Ready for the future

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From a position of strength Australia’s resources landscape is ripe with untold opportunities for investment in commodities, critical minerals and the technologies of the future.

The Australian Government is supporting the research, technology, and data to help bring those opportunities to the surface.

Critical minerals

Australia has rich stocks of a large number of known mineral resources, including critical minerals. These are essential to the production of low emission energy technologies such as:

  • electric vehicles
  • wind turbines
  • batteries.

For example, Australia has large reserves of rare earths, lithium, graphite, cobalt, manganese, and vanadium.

Australia also holds significant endowment of other mineral resources that are used in conjunction of critical minerals in these emerging technologies. Examples include nickel, copper and bauxite (aluminium).

An image of Australia with four key call-out icons displaying Australia's critical minerals strengths. The call outs say Australia has the worlds second largest reserve of Lithium, Australia is the largest producer of lithium, Australia is 6 in the world for rare earth resources, and second in production with many undeveloped deposits, and that Australia has large resources of other critical minerals including cobalt, manganese, tantalum, tungsten, and zirconiam.

The government’s Critical Minerals Strategy outlines a vision for Australia as a world leader in the exploration, extraction, production and processing of critical minerals.32 

The government established the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office (CMFO) in January 2020 to:

  • help diversify and strengthen global critical minerals supply chains
  • position Australia as global supplier of choice for trusted and sustainably produced critical minerals.

A map of Australia showing the location of Australia's major critical minerals operations.

View larger image of the map of Australia's critical minerals operations.

Map of Australia’s critical minerals operations. Source: Geoscience Australia, 2020.

The CMFO is driving a coordinated and comprehensive approach to developing Australia’s supply potential. This includes supporting Australia to move further up the value chain to processing, separation and metallisation of the key minerals essential to renewable and defence technologies and Australia’s advanced manufacturing capabilities.

This work is supported by a A$4.5 million Advancing R&D for Critical Minerals research program (administered by the CMFO). It is boosting the work of Australia’s three national science agencies, CSIRO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Geoscience Australia.

The CMFO works across all levels of government, industry, investors, academia and Australia’s international strategic partners to attract investment and grow Australia’s critical minerals sector.

The CMFO is leading the delivery of a National Critical Minerals Roadmap with state and territory governments. Two key priority work streams under the National Roadmap are the delivery of an ethical certification scheme that includes provenance and Blockchain pilots.

These pilots aim to capitalise on:

  • Australia’s credentials as a resources supplier that meets high ethical, work place safety environmental and sustainability standards and improve supply chain transparency
  • the establishment of critical minerals processing precincts to unlock government regulatory and infrastructure support.

The CMFO works in close partnership with proponents to:

  • navigate regulatory approvals
  • secure new investment and offtake agreements
  • to connect projects to government financing vehicles like Export Finance Australia, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The CMFO, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade and other agencies, is also progressing a significant program of international engagement with key trading partners.

To further support the development of a critical minerals downstream processing sector, the government has identified the resources technology and critical minerals industries as one of six priority sectors under the Modern Manufacturing Strategy. Itenablles the sector to benefit from the A$1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative. 

Cooperation on hydrogen

Australia’s leadership in developing a viable global hydrogen industry has started with significant investments to develop and domestic production.

The government has made a joint investment in the world’s first end to end liquefied hydrogen supply chain. Partnering with Japan and the Victorian Government, we are delivering the Japan-Australia Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Production has commenced at the site, with the first trial shipment to Kobe in Japan expected to take place later this year.

A commercial-scale HESC could produce an estimated 225,000 tonnes of low emissions hydrogen each year. If this was used in power generation and other applications, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 million tonnes a year.

The project highlights the government’s commitment to low emissions technology development, and its ambitions for Australia to become a global leader in low emissions hydrogen production and export.

Future ready iron ore

Australia’s resources sector is exploring opportunities to service a growing global export market for feedstock to low-emissions steel manufacturing.

As major steel producing countries and operators consider how to lower their emissions, raw material producers along the value chain are also considering ways to reduce onsite and upstream emissions. This includes through improving the quality of iron ore, increased beneficiation, before it is shipped or as an input to produce hot briquetted iron on shore for use and export.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and CSIRO are working with industry and state governments to enable Australia’s large iron ore export sector to be ready to reap the benefits of being the primary supplier into low-emissions iron and steel markets.

Further work on this is being explored as part of the second Low Emissions Technology Statement.

Uncovering opportunities

Geoscience Australia’s A$225 million Exploring for the Future Program provides industry and land and water managers with pre-competitive data about potential mineral, energy and groundwater resources to drive investment in the resources and agricultural sectors.33 

The program uses a series of cutting-edge geoscientific techniques to map Australia’s geological structures at unprecedented scale and detail.

This freely available information creates a better understanding of our mineral, energy and groundwater systems and allows us to realise Australia’s economic potential.

More than 250 datasets are already available online from the program’s first phase of work in Northern Australia. The data has resulted in more than twenty companies taking up new investments in over 120,000 square kilometres of exploration acreage across Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The data is available through Geoscience Australia’s innovative online portal.34 The portal gives explorers, investors, and planners the information and tools they need to encourage exploration investment, inform resource management, and, ultimately, make a real difference to Australian communities.

A map of Australia showing areas of focus for Phase 2 of the Exploring for the future program extention. The map outlines the Darling-Curnamona-Delamerian, Officer-Musgrave, Barkly-Isa-Georgetown, Areas of focus for continental-scale projects, Trans-Austr

View larger image of the map of Australia's critical minerals operations.

Exploring for the Future Phase 2 project activities map. Source: Geoscience Australia, 2021.

Supporting new energy opportunities through technology

Economies across the globe are undergoing substantial changes to meet growing demand for energy, while reducing emissions. This is creating increased demand for fuels such as LNG and hydrogen, while increasing the development and production of new low-emission technologies. These technologies create higher demand for raw materials required for their manufacture, as well as for other goods and services along associated supply chains.

Energy storage technologies, including batteries, are also coming online and rapidly scaling up. Consequently, global lithium consumption is projected to rise from 426,000 tonnes lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) in 2021 to around one million tonnes by 2026, largely due to the uptake of battery electric vehicles.35

To seize these opportunities, the government has developed a number of strategies and roadmaps to best position Australia for these opportunities.

The government’s Low Emissions Technology Investment Roadmap and Statement supports the shift to secure, more affordable energy and achieving lower emissions through technology investment.36  

The government’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program provides grant funding to support industry-led collaborative research partnerships, solving industry-identified problems, including ensuring the industry stands well prepared to face future resource needs.

There are currently many CRCs supporting the resources and METS industries.

Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is supporting research into innovative pathways to mine, extract, refine and recycle battery minerals, metals and materials to produce battery products. Additionally, Australia is taking action to support the circular economy through resource recycling, with CSIRO working with industry on lithium battery recycling.37

CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) aims to transform the methods used by Australia’s mining and minerals industry by developing energy-saving and resource-expanding technologies.

MinEx CRC will create new opportunities for mineral discovery by delivering:

  • more productive, safer and environmentally friendly drilling methods
  • new technologies for collecting data while drilling
  • exploration data on never before sampled rocks that are hidden but prospective for minerals.

Future Energy Exports CRC aims to improve efficiency in all parts of the LNG value chain and enable Australia to become the leading global hydrogen exporter.

CRC for Transformations in Mining Economies will drive transformational change to enable regions and communities to transition to a prosperous and sustainable post-mine future.

Future Fuels CRC aims to transition energy infrastructure to a low-carbon economy using fuels such as hydrogen and biogas.

The resources and METS sectors are also well supported in the CRC Projects (CRC-Ps) stream. CRC‑Ps provide grants for shorter term, industry-led collaborations for up to three years with grants capped at A$3 million. In recent rounds of the CRC-P stream, priority funding was allocated to support 11 projects with a specific focus on the critical minerals sector.

Australia’s existing expertise and new infrastructure investment

The government is investing A$110 billion over 10 years from 2020-21 in transport infrastructure across Australia through its rolling infrastructure plan. A substantial component of this is under the Infrastructure Investment Program.

The program will involve every Australian jurisdiction building much-needed infrastructure across a number of individual funding programs.

This significant investment will not only better connect our regions, improve safety on our roads and meet our national freight challenges. It will also support the development and delivery of our resources exports to maintain efficient supply chains.

Footnotes