A Geoscience Australia report

Critical Minerals: Introduction

Overview

A 2 MW solar array on the site of
former landfill at Fort Carson, USA.

Critical minerals are metals and non-metals that are considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, yet whose supply may be at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy or other factors. Among these important minerals are metals and semi-metals used in the manufacture of mobile phones, flat screen monitors, wind turbines, electric cars, solar panels, and many other high-tech applications.

The minerals ranked as most critical by the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the European Union including the United Kingdom, are as follows (ranked by Geoscience Australia based on synthesis of individual country rankings):

Rare-earth elements (REE), gallium (Ga), indium (In), tungsten (W), platinum-group elements (PGE) including platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd), cobalt (Co), niobium (Nb), magnesium (Mg), molybdenum (Mo), antimony (Sb), lithium (Li), vanadium (V), nickel (Ni), tantalum (Ta), tellurium (Te), chromium (Cr) and manganese (Mn).

Although these minerals are  critical for the world’s major industrial economies, Australia’s perspective is different in that domestic demand for most major and minor minerals is relatively small and is far outstripped by Australian production of those minerals. There are two notable exceptions, however. Phosphate and potash, used in fertilisers, are essential for Australia’s agricultural industries yet the nation is, at present, not self-sufficient in these commodities.

Australia is well known as one of the world’s leading suppliers of iron ore, coal, gold, bauxite, copper, zinc, lead, manganese, and a number of other commodities. Australia also holds large resources, or has potential for significant resources, of many of the critical minerals. Australia therefore is well placed as to be a supplier of these critical minerals to world markets.

In 2013 Geoscience Australia undertook a comprehensive assessment of Australia’s potential to supply critical minerals to global markets. This review is described below. Other studies by Geoscience Australia on critical minerals and related mineral systems, include reviews of thorium (2008) and rare-earth-element (2011) deposits in Australia, an assessment of the potential for critical minerals related to salt lake systems (potash, lithium, boron and uranium; 2013), and Australia’s potential for mafic-ultramafic intrusion-hosted Ni-Cu-PGE deposits (2016). Reports and maps are available for download by following the links.

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