The natural resources creating tomorrow

Australia is home to over 4,000 metals, mineral sands and gems with over 350 mine sites spread throughout almost every state and territory. Australia is the leading producer of many mineral commodities including gold, iron ore, uranium, lithium, aluminium, zinc, lead diamond and rare earth minerals, while also contributing substantially to the world's supply of coal, copper, nickel, cobalt, tin and silver.

 

Extracting, processing and exporting these resources is a major pillar of Australia's economy, directly employing nearly 300,000 people and generating over AU$216 billion each year.

Australian minerals glossary

Alumina: An oxide of aluminium, found crystallised as corundum, sapphire and other minerals. Australia is the world’s second largest producer of alumina and the largest exporter. There are six alumina refineries in Australia: four in Western Australia and two in Queensland.

 

 

Bauxite: A sedimentary rock with a high aluminium content, used to create aluminium metal and other industrial products such as cement, abrasives and chemicals. Australia is the world's largest producer of bauxite, mining over 100 million tonnes each year – approximately one third of the world’s total yield. Australia’s bauxite is primarily found in Western Australia and Queensland in shallow deposits which are extracted through open-cut mines.

 

 

Cerium: A rare earth metal, used in flat-screen TVs, stainless steel as a precipitation hardening agent, low energy light bulbs, pigments, and alloys. Cerium is the most abundant of the 15 rare earth metals, and the 25th most abundant element in the world – equally abundant as copper. Australia is believed to have around 20 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earths.
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Coal – Anthracite: Also known as hard coal or black coal, it is the least plentiful form of coal. It has the highest carbon content, the highest energy density and the fewest impurities of all coals. It is primarily used today as a domestic fuel in either hand-fired stoves or automatic stoker furnaces, as it burns cleanly with little soot. China mines that largest share of anthracite, accounting for more than three quarters of global output.

 

 

Coal - Bituminous: A middle rank coal used mainly in electricity generation and steel making. It is also used to manufacture cement and paper, refine alumina, and for other industrial purposes. The majority of coal mined in Australia is bituminous, produced in Queensland or New South Wales.

 

 

Coal – Subbituminous: Also called black lignite, it is used primarily as a fuel for steam-electric power generation. As a lower grade coal, more sub-bituminous coal must be burned in order to create the same amount of energy as bituminous coal; however, it has the advantage of containing less sulfur, making it less environmentally problematic than bituminous coal. It is found primarily in Romania, Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey.

 

 

Coal – Lignite (brown): The lowest grade coal with the smallest concentration of carbon. Used for electricity generation, it has a low heating value and contains up to 70 per cent water by weight. Brown coal is found in all states in Australia, but is most abundant in the Gippsland Basin in Victoria.

 

 

Cobalt: A versatile trace element used across the industrial, medical, automotive, renewable energy, agricultural, aeronautical and military sectors. Cobalt is considered a commodity of the future, with global demand predicted to increase six-fold by 2050. Australia is the world’s third largest producer of cobalt and contains approximately 18 per cent of global cobalt reserves. In 2020, there were 68 cobalt focused projects across Australia.

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Copper: A versatile transition metal that is malleable, recyclable, highly durable, resists corrosion, and is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Copper has been used by humans for at least 10,000 years and is highly valuable to our modern life. Australia has the second largest reserves of copper in the world and is the sixth largest producer of the metal worldwide. In 2020, there were 38 operational copper mines across Australia, with plenty more online since then, along with many projects in the exploration and development phases.

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Diamond: A rare, naturally occurring mineral composed of carbon, with its atoms arranged in a crystal. It is the hardest naturally occurring substance known, is chemically resistant and has the highest thermal conductivity of any natural substance. Australia is the fourth largest producer of diamonds in the world, with an annual output of approximately 14.2 million carats.

 

 

Europium: Silvery white, this rare earth metal is the softest lanthanide: it can be dented with a fingernail and easily cut with a knife. It glows red under UV light – a unique quality which means when added in small amounts to genuine products (such as banknotes) it can be used to detect counterfeit products. Obtained from bastnasite and monazite, it is mined in the US, Russia, China, India and Australia.

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Gadolinium: This silvery white metal is used as a host for phosphors for fluorescent lamps, x-ray screens and as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent. It is one of the more abundant rare earth elements, and is mined primarily in China, USA, Sri Lanka, Brazil, India, and Australia.

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Gold: This precious metal has long been used for coinage, jewellery and art throughout history. Modern uses include dentistry, electronics, medicine and space exploration. Gold is highly versatile: it conducts heat and electricity, is ductile, reflective of heat and light and extremely malleable. China was the largest producer of gold in 2022, followed by Australia and Russia.

 

 

Graphite: A soft, black mineral composed of a hexagonal crystalline structure, graphite is an excellent electrical conductor. It is used in pencils, lubricants, polishes, cores of nuclear reactors and batteries. Turkey has the largest reserves of graphite, while Australia has the seventh largest reserves.

 

 

Iron Ore: Iron ore is the key mineral component used in the manufacture of steel and Australia’s most valuable export. 90% of Australia's iron ore deposits are located in Western Australia.

 

 

Lanthanum:Lanthanum is a rare earth mineral, first discovered in 1839 by Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander who isolated it from cerium nitrate. It is a silvery-white, malleable, ductile metal that belongs to the group of elements known as the lanthanides. Lanthanum is used in rechargeable batteries, camera lenses, petroleum refining and the production of steel, ceramics and glass. While Australia is estimated to have some 2.9 million metric tons of rare earth metals, the component of lanthanum within this is relatively unknown.

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Lead: Lead is a highly versatile mineral which is commonly used in lead-acid batteries, construction materials, radiation protection, ammunition and some pigments. Australia is one of the world's largest producers of lead and is home to an estimated 35 million metric tons. The majority of Australia's lead is found in the Mount Isa region of Queensland and the Curnamona region of South Australia.

 

 

Lithium: Lithium is the lightest of all metals, so much so that it floats on water. While it has many different applications including aircraft, medicine and fireworks, nearly 75% of all lithium is used in lithium-ion batteries. Australia has the world’s second-largest lithium reserves (5.7 million metric tons) behind Argentina, but leads production with an estimated output of 55,000 metric tons per annum.

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Nickel: Nickel is a naturally-occurring metallic element with a number of unique and valuable properties. It is a corrosion resistant, highly ductile metal which has catalytic properties and is 100% recyclable. It is stable at high temperatures, alloys readily and is one of the few elements that is magnetic at room temperature. Nickel is currently mined in more than 25 countries worldwide. Australia is estimated to account for over 20% of the world’s reserves.

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Opal: Opals are a semi-previous gemstone with a unique appearance prized for use in jewellery and decorative items. Australia produces 95% of the world's precious opal. Some of the country's most famous opal mines include Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, Coober Pedy in South Australia, and Queensland's opal fields which are spread broadly across the state. Though they are primarily used as a decorative item, the tiny silica spheres structure of opals lend them to use in the scientific study of light and other physical phenomena.

 

 

Rare Earth Minerals: Formed by supernovae (exploding stars), ‘rare earths’ are a collection of 15 metallic elements in the periodic table. The name, rare earth metals is somewhat misleading, as these metals are found in many locations throughout the world – however unlike other minerals, they are generally found in very small, scattered quantities.

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Silver: In addition to its well-known use in jewellery, silver has conducting and antimicrobial properties which make it extremely useful in the production of electrical equipment, solar panels, medical instruments and a variety of other industrial applications. Australia is one of the world's largest producers of silver, with reserves of approximately 89,000 metric tons. The majority of Australia's silver is located in the Mount Isa region of Queensland and the Broken Hill region of New South Wales, however large quantities are also produced from mines in Western Australia.

 

 

Uranium: Uranium is a mildly radioactive element which is subsequently enriched for use in nuclear power production. Approximately one-third of the world's uranium is located in Australia. At present, three active mines in South Australia and the Northern Territory are responsible for producing 10% of the world's current supply of uranium. To transform uranium ore into nuclear fuel, uranium must be extracted from its host rock and the 235U isotope found within then needs to be progressively enriched.

 

Vanadium: Vanadium is a soft grey and ductile metal with several unique characteristics that position it strongly in the steel, energy and chemical sectors. The metal also acts as a battery material that is 100% reusable. Australia is home to some of the largest reserves of vanadium in the world, totalling approximately four million metric tonnes.

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Zinc: Zinc is both a chemical element and a metal, prized for its anti-corrosive properties, ability to conduct electricity and bond with other metals. Zinc is typically used to galvanise iron and steel in order to prevent rust or combined in metal alloys such as brass and bronze. Approximately 20% of the world’s zinc is found in Australia, with estimated reserves of around 68 million metric tons.

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