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AU targets critical minerals in hunt

Metal Tech News - May 15, 2024

Latest budget's resource search focuses on battery metals and rare earth elements.

Over the coming decade, Australia is prepared to spend A$566 million (US$373 million) to map out deposits of minerals critical to high-tech manufacturing and the green energy transition.

"The critical minerals space is one of the reasons why there is so much attention from global and domestic investors, but we need to make sure we can attract and deploy that," Australia Treasurer Jim Chalmers said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Next week's coming budget aims to strike a balance between containing high inflation in the near term and investing in Australia's economic future over the years ahead in what Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called "a new era of mineral exploration" in a recent speech.

"The world needs more of these resources – and our government is going to help Australia find more," Albanese said. "We will fund the first comprehensive map of what's under Australia's soil – and our seabed. Meaning we can pinpoint the new deposits of critical minerals and strategic materials we need for clean energy and its technology. As well as traditional minerals like iron ore and gold. And potential storage sites for hydrogen."

"We've got some huge advantages. We've been dealt some incredible cards – our resources base, our industrial base, energy, our human capital base, our attractiveness as an investment destination," Chalmers said.

Financing for the government agency Geoscience Australia begins on July 1 to conduct surveys to identify prospective deposits, as well as for clean hydrogen projects and carbon capture and storage. Data from across the country will be made available to exploration companies to better understand regional geology, encouraging more of the necessary private investment and drilling.

Despite continued government funds, Australia has struggled to establish sufficient domestic production of critical minerals in some sectors due to cheap Asian supplies. The nation's nickel industry has particularly suffered major setbacks this year due to Indonesia's explosion onto the scene.

However, diplomatic allies, including the U.S., are keen to use Australian battery minerals. This is spurring plans to continue to push for a marked increase in domestic production and processing of Australia's wealth of lithium, rare earths, and other critical minerals.

Any deposits discovered and developed in Australia would help to reduce its own and other Western countries' reliance on the massive Chinese critical minerals industry for the raw materials needed to build solar panels, electric vehicles, and lithium-ion batteries.

"Some 80 per cent of Australia is unexplored," penned Warren Pearce, chief executive officer of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, in an email. "This program has the potential to open new mineral jurisdictions and unlock immense new mineral wealth for Australia."


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