minerals mining

A report on the ABC’s 4 Corners program has confirmed that a well-managed transition to renewable energy could provide a jobs boom not just for the nation’s miners but also for our manufacturers.

The energy transition depends on critical minerals. You can’t make a modern wind turbine without rare earths, a solar panel without high-purity quartz, or and an electric vehicle without vanadium, manganese, graphite, cobalt and lithium. A wind turbine alone requires 8.5 tonnes of critical minerals such as copper, zinc and nickel.

As Allison Britt, director of mineral resources for Geosciences Australia put it, “To save the planet, we are going to need more mines.”

This comes as International Energy Agency found in a recent report that global demand for minerals such as cobalt will be up six times, graphite eight times, and lithium 13 times.

However, Australia must heed the lesson of its last mining boom; rather than just digging up and exporting raw minerals, there could be a job bonanza in doing more value adding here.

For example, Cobalt Blue Holdings is working to convert ore from its mine near Broken Hill into a commercial battery-ready product, in a project that will produce enough cobalt for five million electric vehicles.

“Global demand for minerals is exploding, driven by the rush to green technologies,” AWU National Secretary, Daniel Walton, said.

“This is putting Australia in the box seat to exploit a surge in worldwide demand, both in mining and manufacturing.

“With international prices soaring for many of Australia’s mineral exports, now is the time to refine and transform more of them here, cashing in on the boom and creating scores of manufacturing jobs.

“Australia has missed opportunities to enter large-scale renewable-energy manufacturing, but refining minerals here could get us back in the game.”

While miners are now searching for new deposits, or even reopening old pits, there is also a national security element to their quest, especially with a now-belligerent China cornering the market in many of the raw materials essential for modern technologies

“We have seen how easily supply chains can be disrupted and how much of a sovereign threat that entails,” Daniel said.

“And to paraphrase US President, Joe Biden, who was quoted on the program, we can’t build a future that’s made in Australia if it is dependent on China for the materials that power the products of today and tomorrow.”

The program also noted that creating a reliable supply of raw material and more value-added products in Australia is often far more environmentally sound than relying on offshore mines and factories.

“Many offshore mines and related factories are in third-world nations where both the environment and workers are prone to extreme exploitation,” Daniel said.

“Not only do they have poor mining practices, but there is no mine rehabilitation.

“With Australia’s modern mining techniques, environmental and labour laws, Aussie workers – including our members across the country – can do it much better and much more cleanly.”

Daniel said it’s essential that everyday Australians have a chance to share in this exciting new boom, and this will require input from government and industry.

“Australia must start investing in more in R&D and innovation, and most importantly, in its people, to take part in this potential mining and manufacturing boom,” he said.

“We should be training the next generation, and ensuring blue-collar jobs have a place in the realm of renewables manufacturing.”

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