Technological change has been driving global demand for a new group of metals, non-metals and mineral elements considered necessary for the economic wellbeing of the world's major and emerging economies. The importance of rare earth elements and other critical minerals stems from their unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic, and luminescent properties. The growing significance of these minerals is demonstrated through their use in the manufacture of mobile phones and computers, flat-screen monitors, wind turbines, electric cars, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, defence industry technology and products, and many other high-tech applications.
As demand for critical minerals grows, there are significant economic opportunities for Australia. We have existing projects and significant geological reserves of minerals deemed critical by other nations (see Figure 1) and we are well placed to capitalise on rising global demand for secure supplies of critical minerals. For example, Australia:
- has the world's third largest reserves of lithium and is the largest producer2 of lithium in the world
- is ranked sixth in the world for rare earth elements and second for production3, yet many of these deposits remain untapped
- has large resources of cobalt, manganese, tantalum, tungsten, and zirconium.
Australia also has world-leading expertise in resource extraction and processing, high-tech engineering and renewables research. Australia is a highly attractive destination for investment, with competitive advantages across the full spectrum of technical, capital allocation, and risk considerations, including political and economic stability, technology, training, research and development, environmental and labour standards, and legal and regulatory certainty.
While the market for some critical minerals is relatively mature, other minerals markets remain largely underdeveloped. Australia is moving up the lithium value chain as lithium producers invest in lithium processing. By comparison, investment in other minerals with high geological potential, such as cobalt and rare earth elements, has been slower. With the right supporting framework, the Government expects cobalt and other critical mineral markets could develop in response to increasing global demand.
These opportunities are additional to those where Australia is already a leading producer. For example, nickel and aluminium are not on many critical mineral lists; however, they are a major part of lithium-ion batteries and of lightweight metals, respectively. The opportunities for Australian resource producers to supply these expanding markets are likely to also be significant.
Matching resource potential to international demand
Figure 1 shows Australia's deposits, operating mines and current and pipeline projects for critical minerals.
The Australian Government has examined the lists of critical minerals published in several markets and matched those against Australia's known geological endowment. Table 1 sets out the results of that analysis. It shows that Australia has moderate to high geological potential in 24 minerals that are deemed critical by many countries.
This is a dynamic list that may change as the understanding of Australia's resource potential develops, and as demand for critical minerals changes in response to technological and market developments.
The Government is using its international network to stay informed of market developments as countries seek increased supplies of critical minerals. For example, the Government has been strengthening links with the United States (U.S.) since President Trump released an Executive Order in December 2017 directing the development of a United States Critical Minerals Strategy. In February 2018 then Prime Minister Turnbull and President Trump agreed to work together on exploration, extraction, processing, research and development. And in December 2018, Minister Canavan and then Secretary Zinke, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, signed a letter of intent committing Geoscience Australia and the U.S. Geological Survey to work together on critical minerals issues.
Figure 1: Major Critical Mineral Operating and Developing Mines in Australia
|Critical Mineral||U.S. list5||E.U. list6||Japan list7||Australia's Geological Potential8||Australia's Economic Demonstrated Resource9||Australia's Production||Global Production||Market Value (Global)
|1||Antimony||✓||✓||✓||Moderate||138 kt||5.5 kt||150 kt||$185.2|
|4||Chromium||✓||✓||High||-||-||31 000 kt||$4,705.3|
|5||Cobalt||✓||✓||✓||High||1221 kt||5 kt||110 kt||$541.8|
|8||Graphite||✓||✓||✓||Moderate||7140 kt||0||1200 kt||$1,076.1|
|10||Helium||✓||✓||Moderate||-||4 hm3||160 hm3||$591.0|
|12||Lithium||✓||✓||High||2803 kt||14.4 kt||43 kt||$1,430.6|
|14||Manganese||✓||✓||High||231 000 kt||3200 kt||16 000 kt||$5,443.7|
|15||Niobium||✓||✓||High||216 kt||-||64 kt||$1,709.512|
|16||Platinum-group elements||✓||✓||✓||High||24.9 t||2.6 t||200 kt||$19,316.6|
|17||Rare-earth elements||✓||✓||✓||High||3270 kt||14 kt||130 kt||$41513|
|20||Tantalum||✓||✓||✓||High||55.4 kt||-||1.3 kt||$1,552.9|
276 500 kt
Rutile: 32 900 kt
|Ilmenite: 1400 kt
Rutile: 300 kt
|Ilmenite: 6700 kt
Rutile: 750 kt
|22||Tungsten||✓||✓||✓||Moderate||386 kt||0.11 kt||95 kt||$164.0|
|23||Vanadium||✓||✓||✓||Moderate||3965 kt||0||80 kt||$1,709.512|
|24||Zirconium||✓||✓||High||52 662 kt||600 kt||1600 kt||$1,003.4|
- 2 Geoscience Australia (2019) Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2018. Australian Government, Canberra.
- 3 Geoscience Australia (2019) Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2018. Australian Government, Canberra.
- 4 Source: Austrade (2019) Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus. Note: t = tonne; kt = kilotonnes;
and hm3 = million cubic metres.
- 5 The United States lists 35 minerals and commodities as critical to their economic and national security.
The full list may be accessed at https://www.usgs.gov/news/interior-releases-2018-s-final-list-35-minerals-deemed-critical-us-national-security-and.
- 6 The European Union lists 27 raw materials as critical due to risks of supply shortage and their impacts on the economy being higher than those of most of the other raw materials. The full list may be accessed at
- 7 In March 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry released a report that identified the following 31 minerals as key: Li, Co, Ni, Cu, REE, PGM, W, Mg, Be, Re, Ti, Cr, Mo, Mn, Nb, P, Zn, Sn, Pb, Sb, Ta, In, Ga, C, Ge, Zr, Sr, V, F, Au and Ag.
- 8 Source: Geoscience Australia.
- 9 Geoscience Australia (2019) Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2018; U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries 2018.
- 10 United Nations CommTrade database. Note: Highest-importing countries only are summed, as shown in mineral summaries following. They are not market totals, and aggregations across various mineral groups (see next footnote) will not sum.
- 11 Data are aggregated for Be, Cr, Ge, V, Ga, Hf, In, Nb, Re and Tl articles of metals including scrap, waste and powder.
- 12 Data are aggregated for Nb, Ta, V and Zr ore and concentrates.
- 13 Scandium has been included with rare earth elements by the UN Commtrade database.