Critical Minerals at Geoscience Australia

Geoscience Australia supports the objectives of Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy to grow our critical minerals sector, expand downstream processing, and help meet future global demand. Geoscience Australia supports the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office to help grow Australia's critical minerals sector and position Australia globally as a secure, reliable, and ethical supplier of critical minerals.

Our critical minerals activities include:

  • Technical advice to government
  • Scientific research including pre-competitive data acquisition
  • Data enabling services and decision-support tools
  • International and national collaborations
  • Publications
  • Public communication
  • Investment attraction

These activities align with Geoscience Australia’s priority stream of Building Australia’s resources wealth under Strategy 2028, in particular the Exploring for the Future program, which aims to support the resources and agricultural sectors through the provision of pre-competitive data for potential mineral, energy and groundwater resources, including critical minerals.

What is a critical mineral?

A critical mineral is a metallic or non-metallic element that has two characteristics:

  1. It is essential for the functioning of our modern technologies, economies or national security and
  2. There is a risk that its supply chains could be disrupted.

Critical minerals are used to manufacture advanced technologies including mobile phones, computers, fibre-optic cables, semi-conductors, banknotes, and defence, aerospace and medical applications. Many are used in low-emission technologies such as electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and rechargeable batteries. Some are also crucial for common products such as stainless steel and electronics.

Risks to critical mineral supply chains can come about when mineral production or processing is dominated by individual countries or companies that could limit availability. Other risks include market immaturity, political decisions, social unrest, natural disasters, mine accidents, geological scarcity, pandemics, and war.

Overview of Critical Minerals

A critical mineral is a metallic or non-metallic element that is essential for modern technologies, economies or national security, and has a supply chain at risk of disruption. Individual countries develop their own lists of critical minerals based on the relative importance of particular minerals to their industrial needs and strategic assessment of supply risks. In addition, assessments of mineral criticality reflect market and political conditions at a particular point in time and are subject to change.

The Australian Government considers 26 resource commodities to be critical minerals. These have been selected by assessing Australia’s geological endowment and potential with global technology needs, particularly those of partner countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, India, South Korea and Canada. Australia’s 26 critical minerals are listed in the table below with more information here or in the 2022 Critical Mineral Strategy.

Australia’s critical minerals list, resources and production with global comparisons.

Critical Mineral US list1 EU list2 Japan list3 India list4 Australian Geological Potential5 Australian Economic Demonstrated Resources (2020)6 Australian Production (2020)6 World Mine Production (2020)6
High-purity alumina Yes Yes No No Moderate No data No data No data
Antimony Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate 125.2 kt 3.9 kt 155 kt
Beryllium Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate No data No data 240 t
Bismuth Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate No data No data 17 kt
Chromium Yes No Yes Yes Moderate 0 0 40,000 kt
Cobalt Yes Yes Yes Yes High 1,495 kt 5.6 kt 135 kt
Gallium Yes Yes Yes Yes High No data No data 300 t
Germanium Yes Yes Yes Yes High No data No data 130 t
Graphite Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate 7,970 kt 0 1,100 kt
Hafnium Yes Yes Yes No High 14.5 kt No data No data
Helium No No No No Moderate No data 4 hm3 140 hm3
Indium Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate No data No data 900 t
Lithium Yes Yes Yes Yes High 6,174 kt 40 kt 82 kt
Magnesium Yes Yes Yes No High Magnesite: 286,000 kt Magnesite: 799 kt Magnesite: 26,000 kt
Manganese Yes No Yes No High Manganese ore: 276,000 kt Manganese ore: 4,800 kt 17,200 kt
Niobium Yes Yes Yes Yes High 216 kt No data 78 kt
Platinum-group elements Yes Yes Yes Yes Moderate 107 t 0.522 t 380 t
Rare-earth elements Yes Yes Yes Yes High 4,200 kt 20 kt 240 kt
Rhenium No No Yes Yes Moderate No data No data 53 t
Scandium Yes Yes No No High 30.34 kt No data No data
Silicon No Yes Yes Yes High No data No data 8 kt
Tantalum Yes Yes Yes Yes High 99.4 kt 0.1 kt 1.8 kt
Titanium Yes Yes Yes No High Ilmenite: 274,000 kt; Rutile: 35,000 kt Ilmenite: 1,100 kt; Rutile: 200 kt Ilmenite: 12,000 kt; Rutile: 1,000 kt
Tungsten Yes Yes Yes No High 577 kt <1 kt 84 kt
Vanadium Yes Yes Yes Yes High 7,408 kt 0 86 kt
Zirconium Yes No Yes Yes High Zircon: 79,300 kt Zircon: 400 kt Zircon: 2,000 kt

Table notes
1. https://www.usgs.gov/news/national-news-release/us-geological-survey-releases-2022-list-critical-minerals
2. https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/?page=crm-list-2020-e294f6
3. https://www.csis.org/analysis/geopolitics-critical-minerals-supply-chains
4. https://www.ceew.in/publications/critical-non-fuel-mineral-resources-indias-manufacturing-sector
5. http://pid.geoscience.gov.au/dataset/ga/76526
6. https://www.ga.gov.au/digital-publication/aimr2021

Australia’s critical minerals sector is constantly growing in response to the increasing global need for a secure supply of these vital and strategic minerals. Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources shows that, in 2020, Australia retained its position as the world’s top lithium producer (49%) and was also a top five producer for antimony (1%), cobalt (4%), ilmenite (9%), magnesite (3%), manganese ore (12%), rare earths (8%), rutile (26%), tantalum (4%), and zircon (21%).  As well as being a global leader in the supply of critical minerals, many more deposits have been discovered or are under development, as seen in the map below or in the more detailed Australian Critical Minerals Map.

Australian critical minerals at operating mines and major deposits as at 31 December 2021. For more detail map, please see Australian Critical Minerals Map 2021.

Additionally, the Australian resources industry has responded to the increased demand for critical minerals with additional exploration and resource definition, leading to significant increases in economic inventories for many critical minerals in 2020, such as cobalt (up 7%), vanadium (23%), antimony (24%), tungsten (43%) and platinum group elements (185%).

Information regarding developing and advanced-stage critical minerals projects in Australia, can be found in the Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus 2021.

Further information about each critical mineral can be found here.

Exploring for the Future

The Australian Government’s $225 million Exploring for the Future program, led by Geoscience Australia, is committed to supporting a strong economy, resilient society and sustainable environment for the benefit of Australians.

At its heart, the program is about contributing to a sustainable, long-term future for Australia through an improved understanding of the nation’s mineral and energy potential and groundwater resources.

By gathering and analysing geological and geophysical data and making the results publicly available, the program supports regional development and informed decision making across Australia, resulting in jobs and growth.

The 2020–2024 program is currently focused on eight interrelated projects, united in growing our understanding of subsurface geology. Three of these projects have an application to critical minerals: Australia’s Resources Framework is a continental-scale project; Darling-Curnamona-Delamerian is a regional-scale deep-dive project across western New South Wales and Victoria, eastern South Australia, and northwest Tasmania; and Barkly-Isa-Georgetown is a regional-scale deep-dive project between Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, through to Mount Isa and Georgetown in Queensland.

Critical minerals studies within the Exploring for the Future program include:

  • A Review of Mineral Occurrences data in the three deep-dive areas to stimulate a reassessment of these forgotten mineral discoveries for new critical mineral opportunities. Existing data has been expanded to include exploration histories and occurrences classified with the Critical Mineral Mapping Initiative mineral deposit classification system.
  • The National Mine Waste Assessment is a collaboration between Geoscience Australia, The University of Queensland, the Geological Survey of Queensland, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, and the Geological Survey of NSW. This assessment aims to support the sustainable and economic recovery of critical minerals from secondary sources through a national-scale assessment of mine waste to identify new opportunities for critical minerals supply.
    Read more: Atlas of Australian Mine Waste puts secondary prospectivity on the map
  • The Economic Fairways Mapper tool is a collaboration with Monash University to develop tools for high-level, spatial, economic appraisal of selected commodities, including associated critical minerals.
    Read more: Atlas of Australian Mine Waste puts secondary prospectivity on the map.
  • The Heavy Mineral Map of Australia is a collaboration with the John de Laeter Centre at Curtin University to deliver an atlas of maps and a database revealing the distributions, abundances, and associations of heavy minerals across Australia, including those that host critical elements. In parallel with the data acquisition phase, a mineral network analysis tool is being developed to easily interpret the large and complex mineralogy data generated and discover associations and patterns.
    Access the data: Towards a heavy mineral map of the Australian continent – A feasibility study
  • The Geochemistry for Basin Prospectivity completes and maintains a geochemical data inventory of combined inorganic and organic geochemical data to test for the presence of key mineral system components (including critical minerals) within key sedimentary basins across Australia. This work is currently being undertaken in collaboration with the Geological Survey of South Australia.
    Access the data: Initial release of coupled inorganic-organic national geochemical data.
  • Mapping of alkaline rocks to understand their associated mineral systems and critical mineral potential.
  • Mineral potential mapping studies for selected mineral systems and associated critical minerals.
    Access the data: Tennant Creek – Mount Isa IOCG Mineral Potential Assessment.
  • New data on the age of key mineral deposits, with a focus on those containing critical minerals in collaboration with universities and state and territory geological surveys. Ongoing work includes a focus on mineral deposits in southeast Australia.
    Access the data: Geochronological studies of selected Australian mineral deposits, 2003 – 2020.
  • A new dataset of global zinc-bearing deposits has been published that presents data on deposit type, age, mineral resources, host rocks, associated igneous rocks and alteration assemblages for major zinc deposits around the world in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan, Geological Survey of Canada, and Memorial University of Newfoundland. This dataset provides a basis for critical mineral assessment as zinc deposits are the sources of several critical minerals including gallium, germanium, and indium.
    Access the data: Global database of zinc-lead-bearing mineral deposits.
  • A national dataset of major mineral deposits of all types in Australia has been published and includes information of deposit type, age, mineral resources, host rocks, associated igneous rocks, alteration assemblages and ore mineralogy in collaboration with the Geological Survey of New South Wales.
    Access the data: Geological setting, age and endowment of major Australian mineral deposits - a compilation.
  • Analysis and re-analysis of ore samples from within Australia and globally as part of the Critical Minerals in Ores dataset in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada, United States Geological Survey and Geological Survey of Queensland.
    Access the data: Critical Minerals in Ores.

Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative

The importance of critical minerals and the need to expand and diversify critical mineral supply chains has been endorsed by the federal governments of Australia, Canada, and the United States. The geoscience organisations of Geoscience Australia, the Geological Survey of Canada and the United States Geological Survey have created the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative (CMMI) to build a diversified critical minerals industry in all three countries. The aim of this collaboration is to utilize our combined geological expertise to address global natural resource vulnerabilities whilst also highlighting emerging opportunities in the resource sector and promoting critical mineral discovery in Australia, Canada and the USA.

CMMI is developing a better understanding of:

  • Known critical mineral resources.
  • Geologic controls on critical mineral distribution for deposits currently producing by-products.
  • Identification of new sources of supply through critical mineral potential mapping and quantitative mineral assessments.

As part of the initiative, CMMI has combined the mineral resources information held by the three geoscience organisations into a singular dataset to create the world’s largest compilation of Critical Minerals in Ores. This data is available through the CMMI Portal, a free interactive mapping tool designed to display critical minerals information on a global scale. It includes over 7000 mineral samples provided by 60 countries, from both historical and modern mining operations. New data and publications from the collaboration will be added to the portal as they become available.

Investors

Australia has a rich and diverse mineral endowment and long history of discovering and responsibly developing high-quality mineral resources. This, combined with vast tracts of largely under-explored and highly prospective areas, makes Australia an ideal place for investment in mineral exploration.

In addition, Australia’s adherence to the rule of law creates an investment environment of low political and sovereign risk. Investors can have confidence in consistent and transparent management of economic settings such as labour, taxes, royalties, health and safety, skilled migration, foreign investment and environmental protection as they operate in a strong and well-established resources industry. This robust framework combined with Australia’s enormous resource wealth, huge potential for new discoveries and well-coordinated government support for exploration and resource development creates a competitive advantage for investors in Australia’s mineral resources sector.

Geoscience Australia:

Publications

Science and technical information

Maps

Policy

Investment

News and media

Critical Minerals in the news

Presentations and videos

Geoscience Australia has also produced a series of presentations on critical minerals, many of which can be found on our YouTube page.

Relevant presentations include: