There is no Net-Zero without Mining, but it’s not business as usual

The inaugural AusIMM Critical Minerals Conference was held in Perth on the 21-23 November 2023, hosting over 700 delegates. The program was forward-thinking and focussed on how industry and government can work together to build Australia’s future in global Critical Minerals (CMs) supply. There was plenty of representation and open dialogue between industry partners and state and national government, with the Hon Madeleine King MP, Hon Bill Johnston MLA, Paul Heithersay (SA), Ben Laidler (WA), John Langoulant AO (WAGO) and Carlye Sycz (QLD) all in attendance.

attendees at the AusIMM Critical Minerals Conference 2023
Panels, attendees and showcase booths (Photo credit: AusIMM)

Representing The University of Queensland and the Sustainable Minerals Institute were WH Bryan Mining Geology Research Centre (BRC) Director and AusIMM Board Member Mark Noppé, Denys Villa Gomez (presenting on 'Using synthetic biology to accelerate critical metals recovery from mine waste') and Loren Nicholls (PhD candidate from the MIWATCH Group, BRC). The diversity among attendees and presenters was exemplary, with 4 of the 7 keynotes and over 35% technical talks given by women and 15 countries represented.

Carmen Krapf, Denys Villa Gomez, Loren Nicholls, Jessica Walsh, Rachael Morgan (Photo credit: AusIMM).

Critical minerals are considered the next big supercycle (rush) in the mining industry. Australia has the periodic table in its backyard and as a clean, and green producer our Aussie products highly desirable in the global market. It is estimated that an additional 284 million EVs will be built by 2030, requiring 6x more critical metals than is currently produced. Yet despite having the resources and the skills, Australia is considered to be lagging behind other OECD countries like Canada in terms of its refining capacity and government policy to incentivise international investment.

Some key points from talks included:

  • Rebecca Tomkinson (Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia): “We can’t outspend but we can outsmart” on Australia’s competitiveness in CM production
  • Marnie Finlayson (Rio Tinto): We need “tenacity and a can-do attitude”, while talking on Rio’s approach to driving transformation change and discussing the case study of recovering scandium from waste at the Quebec processing facility
  • Celia Hayes (Deloitte): Linking global prosperity with a planetary emergency
  • Dev Tayal (Tesla): “The goal posts are changing”, a “yawning policy gap in Australia”, and a call for government to incentivise and attract global investors needs to be “bold”.

A take-home message was that Australia needs to transition from its current ‘Dig and Ship’ industry which produces critical minerals, to a more developed downstream Processing and Refining industry producing the critical metals for direct use in green technologies.

MIWATCH research into secondary critical mineral resources in Australian mine waste and discovering reprocessing options via conventional flotation or developing technologies like electrokinetics and bioleaching is at the forefront of supplying Australia’s clean, green industry and downstream processing capabilities.

Many thanks to the AusIMM EEF scholarship which sponsored Loren as a student to attend the conference in Perth and take part in the many discussion and networking opportunities available.

Informal lunch time discussion groups - AusIMM Critical Minerals Conference 2023
Taking part in one of the informal lunch time discussion groups (Photo credit: L. Nicholls)

Last updated:
9 January 2024