MIWATCH attends the Rare Earth Element (REECon) Conference 2023

What to do after a few weeks of fieldwork in some of the most beautiful parts of Australia?  Attend and present at a conference of course!  In mid-November, I was very privileged to represent the team at REECon 2023, and present on some of the national results we collected throughout the year:  are there any rare earth in our mine wastes? The answer is yes… but if you weren’t there, you’ll have to stay tuned!

But enough about what we did, let’s reflect on the few days that were put together by the amazing team at the Australian National University in Canberra (thanks again for the invite!).  REECon 2023 was a must attend for many, whether you were from the industry, academia or government.  The three days promised to be packed and informative with planned workshops, talks and discussion panels…

The organising committee made sure there was something for everyone: from technical workshops covering ‘REE For Dummies’, ‘NORM in REE processing (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials)’ and ‘Emerging REE Bio-extraction techniques’ to geopolitical workshops (Risk and Rewards: the geopolitics of REE), the first sessions of the conference set the tone for the next three days. The full program and presenter names can be found on the Australian National University 2023 Rare Earth Conference website.

Delegates were then invited to join the main lecture theatre where all talks were presented, for the opening of the conference.  And what an opening it was:  firstly, the Welcome to Country by Paul House was moving, as he invited two delegates to perform with him.  We were then treated to hear from Nobel Prize winner, Professor Brian P. Schmidt, Australian National University’s Vice Chancellor and Professor John Mavrogenes, the convenor. 

Paul House delivers a Welcome to Country at the Rare Earth Element (REECon) Conference 2023
Paul House joined by Miranda and John during the Welcome to Country. Image credit: Kam Bhowany.

Day 1 was full of fantastic presenters spanning from the global state of affairs by Ignacio (Nacho) Gonzalez-Alvarez, to Indigenous Futures in the industry by Darren Goodwell, to the geology of REE deposits (Mt Weld by Marcelle Watson), to the challenges of REE processing on an industrial scale, by Kathy Ehrig.

Day 2 provided us with an insight on just how far REE is affecting our country, and ultimately, the world.  We heard on the educational barriers (Tom McGoram) and the international reaches of the Australian REE industry (US, Clint Cox; Asia, Jess Williams; Japan, Mr Hiroyiki Katayama) and the requirements for the energy transition, on and offshore (Tim Buckley, Mike Sandiford).  A highlight was to see the many who are actively working in the space, from characterisation (Nishka Piechocka) to reprocessing (Karin Soldenoff) to the sustainability issues that also come along with this new sector (Phoebe Whatoff). 

This particular day though, was concluded with the conference dinner at the National Museum of Australia… And a personal highlight was to meet the Honorable Madeleine King, Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia and a very good chat with ANU Chancellor and ex-politician, Julie Bishop.  Two inspiring women, both giving great speeches, speaking from the heart and leading with kindness.

Julie Bishop Madeleine King presenting at the Rare Earth Element (REECon) Conference 2023
Julie Bishop and Honorable Madeleine King at the conference dinner. Image credit: Kam Bhowany.

The last day of REECon moved back towards more technical, industry-based talks, which highlighted current work being done in the space.  As always, one of my all-time favourites was the potential for biomining of REEs by Anna Kaksonen, who was closely followed by Arianne Ford who presented the extensive work being done by Geoscience Australia to map carbonatite-related REEs.  What an amazing session to have been part of.  New REE deposit types were discussed ( e.g. from Africa by Alistair Stevens) and new local discoveries in WA (by Matt Crowe, Sarah James and Brett Hazelden) and NSW (Oliver Davies) were presented. And finally, it was time for another workshop session, again, we could pick what tickled our interest: finance and economics, geology or extraction of REE?  Of course, this geologist went for the extraction workshop… After all, moving forward, communication with our engineer counterparts will be key.

These three days left us with the following messages loud and clear: the world needs REEs and the are needed very quick as other nations rely on Australia’s mineral wealth.  There is still a lot to be done in understanding how and where to find them, but mostly, how to process them… And the country needs to do it responsibly and sustainably… Which means a whole new work force needs to be built and trained to do so, so we all have a role to play in Australia’s REE’s sector.

This conference, however, was also a chance to catch up with some of the younger bright minds driving the REE research and discoveries in Australia… So here is a special shout out to Ross Chandler, Diana Zivak, Jess Walsh, Manuel Knorsh and Tobias Bamforth!  Thanks you all to for being the familiar faces in the this ever changing landscape!

Kam Bhowany presenting at Rare Earth Element (REECon) Conference 2023
Presenting on behalf of MIWATCH. Image credit: Jess Walsh.


Last updated:
14 December 2023