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Lithium & Battery Minerals

Battery minerals refers to minerals used in rechargeable batteries. This includes lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, manganese, alumina, tin, tantalum, magnesium and vanadium. The rapid uptake of electric vehicles and battery-based energy storage systems around the world is driving global demand for lithium-ion batteries. Electric vehicle and battery manufacturers are securing sources of minerals, materials and components to meet this increase in demand. Therefore, the mining of lithium in Western Australia, as well as other battery minerals, presents a significant opportunity to the State’s economy.

Lithium is so soft that it can be cut with a kitchen knife and so low in density that it floats on water. Thanks to its energy density, it can store a lot of power compared to its physical size.

Western Australia has substantial reserves of all the minerals used in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries. In terms of lithium in WA, the state is the global leader in hard rock lithium production (41 per cent of global supply), the second largest producer of cobalt and has the largest potential resource of Class 1 nickel. It also produces non-battery minerals used in the manufacture of electric vehicles and energy storage systems such as rare earths elements. Western Australia is the world’s second largest producer of rare earths (16 per cent), with nearly a quarter of global reserves.

WA is now home to seven hard rock lithium projects, most of which are exporting a spodumene concentrate product. Some sales of direct shipping ore have occurred whilst concentrators are coming online. The increase in lithium producing projects has meant substantial increases in sales quantity and value over the past two years. In 2017–18, 2.1 million tonnes of spodumene concentrate was produced (worth $1.6 billion). This was an increase of 140 per cent and 167 per cent respectively.

In terms of nickel mines in Western Australia, the state has some of the world’s largest known reserves of nickel and some of the world’s largest and highest-grade nickel deposits. The largest of these have been mined or are currently operating. China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are the state’s top five nickel export markets, accounting for almost 90 per cent of total exports from nickel mines in WA.

Although Australia has significant cobalt reserves, there are no dedicated cobalt mines. Most cobalt is mined at varying quantities as a by-product of copper, gold or nickel mining. About 40 of Australia’s gold and nickel operations are co-located with some form of cobalt deposit. Most deposits are in WA, though there are small producers in other states. Australia is one of the largest producers of cobalt outside the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounting for five per cent of global production in 2017.

*Sources: DMIRS, JTSI.