New economy minerals
In order to develop a sustainable pipeline of ‘new economy minerals’ projects into the future, the Queensland Government is investing in exploration activities to improve scientific understanding and supply the valuable geoscience data needed by industry to help locate and define deposits for future production.
What are new economy minerals and where are they found?
‘New economy minerals’ is an umbrella term for a range of metals and mineral elements used in many emerging technologies including electric vehicles, renewable energy products, low-emission power sources, consumer devices, and products for the medical, defence and scientific research sectors.
The term ‘new economy minerals’ refers to market conditions created by the fast-changing nature of emerging technologies. Demand for the materials used in their production can exceed existing global resource production, causing manufacturers and industries to seek secure, predictable supplies into the future. In turn, this increases trading prices, creating a ‘new economy’ for the metal or mineral element.
Queensland has a rich endowment of many new economy minerals, including:
- Rare earth elements (Cerium, Dysprosium, Erbium, Europium, Gadolinium, Holmium, Lanthanum, Lutetium, Neodymium, Praseodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Scandium, Terbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, Yttrium)
- Silica (Lump silica, Silica Sand)
New economy minerals, while found across Queensland, are mostly concentrated in the state's North West and North East mineral provinces. Some new economy minerals are found in association with other traditionally mined resources, sometimes called primary ores or base metals.
Some projects are already underway to develop Queensland’s known resources of new economy minerals - for example:
Saint Elmo Project, Multicom Resources Ltd
Located near Julia Creek, the Saint Elmo Project is focused on producing vanadium for batteries in the residential energy storage market.
Walford Creek, Aeon Metals Ltd
Located north west of Mount Isa, the Walford Creek project is home to one of the highest grade cobalt sulphide deposits in Australia. The project is currently entering pre-feasibility phase.
Capricorn Copper Project, Capricorn Copper Ltd
Located north of Mount Isa, the Capricorn Copper Project is an operating mine producing copper, and has also commenced resource definition for the extraction of cobalt.
Sconi Project, Australian Mines Ltd
Located at Greenvale, north-west of Townsville, the Sconi project is currently in construction phase. When complete, the project will produce cobalt and nickel. Australian Mines Ltd recently upgraded their project resource to more than 75 million tonnes after finding consistent high-grade nickel and cobalt across their project area.
Two initiative streams will commence in January 2020.
Stream 1: Refocusing and extending current efforts
Finding hidden value
The Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ) will re-analyse samples from mine tailings (i.e. waste material, often stored in dams) at established and historic mine sites throughout Queensland, to identify new economy mineral opportunities. Of particular interest are cobalt concentrations in tailings of substantial copper mines in the North West Minerals Province. This will be carried out in collaboration with current tenure holders and The University of Queensland.
Mine the core
In the past, cost constraints prevented many companies from analysing drill core samples beyond a restricted suite of metals when conducting their exploration programs. For example, a copper explorer might typically examine core only for copper, lead, zinc and possibly gold and silver. Cobalt, which may be associated with copper, was not commonly included in those examinations.
GSQ will re-analyse large volumes of core samples obtained from known deposits. GSQ has access to a large number of representative drill core and surface samples through its drill core libraries (Exploration Data Centre, Brisbane, and the John Campbell Miles facility at Mount Isa), as well as through collaborative relationships with key Queensland explorers. This information will be digitised and released to the public.
- Old mines, new value
Secondary prospectivity - that is, the examination of previously unconsidered mining opportunities in existing mines - is a key step towards a circular economy. There are a number of previously mined sites in Queensland that have returned to state control that may contain untapped opportunities.
GSQ will collaborate with The University of Queensland to examine a number of sites and the surrounding region to determine their overall potential, in terms of both mineral endowment, and the mining technologies and techniques required to exploit these opportunities. If this analysis returns positive results it could be used to support re-packaging these sites and offering them back to market, perhaps with incentives or collaboration arrangements to address legacy environmental issues.
Stream 2: New exploration activities
Airborne magnetic survey
GSQ will undertake a high-resolution airborne magnetic survey north of Mount Isa, following the known trend of cobalt mineralisation associated with major copper deposits. This survey will better define key structures known to be responsible for this style of mineralisation. The survey has the potential to open up exploration for copper and cobalt in previously under-explored areas.
Millungera gravity survey
GSQ will undertake a high-resolution gravity survey of the Millungera Basin area near Julia Creek to better-define vanadium deposits (a metal in demand for battery manufacturing) and iron-oxide-copper-gold deposits (IOCG). In addition to being a major source of copper in the North West, IOCG deposits are a key host to other critical minerals such as cobalt and rare earth elements.
GSQ will undertake a broad scale magneto telluric survey south and east of Cloncurry to map out the Carpentaria Conductivity Anomaly, a geological feature that may be prospective for copper, cobalt and rare earth elements.
Collaborative Exploration Initiative extension
The Collaborative Exploration Initiative (CEI) supports innovative mineral exploration by providing grants to companies undertaking higher-risk exploration activities, or activities in previously under-explored areas of North West Queensland and elsewhere.
Extension of the popular initiative is a practical way of facilitating new exploration activity, and offers the potential for new discoveries and identification of future mineral provinces.
Re-imagine Queensland’s phosphate deposits
This project will define an entirely new class of deposits of rare earth elements (REE) in Queensland. The project is focused on REE mineralisation along a 1000km belt of the North West Minerals Province, from Boulia to Century.
Extracting rare earth elements sustainably
This initiative is crucial to the future development of an entire REE supply chain; by demonstrating an economic and environmentally sustainable extraction method for REE, numerous exploration-stage REE projects will become viable.
Commercialisation of resultant techniques will create new jobs in and around a Queensland-based processing facility, with flow-on benefits for communities and the region.
Determining the rare earth element potential of Queensland’s basins
Researchers at James Cook University have developed a cutting edge model for rare earth mineralisation in basin environments. GSQ will conduct a project in collaboration with JCU to develop this model further with particular reference to specific examples and regions in North West Queensland, such as the Georgina Basin west of Mount Isa. This model will enable explorers to more effectively identify target areas of prospectivity.
A new economy minerals conference
Another key component to Queensland’s efforts to develop its new economy minerals will be effective promotion of investment opportunities. While there have been some conferences held in Australia previously, Queensland will host Australia’s premier new economy minerals conference, combining traditional minerals needed for low-emissions and renewable technology (such as copper) with a focus on critical minerals and rare earth elements. The conference is also an opportunity to engage experts and industry leaders, researchers and academics from across the mining life cycle, and is expected to be held in 2020.
Last updated 3 March 2020