Other Metals

This information has not been updated since 2010 and is provided for general reference purposes. For more detailed information and for the latest data, please see the Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources tin External site link , tungsten External site link, tantalum External site link , lithium External site link , niobium External site link , magnesite External site link , molybdenum External site link , vanadium and phosphate External site link chapters.

Australia has about 35 per cent of the world’s economic resources of tantalum and there has been renewed interest in tantalum, lithium and niobium prospects in Australia. Australia’s Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of vanadium also are significant at 15 per cent of world economic resources and there is considerable company activity for vanadium in Western Australia, including resource drilling and mineral processing studies.

In contrast, Australia’s EDR of phosphate rock are very minor by world standards with less than two per cent of the world’s economic resources. However, Australia has the potential to increase this amount and plans are being progressed for a new phosphate mine at Wonarah in the Northern Territory. Similarly, there is increasing exploration activity for molybdenum and magnesite.

Australia has been a significant producer of tin, tungsten and molybdenum during the past century but is only a minor producer of these commodities today. Australia’s EDR of tin, tungsten and molybdenum also are modest by world standards. Details on resources, production and exploration on these commodities are updated annually and can be accessed online in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources. The location of mineral deposits and occurrences can be viewed on the Australian Mines Atlas External site link.

Information on Australia’s mineral production and exports is given in Australia’s Mineral Statistics and Australian Commodities produced quarterly by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) External site link.

Tin

About half of the world tin production is used in solders, with about a quarter consumed in electroplating for corrosion resistance in cans and containers and lesser amounts in alloys, electrical components and construction.

During a period of high tin prices in the mid 1970s to mid 1980s, Australia became one of the world’s largest tin producing countries. Tin mining operations expanded, especially at Renison and Cleveland in western Tasmania and in the Herberton-Mount Garnet tin fields in far north Queensland before tin prices collapsed in mid 1980s and many Australian mines closed. The price remained at very low levels from 1985 until 2004 by which time the only production was a by-product of tantalum mining at Greenbushes in Western Australia.

Prices rose sharply from 2004 as stocks declined, resulting in the resumption of mining operations at Renison and Mount Bischoff in Tasmania.

Current tin production is very small at less than 6000 tonne from Mount Bischoff and Renison Bell which accounts for about two per cent of the world total. Australia's production ranks seventh behind China (about 40 per cent), Indonesia (30 per cent) and Peru (10 per cent).

Australia holds about three per cent of the world’s economic resources of tin and ranks eight, well behind China (about 30 per cent), Indonesia (15 per cent) and Peru (10 per cent). More than 80 per cent of Australia’s EDR of tin are in Tasmania with Queensland accounting for about 15 per cent of the EDR. The main deposits are Renison Bell, Mount Bischoff and Scotia in Tasmania and Collingwood in Queensland.

Tin exploration has restarted in the historic tin mining areas of Herberton-Mount Garnet in far north Queensland, in the northern New England region at Inverell-Emmaville and near Bourke in New South Wales and in western Tasmania, particularly at the Mount Lindsay deposit which is being explored for both tin and tungsten

Tungsten

Tungsten metal and its alloys are amongst the hardest of all metals with tungsten carbide having a hardness approaching that of diamond. It is used for cutting and wear-resistant materials primarily in the metalworking, mining, oil drilling and construction industries. Tungsten alloys are used also in electrodes, filaments (light bulbs), wires and components for electrical, heating, lighting and welding applications.

Historically Australia was a major producer of tungsten with the significant King Island mine in Tasmania and numerous small mines in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Current Australian production of tungsten amounts to a few tonnes which compares with nearly 47000 tonne produced by China.

Australia’s EDR of tungsten are very small at just about 200 tonnes of world total which compares with about two million tonne in China. Of the Australian total, Tasmania has 60 per cent and Queensland 25 per cent.

Western Tasmania is being explored for both tungsten and tin, particularly in the Mount Lindsay area.

Tantalum

Overall, approximately 60 per cent of annual world consumption of tantalum is used in the electronics industry, with more than half of this currently being used in the manufacture of mobile phones, particularly as capacitors in miniaturised electronic circuits. Tantalum metal is used in the chemical industry also because of its anti-corrosive properties, as well as tantalum carbide in tools for metal cutting and machining and in metal alloys in the aerospace and electricity-generating industries.

Australia’s production of tantalum decreased sharply in recent years to less than five per cent of the world production of 622 tonnes behind Brazil , Congo, Rwanda and Canada. Mining operations are under care and maintenance at both Wodgina and Greenbushes in Western Australia. Feasibility studies were continued for the Dubbo Zirconia project in New South Wales with trial processing of ores from the Toongi deposit to produce zirconia concentrates, niobium-tantalum concentrate and yttrium-rare-earth concentrate.

All of Australia’s tantalum EDR of about 50000 tonne are located in Western Australia mostly in the Greenbushes and Wodgina deposits. Australia’s share of the world’s economic resources represent about 35 per cent, second behind Brazil with about 60 per cent.

Lithium

Lithium is used in ceramics, glass, pharmaceuticals and batteries and application which has expanded through the use of rechargeable batteries for portable electronic devices and electric motors for hybrid and electric cars. Lithium produced from the Greenbushes mine in Western Australia has been used in the production of specialty glasses, glass bottles, ceramics and ceramic glazes, and the production of lithium carbonate used in greases, aluminium production, air conditioning systems and catalysts. Lithium is also being produced at Mount Cattlin in southwest of Western Australia, and the construction of a minerals processing plant is being planned at the Mount Marion Lithium Project near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Based on data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) External site link , Australia has about five per cent of the world’s economic lithium resources behind Chile with about 75 per cent and Argentina with about 10 per cent.

Niobium

Niobium is used in alloys by the steel and aerospace industries and niobium-titanium alloy wire is used in the medical sector for magnetic resonance imaging.

Australia has only about five per cent of the world’s economic resources of niobium, which usually is recovered as a by-product of tantalum mining.

Recent tantalum exploration has been carried around Mount Cattlin in Western Australia.

Magnesite

Magnesite (magnesium carbonate MgCO3) is marketed as crude magnesite, which is use primarily in chemicals and agriculture. It is marketed also as dead-burned magnesia, which is a durable refractory for use in cement, glass, steel and in metallurgical industries, and as caustic calcined magnesia for use in making oxychloride and oxysulphate cements for flooring and wallboards, mouldings and acoustic tiles as well as various environmental and chemical applications.

Australia produces less than 5 per cent of the world total production of magnesite, ranking ninth, well behind China (50 to 60 per cent), Turkey (around 10 per cent) and Russia (5 to 10 per cent). Kunwarara 70 kilometres northwest of Rockhampton in Queensland has been a major producer of magnesite in Australia for a number of years, but overall Australian production of magnesite of around 300000 to 400000 tonnes is less than five per cent of the world total. About 70 per cent of Australia’s EDR of magnesite is located in South Australia where the major deposits are Witchelina, Mount Hutton and Mount Playfair, while Queensland holds about 20 per cent with Kunwarara being the largest deposit. The Kunwarara deposit is the world’s largest known resource of ultrafine-grained cryptocrystalline to microcrystalline, nodular magnesite.

The Kunwarara deposit was discovered in 1985 and in recent years, exploration for magnesite has been active in South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.

Molybdenum

Molybdenum is used in steels and superalloys to enhance strength, toughness and corrosion resistance.

There is no recorded production of molybdenum in Australian in recent years although it has EDR of around 300000 tonnes, most of which is in Western Australia and Queensland.

Exploration for molybdenum is continuing and resources were upgraded for several deposits in Queensland including the Merlin molybdenum-rhenium deposit, the Anthony and the Gordons molybdenum -copper depsoit, Wolfram Camp and Molyhil wolfram-molybdenum deposits in the Northern Territory. The Spinifex Ridge molybdenum-copper-silver project in Western Australia was subject of a feasibility study.

Vanadium

Vanadium is soft, but adds strength and hardness when alloyed with other metals such as iron to produce high strength steel which has structural applications for gas and oil drilling platforms, pipelines, tools steel, armour plate, sections of the motor vehicle industry and the aircraft industry as well as for reinforcing bars in high-rise building and construction. Non-steel uses include welding and in alloys used in nuclear engineering and superconductors. Vanadium chemicals and catalysts are used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid and the desulphurisation of sour gas and oil. Vanadium compounds also have potential to be used in fuel cells.

Only 29 per cent of the world’s production of vanadium is derived as primary production from mining and processing of magnetite ores while about 56 per cent is recovered from slag as a by-product of steel making and about 15 per cent is recovered from waste ash and oil residues.

Australia’s EDR of vanadium amounts to about 2.5 million tonne which make up about 15 per cent of the world’s resources. Most of Australia’s EDR is hosted in mafic/ultramafic intrusions with a minor proportion in sandstone hosted uranium deposits. Considerable additional resources occur in weathered oil shale deposits near Julia Creek in north Queensland.

Vanadium was produced at Windimurra mine (Western Australia) in 2002 and 2003. Vanadium exploration activity in recent years has been largely directed at mafic/ultramafic intrusions and to the upgrading of known resources. Recent resource and exploration drilling has been undertaken at Speewah Dome, Unaly Hill, and Victory Bore in Western Australia, Mount Peake in the Northern Territory and at the Hawkwood deposit in Queensland.

Vanadium is associated with some mafic/ultramafic rocks which are described in Archean and Proterozoic Resource Packages.

Phosphate rock

Phosphate rock is a general term which refers to rock with high concentrations of phosphate minerals, most commonly of the apatite group. It is the major resource mined to produce phosphate fertilisers for the agriculture sector. Phosphorous also is used in animal feed supplements, food preservatives, anti-corrosion agents, cosmetics, fungicides, ceramics, water treatment and metallurgy. There is no substitute for phosphate.

Current Australian production of about 2 million tonne of phosphate rock accounts for about one per cent of the world total and its EDR of at about 250 million tonne or just about 2 per cent of the world’s total economic resources. The major deposits with EDR of phosphate rock are Duchess in Queensland and Wonarah in the Northern Territory.

There is renewed interest for phosphate rock, particularly in the Northern Territory and Queensland. Plans for a new phosphate mine at Wonarah in the Northern Territory are being progressed and resources are being upgraded for the Highlands Plains project Western Mine Target Zone deposit in the Northern Territory and the PHM South deposit in Queensland.

Highlights of mineral exploration for all commodities are reviewed annually in Australian Mineral Exploration Review and Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Topic contact: minerals@ga.gov.au Last updated: April 17, 2014