase to their planned Arizona investment. The company initially planned to invest $1.4 billion—which was included in the 2022 FDI report—before announcing in March its plan to up that to $5.5 billion.

LG Energy is a leading global battery manufacturer and renewable energy company. Its investment decision will support construction of two battery manufacturing facilities in Queen Creek, which industry observers say is the largest single project to date for a stand-alone battery manufacturing facility in North America.

Construction is set to begin this year, with production for cylindrical batteries for EVs (27GWh) and LFP pouch-type batteries for ESS (16GWh) beginning in 2025.

The Arizona Commerce Authority is the state’s leading economic development organization with a streamlined mission to grow and strengthen Arizona’s economy. Its International Trade Program offers Arizona-based companies export services to amplify their trade opportunities in international markets. Services include assistance and trade counseling, getting started, contact facilitation, company background, export leads, educational programs, and more.

The program further provides global exposure to Arizona’s small- and medium-sized companies through coordinated trade missions in various foreign countries.  Such relationships lend long-term growth opportunities in global markets and prove critical for companies looking to import or export goods. 

International projects in the Arizona Commerce Authority’s project pipeline have seen a 52 percent increase over the last quarter, reflecting a strategic effort to target the expansion of manufacturing and technology sectors. Such sectors traditionally offer higher than average wages for Arizonans.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Dangerous USBP Staffing Levels Revealed After Agent Attacked While Making Arrest

Dangerous USBP Staffing Levels Revealed After Agent Attacked While Making Arrest

By Terri Jo Neff |

A top U.S. Border Patrol union representative says the situation along the southwest border “is spinning out of control everywhere,” with the number of illegal border crossings showing no sign of falloff while agency staffing in the field is at dangerously low rates.

“It’s just overwhelming right now,” USBP agent Art Del Cueto told KFYI’s James T. Harris earlier this week. Del Cueto serves as vice president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) and president of NBPC Local 2544 in Tucson.

The staffing problem had become so bad that NBPC publicized the situation earlier this week, reporting only two agents were covering a 50-mile section of border. There would typically have been 15 to 20 agents assigned to the area, according to NBPC.

USBP agents have long complained about being dangerously outmanned in the field. Several agents have been injured just in the Cochise County area over the last year, including an agent assigned to USBP Tucson Sector who was hospitalized March 4 after being attacked as she arrested an undocumented migrant.

The migrant was eventually subdued and taken into custody when other agents arrived on scene.

“Our agents face extreme risks in the field, and those who bring them harm will be brought to justice,” USBP Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin said a few days later.  Even USBP Chief Raul Ortiz was forced to weigh in on the situation after the agent’s early morning attack made national headlines.

The March 4 attack drew an immediate reaction from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who promised to have the attacker charged in state court if federal prosecutors dropped the ball.

But while USBP command staffers used the attacked agent’s recovery to deflect from the dangerous situation, Del Cueto contends the ongoing practice of pulling field agents from patrol duties to be used instead to process large groups of border crossers in another area demonstrates the lack of sufficient staffing.

Different areas along the nearly 2,000 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico have different challenges, Del Cueto told Harris. For instance, the USBP Tucson Sector is responsible for a mostly remote and rural terrain.

As a result, the area leads the U.S. with a disturbingly high number of “gotaways,” the name given to undocumented border crossers who evade apprehension and do not turn themselves in for immigration processing.

According to Del Cueto, the cartels know of USBP’s staffing challenges. As a result, they realize getting agents to chase down crossers in certain remote areas provides a distraction which allows drugs or higher paying crossers to be moved through other areas.

Staffing issues are forcing agents in the field to wait longer for transport vehicles to arrive, while at other times they must do the processing and transporting themselves. This removes boots on the ground, and “that’s when you start seeing a lot of other groups come through,” he explained.

Del Cueto calls it a “cop out” when people complain USBP and its parent agency Customs and Border Protection are not asking U.S. Department of Homeland Security to spend more money for technology along the border.

“Technology is fantastic, it helps us see where the groups are but at the end you need the boots on the ground to actually make the arrests,” he told Harris.

The cartels are very organized and “are not dumb,” Del Cueto said, adding that they will continue to do things “as long as they kept seeing this Administration not have any true consequences for these people committing crimes.”

“The agents that are still here in Tucson, they have their hands full,” Del Cueto said. “Their backup is far away. They are having a really hard time.”

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Ciscomani Seeks To Relieve Record Veterans’ Affairs Backlog

Ciscomani Seeks To Relieve Record Veterans’ Affairs Backlog

By Terri Jo Neff |

With his first piece of legislation, U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani is seeking to relieve a major issue within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – the unprecedented backlog of cases pending with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

“We have a responsibility to look after our veterans, especially those who have sacrificed so much for our country,” said Ciscomani about H.R. 1378 which he is co-sponsoring with Rep. Morgan McGarvey (D-KY3). “No veteran should be forced to wait for vitally important disability payments.”

In February, the VA reported more than 200,000 undecided disability benefits claim cases, with the average appeal taking 440 days for a decision.

H.R. 1378, otherwise known as the Veterans’ Appeals Backlog Improvement Act, is intended to help the VA respond to a well-publicized backlog that worsened with the passage in 2022 of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act which expanded eligibility for various illnesses and diseases attributable to toxic exposure during military service.

The VA has dealt with a claims backlog for many years, but the new claims and related appeals have overwhelmed the agency. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis Richard McDonough responded to the PACT Act by hiring hundreds of employees to process the claims.

Yet the VA continues to have a difficult time retaining personnel, particularly lawyers who are vital to the appeals process.

H.R. 1378 will require Secretary McDonough to establish a nine-year pilot competitive honors program through which the Department of Veterans Affairs will recruit law school students, recent law school graduates, and entry level attorneys for employment with the VA.

And each newly hired individual in the pilot program who agrees to remain in the service of the Department for at least three years will qualify for student loan repayment benefits under federal law, according to H.R. 1378.

The legislation also calls for the new hires to be provided a professional mentor within Veterans Affairs no later than 90 days after entering the program.

Ciscomani and McGarvey serve together on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee and the subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Their legislation is supported by several groups, including the Disabled American Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“DAV has long called on Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs to support significant and meaningful reforms aimed at addressing the growing backlog of VA claims and appeal processing,” said DAV National Service Director Jim Maszalek. “DAV is proud to support this legislation and applauds Reps. Ciscomani and McGarvey for their bipartisan leadership on this important issue.”

H.R. 1378 further seeks to create a pilot internship program to give high-achieving law students an opportunity to gain experience with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Those who successfully complete the internship program would be given priority consideration if they choose to apply for the pilot honors program.

“These programs will enlist our brightest legal minds to assist the Board of Veterans’ Appeals with overcoming this unacceptable backlog,” Ciscomani said upon introduction of the legislation. “It will also offer aspiring public servants an invaluable opportunity to serve their country.” 

McDonough will be required to provide periodic reports to Congress about the progress and feasibility of the pilot program. The reports must include findings on the advisability of establishing a permanent competitive honors program and other recommendations to improve recruitment and retention of legal staff at the VA.

In a related manner, H.R. 1378 calls on the Secretary to submit a report to the Congressional committees about efforts to improve access to hearings held before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals held by picture and voice transmission.

Such report should include recommendations for the establishment of pilot programs to assess the feasibility and advisability of using other methods that could improve veteran access to Board of Veterans’ Appeals hearings, according to the legislation.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

WESD Accepts LGTBQ Community While Devaluing Christians

WESD Accepts LGTBQ Community While Devaluing Christians

By Terri Jo Neff |

At a time when one-fourth of all educator positions are vacant statewide, one Arizona school board has voted to reduce the number of university students pursuing education degrees who can do their on-site training in their district.

Washington Elementary School District serves a diverse population of K-8 students in north central Phoenix and east Glendale. It is the largest elementary school district in Arizona with 32 in-class schools and one online school, and has a highly promoted districtwide LGTBQ-acceptance policy.  

For more than a decade, several degree students from Arizona Christian University (ACU) have done their student teaching and other practical coursework at one of WESD’s campuses. But in recent weeks, Tamillia Valenzuela has twice urged her fellow four WESD board members to end the district’s arrangement with ACU and another area university.

During a Feb. 23 board meeting, Valenzuela expressed concern that ACU’s mission prioritizes the teachings of Jesus Christ, values which she does not believe are “aligned with” WESD’s priorities. She said she was “really disheartened” to see district staff was asking to renew its long-running arrangement with ACU.

Valenzuela, who describes herself on the WESD website as a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina, cited no documented examples of how any WESD student, parent, or teacher has been negatively impacted over the last decade by the personal Christian values of any ACU student teacher.

However, the board voted 5 to 0 to end its arrangement with ACU at the completion of this school year. About 16 ACU students are currently involved with WESD.

Although several of the board members expressed concern with what they see as ACU’s rigid anti-LGBTQ philosophy, it was Valenzuela’s comments that were interpreted by many parents as pushing “no Christians welcomed” agenda for WESD.

Two WESD parents spoke to AZ Free News on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against their children; both provided documentation of having students currently enrolled in the district.

“Clearly Ms. Valenzuela believes having Christians involved at Washington Elementary’s schools is unacceptable, whether those people are from Arizona Christian University or simply Christians in general,” one parent said. “Ms. Valenzuela actually said she has personal concerns with feeling ‘safe’ within WESD due to the presence of devout believers in Jesus Christ. What’s next? A religious litmus test for public school employees and teachers?”

The other parent found Valenzuela’s comments about values to be highly hypocritical.

“Tamillia wants to deny student teaching opportunities to ACU students because of her personal dislike of the university’s religious tenets,” the parent noted. “She cannot point us to one incident in all of these years in which any university student shirked their duties toward any WESD student. Yet Tamillia openly wants to discriminate against Christians. Really, who has the values problem?”

At a Jan. 12 board meeting, Valenzuela led a similar attack on the District’s practice of having students from the Grand Canyon University (GCU) social work program serve as interns at various WESD campuses. GCU, based in Phoenix, is one of the largest private Christian universities in the world.

Valenzuela alleged that GCU as an institution has acted in a harmful manner to a low-income community, and thus is not a good philosophical fit for WESD to partner with on social work and mental health. She also expressed concern with having Christian organizations affiliated with the district.

“I am wondering if there’s other options available, one so we are not actively engaging with an institution that’s causing harm and also so we can have options that are not based on a certain faith,” she said.  

Lisa Mora, WESD’s assistant superintendent, pointed out there are a limited number of accredited social work university programs for WESD to work with. Many of them are offered through private colleges, and if district officials wish to continue prioritizing social and emotional services for students, “these universities have the ability to work with us directly.” 

Valenzuela was the only “no” vote on renewing the relationship with GCU.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.