Supplied The Greenbushes hard-rock lithium mine in Western Australia is the world’s largest hard-rock lithium mine.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science chief Economist Mark Cully recently completed his resources and energy quarterly update and things are looking good for Australia and its lithium sector if we are prepared to make a move.
The lithium and battery demand are set to rise and could result in billions of dollars for the Australian economy if it grabs the opportunity and looks towards fostering a new wave of clean energy around the world in the coming decades.
By including more of the battery supply chain in its lithium sector, Australia can increase the jobs and wealth provided by the existing industry. Our strong geological advantages as well as mining experience and a skilled workforce will be beneficial in taking advantage of the chance to house an industry producing higher-grade battery materials.
The quarterly report showed Australian exports of spodumene ore, the precursor material to lithium, were expected to grow from $780 million in 2017 to $1.1 billion at $980 a tonne by 2020.
Exports of lithium hydroxide, the next step of refinement, would be worth $16,000 per tonne by 2020. Five lithium hydroxide refineries are either under construction or planned for WA over the next five years.
About 2600 people are employed on WA’s seven lithium mines, up from 400 just four years ago.
Although high-grade refining facilities will be expensive and slow to construct, it is likely they will generate considerable value over time.
Battery manufacturing would be trickier but could be made feasible if Australia started refining high-grade battery materials and had an established electric vehicle market. It will also be important to be strongly established in all previous stages of the supply chain.
“The presence of an electric vehicle assembly plant in Australia would also boost the chances for a connected battery facility, though such a development would likely be contingent on a successful expansion of electric vehicles onto Australia’s roads.” Mr Cully said.
“Supply bottlenecks (and potential opportunities for filling niche markets) are likely to create particularly lucrative opportunities for high-level refineries in an era of rapid technological change.”
Experts believe time is of the essence and the fast pace of change means decisions around the future of lithium in Australia need to be made in the next few months.