Critical minerals to Support Clean Energy Transition

The challenge

As essential part of achieving net zero emission is the shift from the generation of energy from carbon-based fossil fuel to the electrification of global economy. This will require enormous amounts of ‘energy-critical’ metals and minerals including lithium, copper, cobalt, and rare earth to produce low-carbon technologies such as batteries, wind farm, electric vehicles, nuclear energy, and solar voltaic and other renewable energies. It has been estimated for example that by 2050 the production of graphite, lithium and cobalt must be increased by over 400% (World Bank, 2020). The challenges that will confront the extractive industry brought on by the vast demand for metal including technical, economic, social, regulatory challenges will be unprecedented. As a result, decision making will be complex. Our aim is to develop processing technologies and a decision support system to produce energy-critical metals sustainably.

 

Why this research is valuable

The energy transition could be placed at risk unless mechanisms are put in place to ensure sustainable supply of energy-critical minerals and metals. Existing challenges already exist in the mining industry that will be exacerbated by the vast ramp in metal production necessary for the energy production transition to low-carbon technologies. These include: i) processing ores reserve that are deeper to mine, harder and more complex and with lower target metal content, ii) cost and supply of water and energy, iii) ESG (environmental, social and governance) risks and implications and iv) skilled workforce shortage. Mineral intensification will enhance these challenges. These challenges cannot be addressed in isolation but need to be considered holistically by evaluating various outcomes while balancing technical, economic, environmental, social and governance opportunities and risks.

 

Research themes

  1. Development of adaptable processing technologies that could sustainably and efficiently recover metallic fractions from minerals and wastes. An example would be biomining that has a huge opportunity to offer energy, cost effective and ecologically sensitive technology for mineral extraction.
  2. Understanding and development of technologies to mitigate the new climate and environmental related risks in mineral intensification from extraction to the end use of minerals and metals resulting from low carbon technologies. For example, development of carbon neutral mines by using mining wastes as carbon sink and technologies for the re-utilisation and management of mining wastes.
  3. Develop a framework for the industry requirements and new product specification to help build sovereign manufacturing and recycling technologies for energy sector in Australia

 

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