Australian Government Funds Critical Mineral Projects

The Australian government has announced grants totalling A$243mn ($176mn), in a move it calls “supercharging critical minerals manufacturing”, towards the funding of four downstream projects worth A$1.3bn spanning nickel-manganese-cobalt, vanadium, high-purity manganese and rare earths.
The grants form part of the government’s critical minerals development strategy and modern manufacturing initiative, designed to increase Australia’s self-sufficiency and reduce China’s supply chain dominance.
“We’re helping [to] grow the local critical minerals processing and clean energy industries and locking in the future of those industries by backing manufacturing projects in Australia,” said Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.
The largest grant of A$119.6mn is for a A$460mn integrated nickel-manganese-cobalt battery materials refinery planned for the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia (WA). This will be developed by Australian firms Pure Battery Technologies and Poseidon Nickel with the aim of initially producing around 50,000 t/yr of precursor cathode active material, sufficient for the production of up to 1mn lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries. Construction is scheduled to start in August 2023.
This refinery will provide some competition for Australian mining firm BHP’s Nickel West unit, which owns and operates the only downstream nickel-cobalt refinery in Australia, including sulphate products for the battery supply chain.
A grant of A$49mn has been awarded to developer Australian Vanadium towards the development of its integrated vanadium pentoxide and electrolytic vanadium project in WA, much of which is focused on the production of vanadium redox flow energy storage batteries. The steel sector consumes about 90pc of global vanadium output, but demand from batteries and energy storage is growing rapidly.
Australian rare earths developer Arafura Resources’ Nolans rare earths project in Central Australia has received a grant of A$30mn towards its development of a A$98mn separation plant for rare earths products, probably the first in the country. Australian producer Lynas Rare Earths is the world’s second largest rare earths producer from its Mt Weld mine in WA, but all separation is carried out at its downstream plant in Malaysia. It is in the process of building a cracking and separating plant at Kalgoorlie. Nolans is focused on mainly producing around 4,400 t/yr of neodymium-praseodymium — roughly 5pc of global supply — from 2024.
Australian firm Alpha HPA will receive A$49mn towards the development of a A$330mn high purity-alumina production facility near Gladstone in Queensland. The plant will produce high-purity alumina and precursor products as separators between cathodes and anodes in electric vehicle batteries, as well as materials for LED lighting. An output of 10,000 t/yr is targeted with the first stage production of aluminium precursors expected in July-September this year.