A thriving resources sector is key to the Australian Government’s vision of our nation being a clean energy superpower. As a leader in the supply of minerals to the world we are in an enviable position to pave the way to net zero.
The road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector.
The annual Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR) report draws on more than 40 years of data to track our nation’s known mineral resources and reveal important trends in reserve estimates, resource estimates and mine production.
These insights are important indicators of future supply, guiding government and industry decision making. Australia’s minerals sector will be crucial to the success of the energy transition over the coming decades, and the 2022 edition of AIMR shows Australia is well placed to meet domestic and global demand for the minerals required to support this transition.
Australia is blessed with a rich endowment of all the resources needed to make batteries, electric vehicle motors, solar panels and wind turbines. Australia has the largest identified economic resources of zirconium and titanium in the world. Australia has the world’s second largest reserves of cobalt, lithium, tungsten and vanadium. We have the third and fourth largest reserves of niobium and manganese ore, respectively.
Other highlights from the 2022 edition of AIMR include:
Our lithium sector is going from strength to strength as global demand surges with the uptake of electric vehicles. We currently produce more than 50 per cent of the world’s lithium from Western Australian mines and our position will grow with the opening of the Finniss lithium mine in the Northern Territory in addition to new value-added products from new lithium refineries.
Traditional metals such as aluminium, nickel and copper are also vital to the energy transition. These metals, and others, continue to play a central role in our minerals sector and provide economic growth and employment for regional communities across Australia. In 2021, iron ore and coal provided 42 per cent of Australia’s export income and gold, again, led on exploration expenditure.
The Government is supporting the resources industry as part of its commitment to net zero.
We are investing $50.5 million over four years to establish the Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub to unlock the nation’s critical minerals potential.
Additionally, the government’s new Critical Minerals Strategy will complement other government initiatives including the National Battery Strategy and the Electric Vehicle Strategy.
We will also continue to establish and grow critical minerals partnerships with other nations, focusing on building stronger and more diverse supply chains.
Australia is an important global player in providing practical solutions to lowering emissions and our minerals sector is central to the global energy transition.
Without the resources sector, there is no net zero.
The Hon Madeleine King MP
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia
Australia’s rich and varied minerals endowment has attracted explorers for many thousands of years and today we walk in the footsteps of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—Australia’s original mappers and miners. Our modern nation faces the challenge of resourcing the technologies needed to address climate change and the rapid transition to a net-zero economy. Deploying low-emissions technologies at scale provides Australia with the opportunity to strategically expand our world-class mining sector beyond traditional mineral commodities such as iron, coal and gold, so we can supply the nation, and our global partners, with the critical mineral commodities needed for modern economies.
Australia is well-placed to supply many of the critical minerals1 used in modern technologies such as electric vehicles, battery storage, solar energy and wind farms. In 2021, Australia’s critical minerals sector gained momentum as shown by strong growth in lithium production (up 38%), a massive increase to the economic inventory of platinum group elements (up 131%) and significant increases (up 5% or more) to the scandium, vanadium, cobalt, antimony and tantalum inventories.
In 2021, Australia’s world-leading mining industry remained strong; Australia was a top five global producer for 18 mineral commodities including bauxite, cobalt, gold, lithium, iron ore, nickel, manganese, mineral sands, rare earths and zinc. Australia remained world number one for lithium production, providing 53% of global supply to meet rising demand in the electric vehicle sector. In 2021, Australia also retained its number one production ranking for the bulk commodities of bauxite, iron ore and rutile with the addition of zircon.
During this period, Australia’s mining exports (excluding petroleum products) were worth $295 billion2, the sector accounted for 14% of gross domestic product3 and employed some 272,000 people4 with many more employed by related industries. Mineral exploration spending of $3.6 billion was the highest seen since 2012 with gold, iron ore and copper leading the way. Indeed, in 2021, Australia hosted the world’s largest economic resources of gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, rutile, uranium, zinc and zircon.
Iron ore continued to be the lead mineral export commodity for Australia in 2021, worth nearly $155 billion, up from $117 billion in 2020, and comprising more than 52% of total mineral export earnings5. In 2021, Australia was also the world’s largest producer of iron ore, providing 36% of world supply and with the largest share of global resources, accounting for 31% of the world’s economic inventory.
Black coal also continued to be an important contributor (nearly 22%) to Australia’s mineral export earnings, contributing more than $63 billion, up from $43 billion in 2020. Metallurgical coal, which is essential to steel production, made up the bulk (58%; $37 billion) of coal earnings.
Falling copper demand during the initial phases of the pandemic was partially offset by a supply squeeze from major producers. In 2021, as the global economy started to recover, demand for the red metal returned and prices reached $12,413/t, up from $8,902/t in 2020. Significant quantities of copper are needed for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. Copper is also needed to build and connect renewable energy assets such as wind turbines and solar panels in order to reduce carbon emissions and support the delivery of a net-zero economy.
This renewed interest in copper flowed through to copper exploration, which increased by 65% from 2020 to a new expenditure high of $550 million6, accounting for 15% of all Australian mineral exploration expenditure. As a result, Australia’s national copper inventory increased to more than 100 Mt in 2021, the second largest in the world behind Chile and comprising 11% of global economic resources. Copper accounted for 4% of Australian mineral and metal export earnings in 2021 with an export value of more than $12 billion.
Growing demand for rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and portable devices continued to stimulate lithium production in Australia. In 2021, Australia was the source of more than 50% of global lithium supply and mine expansions (e.g., higher production from Greenbushes, Western Australia) were driven by surging prices. In 2021, the price of spodumene concentrate more than doubled to $1295/t from $626/t in 2020.
In November 2021, Chalice Mining Ltd released a maiden resource for the world-class Gonneville nickel-copper-platinum group element discovery in Western Australia, resulting in Australia’s platinum group element resources increasing by 131%. This discovery was supported by government geoscience and demonstrates that Australia is highly prospective for additional critical mineral opportunities. Flagship programs such as Exploring for the Future7, led by Geoscience Australia, are supporting industry to find new discoveries that will help ensure the pipeline of projects needed to meet world demand.
Also of note in 2021, Australia started producing sulphate of potash, an essential fertiliser mineral, at Beyondie in Western Australia. Australia’s potash industry continued to develop with a number of additional projects under advanced development in Western Australia and recoverable, economically viable resources of potash increasing slightly (4%) to 44.2 Mt. Geoscience Australia’s 2013 salt lake study8 stimulated potash exploration in Australia and domestic production will reduce reliance on imports and strengthen national food security.
Geoscience Australia and its predecessors have prepared the annual assessment of Australia’s mineral resources since 1975. Thus, this publication—Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR)—is able to draw on over 40 years of data to reveal trends in reserve estimates, resource estimates and mine production over a range of periods. This assessment also provides useful long-term indicators of potential resource life and future supply capability, including for many critical minerals. AIMR is designed to assist government decision-making on policy, enable mineral-sector program planning, and contribute to the sustainable development of Australia’s mineral resources.
AIMR presents Australia’s Ore Reserves at operating mines (Table 1) and all deposits (Table 2), also longer-term estimates of the nation’s Identified Mineral Resources (Table 3) and changes in resource estimates and production from the previous year (Table 4). It is also of interest to note Australia’s ranking as a global source of minerals (Table 5) as many countries are dependent on reliable supply from Australia for their own economies.
The estimates in AIMR 2022 of Australia’s Ore Reserves and Mineral Resources are as at 31 December 2021, reflecting the status of the national inventory as the pandemic continued for a second year with the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the vaccine roll-out and ongoing movement restrictions. The data in this and future reports will, therefore, inform government and industry going forward when assessing the short and long-term effects of this health and economic emergency on Australia’s mining sector.
The data in the national minerals inventory is sourced primarily from published company reports but includes some confidential and historical data. The category of highest geological and economic confidence in the national inventory is Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) which, in essence, combines the Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) Code categories of Proved and Probable Ore Reserves and most of Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources.
Mine production figures are sourced from the Office of the Chief Economist at the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, state government publications and company reports. World rankings of Australia’s mineral resources have been calculated mainly using information published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
1 A critical mineral is a metal, gas or mineral that is essential for the functioning of modern technologies, economies or national security and there is a risk of disruption to its supply chains.
2 Office of the Chief Economist (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources), Resources and Energy Quarterly, September 2022.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian National Accounts, National Income, Expenditure and Product. Cat. No. 5206.0. Figure calculated using mining exports (excluding petroleum products) of $295 billion and Gross Domestic Product, Current Prices, Table 1 ($2,177 billion).
4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed. Cat. No. 6291.0.55.001. Table 4.
5 See Footnote 2.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Quarterly Statistics, Mineral and Petroleum Exploration Australia March 2022
8 Mernagh, T.P., Bastrakov, E.N., Clarke, J.D.A., de Caritat, P., English, P.M., Howard, F.J.F., Jaireth, S., Magee, J.W., McPherson, A.A., Roach, I.C., Schroder, I.F., Thomas, M., Wilford, J.R. 2013. A Review of Australian Salt Lakes and Assessment of their Potential for Strategic Resources. Record 2013/039. Geoscience Australia, Canberra. https://pid.geoscience.gov.au/dataset/ga/76454
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia: The Hon Madeleine King MP
Secretary: Ms Meghan Quinn PSM
Chief Executive Officer: Dr James Johnson
This product is published with the permission of the CEO, Geoscience Australia.
Geoscience Australia has tried to make the information in this product as accurate as possible. However, it does not guarantee that the information is totally accurate or complete. Therefore, you should not solely rely on this information when making a commercial decision.
Geoscience Australia is committed to providing web accessible content wherever possible. If you are having difficulties accessing this document please email email@example.com.
ISBN: 978-1-922625-36-6 (PDF)
ISBN: 978-1-922625-37-3 (print)
eCat ID: 147673
Hughes, A., Britt, A., Pheeney, J., Summerfield, D., Senior, A., Hitchman, A., Cross, A., Sexton, M., Colclough, H., and Hill, J. 2023. Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources 2022. Geoscience Australia, Canberra. https://dx.doi.org/10.26186/147673