Can Australia walk the US-China 'Critical Minerals' extraction tightrope and emerge as a green technology powerhouse?

Australia has tried to walk a tightrope between America, its military ally, and China, its top customer for minerals and ore. This is becoming less and less possible, as USA-China tensions increase.  Marina Yue Zhang, David Gann, and Mark Dodgson, argue for Australia to keep its options open by going beyond minerals exploitation or even competing just for a share of green manufacturing, and to focus on developing "enabling technologies" Panga Media/Shutterstock GLOBALISATION is on shaky ground . As China rises, the United States and its allies are moving to reduce their reliance on the world’s factory. The rivalry between the US and China is wide-ranging, from competition in technology over silicon chips and artificial intelligence to the critical minerals essential for green energy technologies such as grid batteries, wind turbines and electric vehicles. At present, China dominates critical minerals. Beijing has secured supplies of rare earth elements and lithium, which

Australia releases mine waste map for critical minerals supply

Following extensive national, state and research  collaboration, Geoscience Australia has developed and published an atlas of sites across the Australia that may contain previously overlooked critical minerals – including those used to produce electric vehicles and solar panels.

Visit the Atlas of Australian Mine Waste at

AN INTERACTIVE online mapping tool, the Atlas of Australian Mine Waste provides governments, industry and the community with accurate information about Australian mine tailings, waste rock, smelter residues and related mine waste materials.

“This is the first time in the world that any nation has mapped all of their tailings dams and developed information on them,” Project Lead from RMIT, Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, said. Based on databases from his research the Atlas identifies 1,050 sites across Australia as possible sources of critical minerals, with more to be added in future.

“Some of the minerals we need now, and into the future, may not just be in the ground - they're also in rock piles and tailings on mine sites around the country,” Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Madeleine King said in a statement

“These minerals might not have been of interest when first extracted but could now be in hot demand as the world seeks to decarbonise – for example, cobalt in the tailings of old copper mines.”

According to Geoscience Australia’s National Mine Waste Assessment Project Leader, Jane Thorne, “users will be able to see satellite images of mine waste sites and can select a site where they can get information about waste types (for example, tailings dams, waste dumps and slag), how the waste is stored (for example, on the surface, backfill or in the pit) and if it is in use or not.

“We’re also looking to discover the origin of each site’s waste – for example, what deposit it came from and what companies operated there. The atlas will constantly expand the geological information about the mine waste itself, as we sample more sites,” she told themining professional group, AusIMM.

"Maximising the secondary prospectivity potential from existing mines also presents a new opportunity for mining companies"

“Because waste has been processed it’s probably in a different state to when it came out of the ground, so we need to understand the mineralogy of that waste. Is it the same as when it came out of the ground or has it been changed through processing? Eventually we will get to a stage when we can use all this combined knowledge to run economic modelling of mine waste sites”.

The team will also create a methodology to assess if recovering any of these minerals is economically viable. This methodology will then be incorporated into Geoscience Australia’s Economic Fairways tool, helping to inform investment decisions from the Australian resources sector, Geoscience Australia’s Minerals, Energy and Groundwater Division Chief Dr Andrew Heap, said earlier this year.

In addition to new discoveries, mine waste sites could provide additional sources of critical minerals, which are essential ingredients in many modern technologies including smartphones, batteries and electric vehicles.

Maximising the secondary prospectivity potential from existing mines also presents a new opportunity for mining companies seeking to improve the sustainability and social licence of their operations, Dr Heap added.

With funding from the Australian Government’s $225 million Exploring for the Future program, Geoscience Australia partnered with researchers at the School of Engineering at RMIT University and the Sustainable Minerals Institute at The University of Queensland to combine world-class mineral resource advice and mineral systems understanding with world-leading mine waste research to generate the Atlas which was produced in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Queensland, the Geological Survey of New South Wales, the Northern Territory Geological Survey, the Geological Survey of Victoria, the Geological Survey of South Australia, the Geological Survey of Western Australia and Mineral Resources Tasmania.

 The Atlas of Australian Mine Waste can be accessed here.