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Creating a new vision for Australia’s critical minerals

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Australia’s critical minerals are becoming increasingly important as the world looks to these resources to build the technology needed to reach net-zero emissions.

Critical minerals and rare-earth elements are the building blocks of the modern economy. They are crucial to increasing our global importance, and central to supporting the shared geostrategic aims of Australia’s allies and partners throughout the region.

Demand across the world for these minerals is rapidly increasing, driven by decarbonisation and exponential growth in electronic, communication and military technologies. With this expected growth, Australia finds itself in an enviable position.

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Barely a week passes in which I am not contacted by an ambassador of a partner nation seeking to discuss access to Australian critical minerals and rare-earth elements.

Australia boasts some of the richest deposits of critical minerals reserves in the world. We have the world’s second largest deposits of lithium and cobalt, and the sixth largest deposits of rare earths.

The International Energy Agency says that the world is on track to double its overall mineral requirements for clean-energy technologies by 2040. Australia has an opportunity to seize the moment—to leverage our critical minerals endowment to fuel the global clean-energy transition.

Unlocking the potential of our critical minerals endowments is a core part of realising our ambition to be a clean-energy superpower.

Contrary to popular belief, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 means we will need more mining, not less. That’s because, to build batteries, semiconductors and wind farms, the world will need more of our minerals.

The road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector. That is why we are doing everything we can to ensure we grasp this opportunity with both hands.

We are looking at adding more value to what we mine and produce.

New mines are being planned and existing mines expanded, and exploration spending is continuing to rise, spurred on by the work of Geoscience Australia.

The critical minerals boom is going to help ensure our future by adding even more value to our world-class mining sector and by creating exciting new industries here as we move into downstream processing.

Looking at rare earths, for example, Australia is currently only involved in the mining and beneficiation stages of what is a lengthy and complex supply chain. It starts with mining and ends with the production of permanent magnets used in electric vehicle motors and wind turbines.

The government is supporting the development of a number of rare-earths projects that will help us to move further along the value chain. For example, Lynas and Arafura have been awarded federal grants to support the development of Lynas’s Kalgoorlie cracking and leaching facility.

Hastings Technology Metals has received approval for a $220 million loan through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to support the development of its Yangibana project, which includes cracking and leaching at its Onslow Hydrometallurgical facility. The Perth-based company also recently received a conditional letter of support from Export Finance Australia.

And Iluka Resource’s Eneabba rare-earths refinery has been approved for a $1.25 billion loan through the Critical Minerals Facility. Once operational, the Iluka facility will be Australia’s first fully integrated rare-earth-oxide refinery and will be crucial in diversifying downstream components of the rare-earths supply chain and establishing a processing base from which we can further grow.

Consistent with the government’s manufacturing policy and ambitions, including our battery strategy, it is our ambition to have more of our own rare earths and other critical minerals processed here. We want to capture more of the regional economic benefits and, most importantly, we want to help ensure reliable and affordable supplies of these materials to underpin the global net-zero transition by diversifying supply chains.

In recent years, we’ve seen first-hand the significant vulnerabilities that arise from concentrated supply chains, regardless of where the concentration points lie. Diversity of supply is an intrinsic good in these markets—and by establishing new sources of supply for critical minerals, we can help make these markets stronger, more efficient, more resilient and more transparent.

At the same time, we can move up the value chain by linking our projects with like-minded countries and strategic partners such as the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea and EU member states, and establishing robust end-to-end supply chains.

Positive developments are already taking place in this area, and we want to capitalise on that momentum.

Our National Reconstruction Fund is a $15-billion financing vehicle that will diversify and transform Australia’s industry to drive sustainable economic growth. A billion dollars of that funding has been earmarked for value-add in resources.

This injection of funds, alongside existing government finance mechanisms such as the new Critical Minerals Facility, Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, will help unlock finance for critical minerals projects.

To help ensure we have the right policy settings in place, the government is also developing a new critical minerals strategy. It will focus on key priorities such as creating economic opportunities—including for regional Australia and First Nations peoples. It also looks at developing new sovereign capabilities and industries, and building reliable, competitive and diverse supply chains. It will help grow our sector and reflect the important role our critical minerals can play here and abroad.

Importantly, we continue to build meaningful international partnerships that encourage investment in critical minerals.

 

Source: The Strategist

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