A national plan to make Australia a competitive critical minerals supplier to the world will involve a new centre led by the CSIRO, and with Geoscience Australia and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) as partners.
The federal government launched an updated critical minerals strategy this month, outlining several initiatives to develop a reliable and responsible industry in Australia. It is a refreshed version of a 2019 strategy, which laid out a long-term plan to leverage the growing international demand for critical minerals.
“The need for robust supply chains has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries are increasingly seeking access to reliable, secure and resilient supplies of the critical minerals they need,” the foreward of the updated document said.
“Australia’s large critical minerals reserves, technical expertise and track record as a reliable and responsible supplier mean the sector can respond to market demand.”
Money has been allocated in the federal 2022-23 budget to fund $200 million worth of accelerator grants and $50 million over three years for research and investment opportunities under the strategy.
The establishment of National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre, made possible by an intra-agency partnership between the CSIRO, ANSTO and Geoscience Australia, is a core component of the strategy.
According to Geoscience Australia CEO Dr James Johnson, the agencies have been collectively tasked with unlocking new sources of economically viable critical minerals; developing Australian intellectual property in critical minerals processing; finding solutions for technical bottlenecks in strategic supply chains; and undertaking collaborative research.
“Geoscience Australia has a real opportunity in this centre to support new discoveries of world-class deposits to meet the rapidly accelerating global demand for critical minerals and realise Australia’s full critical mineral resource potential,” Johnson said.
Australia currently produces half of the world’s lithium and is the second-largest producer of cobalt. For rare earth materials, Australia is the fourth largest producer.
In a joint statement with resources minister Keith Pitt, prime minister Scott Morrison made election overtures, noting the strategy showed the Coalition were prepared to support Australia’s resources sector while he accused Labor and the Greens of wanting to ‘destroy it’.
“Australia is blessed with extraordinary reserves of the critical minerals needed by sectors including defence, aerospace, automotive, energy, telecommunications and agritech,” Morrison said.
“Our resources and energy exports hit a record high value of $348.9 billion, and are projected to hit $379 billion in 2021-22.”
Johnson said his agency was well-placed to make Australia a ‘critical minerals powerhouse’. He pointed to a $225 million program known as ‘exploring for the future’ as just one example of the initiatives his agency was delivering to meet the objectives of the strategy.
“We have a strong track record of stimulating mineral exploration investment, with our pre-competitive data opening new exploration and development opportunities across Australia,” Johnson said.
“The announcement is also a demonstration of how Geoscience Australia is continuing to deliver on our strategy 2028 targets.”
The government strategy complements three others focused on global resources, modern manufacturing and a national technology investment roadmap.