The Australian Government has announced an updated strategy which it expects will make the nation a critical minerals powerhouse by 2030. The plan is part of measures to unlock the sector’s significant potential, which also include a A$200m (US$148.1m) grant programme and A$50m to support research and development.
News of these measures came on the same day that Government announced A$243m of critical minerals project support through a key initiative of the A$1.5bn Modern Manufacturing Strategy (MMS), an action plan to develop manufacturing to deliver positive economic outcomes and create jobs. Critical minerals processing is a manufacturing priority under the MMS.
Australia boasts large reserves of critical minerals many sectors rely on, including aerospace, agritech, automotive, defence, energy, and telecommunications. It produces about half the world’s lithium, is the second-largest producer of cobalt, and the fourth-largest of rare earths. But Kevin Pitt, Minister for Resources and Water, says the nation has the potential to do “so much more”.
The recently launched 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy sets out to grow Australia’s critical minerals sector, expand downstream processing, and help meet future global demand. Australia’s large critical mineral reserves, technical expertise, and record as a reliable and responsible supplier, enable it to respond to increasing global market demand.
Towards achieving its vision of becoming a powerhouse in the industry, Government will undertake three actions, including reducing the risk of investing in critical mineral projects. This will be through project facilitation, providing technical support, and making strategic investments to scale up processing and lock in finance and offtake for production.
The A$200m Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative is aimed at bringing new sources of supply online by supporting strategically significant projects at the early- to mid-stage. Grant funding will accelerate these projects to market, attracting private sector finance and investment.
Government will create an enabling environment, including through research and development to grow the sector. It has committed A$50m over 3 years to establish a virtual National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre.
The planned centre will build Australia’s critical minerals processing capability, target technical bottlenecks in strategic supply chains, and drive breakthrough collaborative research. Pitt expects that the centre’s projects will help unlock new sources of economically viable critical minerals and diversify supply chains that are of strategic interest to Australia and its allies.
It will draw on expertise from national science agency CSIRO; Geoscience Australia, the national public sector geoscience organisation; and public research organisation Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.
Australia will also act to strengthen its partnerships with other countries, building on and creating relationships to improve collaboration, share critical minerals knowledge, and secure commercial offtake agreements to support Australia’s economy.
Under the new strategy, Australia has also added two resources to its priority list of critical minerals. These are high purity alumina, which is used in the aerospace and automotive sectors, and in lithium-ion batteries and high-performance electronics and optics; and silicon, an essential part of semiconductors used in computers, electronics, and solar panels.
Pitt said: “The Strategy will cement Australia’s position as a leading producer of critical minerals, while contributing to our national security and economic prosperity.
“Developing and diversifying our resources sector strengthens our national economy, delivering jobs and growth opportunities, especially in regional Australia.”
The measures are part of Australia’s 2022–2023 Budget.
Further support for the critical minerals sector was announced under the A$1.3bn Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI), part of the MMS. MMI is aimed at transforming manufacturing businesses and helping them to scale up, translate ideas into commercial successes, and integrate into local and international value chains.
A$243.6m total funding was announced for four projects. The recipients include:
Angus Taylor, Minister for Industry, Energy, and Emission Reductions said: “Australia is lucky to have some of the largest reserves of the critical minerals and metals which drive the modern global economy. But China currently dominates around 70–80% of global critical minerals production and continues to consolidate its hold over these supply chains. This initiative is designed to address that dominance.
“These projects are not only game-changers for the local region with the creation of new jobs, they will also open up incredible export opportunities.”
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