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Australia leading the way in critical minerals - report

Image shows a lithium sample

Photo by Bloomberg

7th March 2023

By: Esmarie Iannucci

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia

     

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PERTH (miningweekly.com) – A new report by Geoscience Australia has shown that Australia was the world’s top lithium producer in 2021, and was among the top five global producers of 18 mineral commodities, including iron-ore, bauxite, gold, cobalt, mineral sands, rare earths, zinc and nickel.

In the 'Identified Mineral Resources' (AIMR) report, Geoscience Australia noted that Australia provided 53% of global lithium supply in 2021 to meet rising demand in the electric vehicle markets, and in the same period, retained its number one production ranking for bulk commodities such as bauxite, iron-ore and rutile, with the addition of zircon.

Australian lithium production grew by 38% in 2021, with the country producing 55 000 t compared to 40 000 t the previous year.  

Lithium production is expected to further increase in 2022, with Western Australian mines ramping up to meet demand and the Finniss lithium project opening in the Northern Territory. 

Meanwhile, the economic inventory for platinum group elements rose by 131%, while scandium, vanadium, cobalt, antimony and tantalum inventories all rose by more than 5%.

Platinum group element resources, used in hybrid cars, increased 131% with the release of Chalice Mining’s maiden resource for the Julimar project in Western Australia, the most significant palladium/platinum discovery of the last 20 years anywhere in the world.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King said the national stocktake of known mineral resources released by Geoscience Australia identified important trends in reserves, resources and mine production, and indicated potential resource life and future supply capability. 

“As the world’s largest producer of lithium, a key component in batteries for electric vehicles, our minerals sector has an enormous role to play in the success of the energy transition over the coming decades,” King said.

“Demand for battery minerals is surging with the uptake of electric vehicles and our lithium sector is going from strength to strength.

“As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at his National Press Club Address in February, Australia must not only extract more critical minerals like lithium but also look to process those materials here to protect our national sovereignty.”

Australia produces more than a quarter of the world’s bauxite, more than one-third of the world’s iron-ore, more than one-quarter of the world’s rutile and just under one-third of the world’s zircon. 

Iron-ore continued to be the lead mineral export commodity for Australia in 2021, worth nearly A$155-billion, up from A$117-billion in 2020, and comprising more than 52% of total mineral export earnings. In 2021, Australia was also the world’s largest producer of iron-ore, providing 36% of world supply and with the largest share of global resources, accounting for 31% of the world’s economic inventory.

Black coal also continued to be an important contributor, contributing nearly 22% to Australia’s mineral export earnings, contributing more than A$63-billion, up from A$43-billion in 2020. Metallurgical coal, which is essential to steel production, made up the bulk, or 58%, amounting to A$37-billion of coal earnings.

The AIMR report noted that falling copper demand during the initial phases of the pandemic was partially offset by a supply squeeze from major producers. In 2021, as the global economy started to recover, demand for the red metal returned and prices reached A$12 413/t, up from A$8 902/t in 2020.

This renewed interest in copper flowed through to copper exploration, which increased by 65% from 2020 to a new expenditure high of A$550-million, accounting for 15% of all Australian mineral exploration expenditure. As a result, Australia’s national copper inventory increased to more than 100-million tonnes in 2021, the second largest in the world behind Chile and comprising 11% of global economic resources.

Copper accounted for 4% of Australian mineral and metal export earnings in 2021 with an export value of more than A$12-billion.

The AIMR report said overall exploration expenditure increased by 28% compared to the previous year, reaching A$3.6-billion. This was the largest recorded expenditure on exploration in almost a decade.

King said the report reaffirmed Australia’s reputation as one of the world’s most desirable locations for investment.

“The Australian government will continue to support the resources industry as part of our commitment to net zero, through initiatives like Geoscience Australia’s A$225-million Exploring for the Future Program,” King said

“Since this program began in 2016, Australia’s share of global exploration expenditure has doubled.

“The data, information, tools and new thinking gained by our investment in geoscience will help Australia and its partners diversify mineral supply chains and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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