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Resources technology

Australia is a world-leader in producing and exporting a range of energy and resources commodities. Our resource industries deploy world-class expertise and technology in exploration, development, production, processing and environmental management.

  • In oil and gas, Australian companies provide solutions which enable businesses to work in very remote locations, manage technical challenges and risks, and improve environmental and social outcomes.
  • In minerals and metals, Australia has developed and perfected the technologies needed to operate in harsh conditions. World-leading mining equipment, technology and services (METS) companies deliver solutions designed to ensure mines remain productive, achieve high environmental standards and contribute to sustainable economic development.

While large Australian firms and international companies headline the sector, a significant proportion of Australian businesses are small to medium enterprises (SMEs). The industry is estimated to have over 6,000 companies that provide equipment, technology and services to the resources sector. Industry feedback indicated there are over 1,000 local companies that either exclusively or primarily service the mining sector. They operate across the value-chain with some operating in more than one area:[3]

  • 25% operate in the exploration phase
  • 30% in the feasibility phase
  • 58% in the design and construction phases
  • 75% in the operations phase
  • 25% in the remediation phase.

Recent industry surveys indicate:[4]

  • 82% of companies are Australian owned with major markets served including:
    • mining
    • infrastructure (roads ports and rail)
    • utilities (electricity, water and waste water)
    • defence
    • renewables and clean energy
    • oil and gas
    • agriculture and construction.
  • 65% export goods and services with the largest destination (by percentage of companies serving markets) being:
    • United States 38%
    • Indonesia 37%
    • Papua New Guinea 36%
    • New Zealand 33%
    • Canada and Chile 32% each
    • South Africa 30%
    • China 19%.
  • A third of the companies who do not export currently, intend to within the next 2 years with Chile, Canada, US and Indonesia the focus markets.
  • By state, Queensland has the greatest export percentage of revenue at 29%, followed by South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

The Australian industry is highly regarded, but must continue bringing innovative technology solutions to the market that address the challenges facing the resources sector. To do this, industry must invest in projects that translate and commercialise new ideas into products and services. In order to get new products to market more quickly, Government could assist companies to demonstrate their technologies to end-customers. This would enable them to show how new technologies are commercially viable, and help to drive productivity, improve sustainability and integrate with the operating systems of their clients. Without this, many end-use customers are reluctant to disrupt their operations to adopt new technologies.

Australia’s science, research and innovation capabilities are critical enablers of transformation in manufacturing, particularly in the resources sector. To build capability and scale, and to advance Australia’s competitive advantage in resources technology, industry must embrace innovation, and processes and practices including automation and digital operations.

Another key challenge to scale is market design and the traditional practices of some resource and critical minerals firms where technology solutions are ‘owned’ by tier one miners. The sector will flourish as the market evolves to one where products and services are developed and sold to multiple customers. This will support greater collaboration between technology providers and smaller resource producers.

Through the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, the Government will be looking at opportunities to not only collaborate with industry and to make strategic investments, but also for industry players and businesses to work together to invest in strategic projects that will boost Australia’s manufacturing capabilities and expertise in the resources sector.

Resource and critical minerals technology companies need access to finance but Australia’s capital markets are sometimes reluctant to lend to this sector because end users are slow to adopt new resource technologies. This means many smaller companies struggle to commercialise or need to go offshore to raise capital and develop commercial opportunities. To attract capital, they need to broaden their customer base, reach global markets and adapt technologies for application in new industries. 

While programs are available in the market, there is still a significant gap in support provided. Better pathways for commercialising technology will help companies get products to market.

Critical minerals processing

Australia is the largest lithium producer in the world, supplying just over half of global supply, and the industry is beginning to establish a lithium hydroxide processing capability in Western Australia. Australia is also a top 5 producer of:

  • cobalt
  • manganese ore
  • rare earth elements
  • antimony
  • zirconium
  • titanium minerals sands.

It also has viable economic reserves for a number of other critical mineral resources. 

Australia hosts prominent global critical minerals firms including Lynas Corporation Limited (supplying up to 30% of global rare earth elements) and Iluka Resources, a heavy mineral sand company that operates as a major supplier of processed zircon and titanium minerals. Outside of notable mid-tier firms, the sector is characterised by a number of smaller companies. These companies are exploring opportunities to develop critical minerals resources and establish cost-competitive processing operations in Australia.

Selected Australian critical minerals projects

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Company name

Project locations

Critical minerals

Arafura Resources Limited

  • Alice Springs, NT
  • rare earths
  • phosphoric acid

Atlantic

  • Sandstone, WA
  • vandanium

Australian Mines

  • Greenvale, Qld
  • nickel, cobalt, scandium

Australian Strategic Materials (Alkane)

  • Dubbo, NSW
  • titanium
  • zirconium

Clean TeQ Holdings Limited

  • Fifield, NSW
  • nickel, cobalt, scandium

Ecograf

  • Kwinana, WA
  • battery grade spherical graphite

Iluka

  • Cataby, WA
  • Jacinth-Ambrosia, SA
  • Wimmera, Vic
  • titanium
  • zirconium
  • rare earths

Kalbar Operations Pty Ltd

  • Glenaladale, Vic
  • titanium

King Island Scheelite Limited

  • King Island, Tas
  • nickel, cobalt, scandium

Lynas Corporation

  • Kalgoorlie, WA
  • Mt Weld, WA
  • rare earths

Multicom Resources

  • Julia Creek, Qld
  • vanadium

Northern Minerals

  • Brown Range, WA
  • heavy rare earths

Renascor Resources

  • Arno Bay, SA
  • graphite

TNG Limited

  • Darwin, NT
  • Mt Peake, NT
  • vanadium
  • iron ore
  • titanium dioxide

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The ability to move into manufacturing is dependent on the ability to process these chemically complex raw materials competitively. There are very few established processing projects in Australia. Some companies have undertaken definitive feasibility studies and are at the stage of attracting offtake agreements and project finance, but they face technical and market barriers to scale operations. These include:

  • substantial investment overheads to establish mineral processing facilities and build appropriate domestic capabilities in Australia
  • the technical risk involved in highly complex and custom processing requirements
  • commodity price volatility in markets that lack transparency and supply chains that are highly concentrated and with high product qualification thresholds.

To secure market share and more downstream activities, manufacturers need to demonstrate a reliable processing capability and the ability to scale to meet specific customer requirements.

These factors make it difficult to access finance without public funding and risk sharing.

Funding available

The Modern Manufacturing Initiative is now open for resources technology and critical minerals processing projects that meet eligibility under its Translation and Integration streams.

Footnotes

3 CSIRO (2016), Mining Equipment, Technology and Services Roadmap

4 Austmine (2020), METS Sector Survey, unpublished data

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