Aussie mining takes ‘vital step’ forward with new federal funding

Australia is making steady progress towards its “vision and ambition” to become a rare earth superpower, with newly announced funding set to bolster the nation’s downstream industries.

Australia is making steady progress towards its “vision and ambition” to become a rare earth superpower, with newly announced funding set to bolster the nation’s downstream industries.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $243 million in financial support for four rare earth element and battery metal projects as part of the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative introduced in 2020.

The majority of that funding ($119.6 million) will be put towards Pure Battery Technologies’ ‘pCAM’ refinery in Kalgoorlie, WA, which will refine both nickel concentrate and mixed hydroxide precipitate to enable margin nickel producers to get to market. 

A further $49 million will go to Australian Vanadium’s new processing and transport projects, while Arafura Resources will receive $30 million for its flagship Nolans Project, and Alpha HPA’s high-purity alumina production facility will be the beneficiary of $45 million.

Separately, Mr Morrison said an additional $200 million has been earmarked in the upcoming Federal Budget to provide grants to critical mineral projects under a new ‘accelerator’ project.

“The world is becoming a more uncertain place and we want to secure Australia as a reliable partner for local and global businesses that need the critical minerals we have right here,” he said.

“We’ll dig them up right here. We’ll refine them right here. We’ll look to make the products that use them right here.”

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable welcomed the two initiatives, adding the funds will help position Australia as a leading producer and processor of these minerals.

“The strategic investments earmarked by the government will lift Australia’s sovereign capability in minerals processing, diversifying and strengthening the Australian economy,” Ms Constable said.

“Australia’s world-leading mining industry should have a world-class minerals processing industry to match. This strategy helps realise the vision and ambition.”

Ms Constable highlighted the critical minerals accelerator grants in particular as a “vital step” to help early and mid-stage projects commercialise.

Greener extraction methods

As the Federal Government ramps up its support for rare earth and critical mineral producers, a team of researchers from Monash University has identified a more environmentally friendly way to extract those same minerals from the earth.

Professor of synchrotron geosciences Joel Brugger and research officer Barbara Etschmann used X-rays 100 billion times stronger than those found in hospitals to examine how rare earth deposits formed under immense heat and pressure, equivalent to those found 7km below the planet’s surface.

These experiments revealed that rare earth elements can be readily carried by carbonate-rich fluids at high temperatures, producing readily processable ore minerals like bastnaesite as the fluids cool. 

These carbonate fluids are considered ‘environmentally benign’, the researchers said, and this previously unknown reaction between rare earths and hot fluids could represent a new, greener leaching method for producers.


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