Metal process

How the West (Lost) the Chance to Deal with Precious Metals

Comment by Peter Robert

The chart tells you everything you need to know about Australia’s – and the West’s – failure to secure crucial processing steps in the production of clean, strategic energy materials.

Australia’s penchant for sending raw materials overseas unprocessed is well known from our focus on iron ore exports, and is evident in that base metal used in electric motors – copper.

While we produce 870,000 tonnes of copper concentrate per year, our smelters that add the most basic element of added value to the resource have a capacity of only 442,000 tonnes.

In addition to giving others the economic growth opportunities of processing into higher value products, we and the rest of the world have enabled China to take the lead in processing this most precious metal. .

While China is an insignificant producer of metal ore, it is responsible for 40% of global copper production.

The story is the same for lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earths which are crucial not only for electric vehicles, but in the case of rare earths, for high-tech products such as computer drives. , touch screens and permanent magnets.

Any semblance of self-sufficiency in processing critical metals has well and truly been sacrificed by Australia, and the West, on the altar of globalization and in search of supposedly cheaper products.

Plans to electrify the world will likely fail unless we do more raw material processing and basic chemical production again.

Worst of all is the case of rare earths, where China is by far the largest producer of the end product – and the most valuable.

Australia has the world’s largest supplier of rare earths outside of China in Lynas, but foolishly, in my opinion, allowed that company to locate its metal processing largely in Malaysia.

Lynas is bringing some elements of the treatment ashore in Kalgoorlie, but only because Malaysian environmentalists there have raised concerns about the effects of radioactive waste treatment.

Yesterday @AuManufacturing reported that a second rare earth producer, Australian Strategic Materials, is advancing its Dubbo project in partnership with Korean investors.

Here, Australia will produce the ores and Korea will do at least the initial downstream processing.

I remember a world war started in Asia when a country sought to obtain strategic materials as well as oil.

Really, we need to take this seriously and start processing the minerals before exporting them.

By adding value locally, we create long-term, high-skilled, high-paying jobs.

Instead of celebrating ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ of the type produced by building roads, let’s invest in jobs that create skills and capabilities, add value locally and secure the supply of essential materials for the future. ‘to come up.

Image: Visual Capitalist

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