More funding support for upstream scale-ups is a “more cost-effective way for government to grow the critical minerals mining eco-system” than providing large-scale backing for mining companies to build processing plants, Australian company Imdex has said in a response to the national government’s Critical Minerals Strategy Discussion Paper.
Launching the strategy, federal minister for resources and northern Australia, Madeleine King, said it would focus on creating economic opportunities, including for regional Australia, and on developing new sovereign capabilities in downstream processing as well as Australia’s manufacturing industries.
Funding available through the new National Reconstruction Fund – A$1 billion for value adding in resources and $1 billion for critical technologies – should be spread across the entire value chain of critical minerals development, Imdex says.
“Australian METS companies are already leading the way globally in commercialising technology ahead of the processing activity, including in exploration, geological modelling, mine planning, and blasting,” the company’s CEO, Paul House, says.
“A renewed focus on supporting this end of the value chain, in addition to processing, provides much greater leverage for government to grow Australian technology companies who are poised for greater onshore investment and can quickly deliver high-skilled job opportunities and export revenue.
“Without these technologies the industry will be stuck with outdated conventional modes of finding and developing the critical mineral deposits and will risk the speed with which Australian downstream processing projects can be materialised.”
House said smart technology was vital to more effective exploration targeting and discovery.
“We can’t take a conventional approach to finding and mining new critical minerals – they are inevitably of lower grade, difficult to reach, with complex geology,” he said.
“Targeted exploration is required and a need to leverage smart drilling and sensing technologies to ensure miners hit prospective targets and get to them fast.”
He said providing large-scale funding to mining companies to build processing plants did little to grow opportunities for a wider range of companies to build capacity, grow employment and develop new domestic and export markets for their technology.
“It is currently difficult to scale mining technology manufacturing in Australia,” House said.
“More government support, not only at start-up phase, but also at times of critical technology development and market expansion, will help more Australian METS companies to grow new export markets and become true global powerhouses.
“Imdex believes a renewed focus on geoscience is key to leveraging technology globally and across the value chain – pre and post blasting activities – not just processing and refining.
“Supporting the METS sector scale-up is critical to a new economy jobs transition.
“It is a more cost-effective way for government to grow the critical minerals mining eco-system. It will allow METS companies to partner and scale faster to develop and commercialise the new sovereign capabilities that the global critical minerals growth will drive.”
The IMDEX submission advocated a geoscience operational advisory group to develop a “better government support framework”.
“This can also be leveraged to tap into international centres of excellence and provide advice and guidance to foreign governments looking to build their own geoscience capability. Imdex has the knowledge, experience and connections to take a leading role in this,” House said.
The Imdex submission said Australia had a unique opportunity to meet the world’s growing demand for critical minerals over the next decade and beyond.
The opportunity existed not just from its abundant reserves of critical minerals but also from its existing expertise in technology development and commercialisation across the whole mining value chain.
ASX-listed Imdex is the world’s only A$1 billion-plus (current market value) public mining technology company.