Critical minerals producers seek government support to compete globally

Lacaze, speaking at The Australian Financial Review’s mining summit in Perth on Wednesday, said the pandemic was a warning that nations needed diversified supply chains.

Mineral Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the sector needed streamlined state and Commonwealth approvals and planning for processing precincts with the right infrastructure.

Dale Henderson, chief executive of Pilbara Minerals, which produces the lithium ore spodumene in the Pilbara, said it could only process the ore in Australia if it was low cost, and that meant sharing infrastructure such as power among competitors to avoid expensive duplication of investment.

‘I find it amusing when Western governments are indignant about China’s dominance because they didn’t make a secret of it.’

Amanda Lacaze, Lynas Rare Earths managing director

Pilbara Minerals has formed a joint venture with South Korean resources giant POSCO to build a processing plant in South Korea that has been reported as 40 per cent cheaper than an Australian facility, backed by an almost $700 million loan from the host government.

The industry wants to process critical minerals with an industrial ecosystem of transport, power, the chemical inputs required, and nearby facilities that can utilise what would otherwise be waste products.

BHP WA nickel president Jessica Farrell said the miner’s plant in Kwinana – a long-established industrial area south of Perth – that produces nickel sulphate for lithium-ion batteries benefited from such an interconnected system.

While Western governments are increasingly focused on the strategic importance of critical minerals, Henderson warned that change would be slow.

“The world has to work with China for many years to come, particularly given that the whole battery materials industry is centred [on] China,” he said.

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