Minerals lobby wants permanent funding for Geoscience Australia to map deposits

Australia needs 50 new lithium mines, 60 new nickel mines and 17 new cobalt mines to meet soaring global demand for green technology, and the minerals lobby group The Minerals Council of Australia is asking for help to do it saying it’s about the race to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia has an abundance of the critical minerals and rare earth elements needed to drive the electrical generators of the future, including lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper.

Growth in demand for these minerals is expected to help balance the loss of jobs in extracting coal and gas.

The MCA says in its 2023-24 budget submission that Australian industry has the tools to become competitive in this global race to provide “astronomical” quantities of minerals and metals. But it wants a clear, level playing field to do so.

“Global mining investment is expected to increase by $US100 billion annually from current levels to produce the mineral commodities required for the world to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the submission reads.

Sustaining the boom requires the discovery of significant new mineral deposits before work on building the 127 new mines can even begin.

Now the MCA wants the Federal Government to permanently fund public geoscience research bodies to give the mining industry a reason to invest.

This would allow Australia “to truly capitalise on what the MCA believes is a very unique opportunity”, it says in a statement released late last week.

Australia’s ideally positioned to produce these deposits.

Some 300 million years ago, during the Permian Age, the continent experienced an explosion in forest growth as the glaciers retreated. Swamps and river systems were common.

This resulted in Australia’s high-quality coal fields.

Also in Cosmos: Rare Earths – right there?

Luckily, Australia’s geology has also produced rich deposits of the materials needed for wind turbines, solar panels and batteries.

“Like coal, these minerals are concentrated in particular regions. And like coal, they have been millions of years in the making,” geologists Melanie Finch and Emily Finch wrote for The Conversation.

“Mount Isa’s copper and rare earth deposits formed when hot, salty fluids acted like a magnet for metals, bringing them up to the surface and depositing them in little pockets we can find by understanding the geology.”

These processes took place some 1.5 billion years ago. And Australia’s immense geological age means the deposits can be more easily accessed. If they can be found.

“We have the potential to be a global leader in climate action through our mining prowess and human capital coupled with our geological wealth of minerals vital to the decarbonisation push now underway,” they argue.

But Australia’s peak mining industry representative body doesn’t want the Federal Government’s Safeguard mechanism – designed to enforce compliance with carbon emissions reduction targets – to affect competitiveness with less diligent but resource-rich economies.

“Since the peak of the mining investment boom in 2013, the industry has produced $2.4 trillion in resources export revenue, $252 billion in mining wages, $143 billion in company taxes, $112 billion in royalties, and generated 21 per cent of Australia’s GDP growth,” the MCA said.

“Australia cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity it is presented with to maximise the economic potential of its minerals endowments.”

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