A report published by think tank Jubilee Australia has warned the government against overmining as demand for critical minerals increases.
The research explores means of reducing demand for critical minerals, and mining them more sustainably. It comes as the federal government prepares a strategy to address China’s dominance in the critical minerals industry.
The Australian government held a public consultation on its critical minerals strategy between December 2022 and February this year.
Jubilee Australia suggests recycling as an alternative means of sourcing. According to the report: “Recycling transition minerals in accordance with circular economy principles can significantly reduce primary demand. Studies have shown that recycling minerals from Li-ion EV batteries can reduce demand by up to 55% in some cases.”
However, Corby Anderson from the Colorado School of Mines claims that: “The need for critical minerals will be immense, and outside of China the rest of the world will struggle to fill this void. […] Recycling will be important, but the gap cannot be anywhere filled by secondary sources”. In 2021, China dominated the metal processing volume for rare earth metals with 87%.
According to Jubilee Australia relying solely on primary production could be dangerous due to the environmental damage associated with mining. The report’s lead author Luke Fletcher told The Guardian: “It is critical that we adopt a smarter and more efficient approach as we look to exploit another resource”.
According to the Australian government, critical mineral supply is necessary to support decarbonisation and add value to the nation’s resources. Increased electrification, including electric vehicles (EVs), will increase demand for these metals.
According to the International Energy Agency, electric cars averagely require more than double the amount of copper and manganese than a fossil-powered car.
Australia has large deposits of most critical minerals, but currently sends the majority of these offshore for processing.