Scientific topics Critical minerals at Geoscience Australia
Last updated:27 November 2023
Geoscience Australia supports the objectives of Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030 to grow our critical minerals sector, expand downstream processing, and help meet future global demand. Geoscience Australia supports the Critical Minerals 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
- 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:
- It is essential for the functioning of our modern technologies, economies or national security and
- 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 Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030.
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 (2021)6||Australian Production (2021)6||World Mine Production (2021)6|
|High purity alumina||Yes||Yes||No||No||Moderate||High purity alumina ore: 16.7 Mt||0||No data|
|Antimony||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||136.5 kt||3.4 kt||109 kt|
|Beryllium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||No data||No data||260 t|
|Bismuth||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||No data||No data||19 kt|
|Cobalt||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||1,582 kt||5.3 kt||165 kt|
|Gallium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||No data||No data||430 t|
|Germanium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||No data||No data||140 t|
|Graphite||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||7,970 kt||0||1,000 kt|
|Hafnium||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||High||14.5 kt||No data||No data|
|Helium||No||No||No||No||Moderate||No data||4 hm3||160 hm3|
|Indium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||No data||No data||920 t|
|Lithium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||6,700 kt||55 kt||105 kt|
|Magnesium||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||High||Magnesite: 286,000 kt||Magnesite: 894 kt||Magnesite: 30,000 kt|
|Manganese||Yes||No||Yes||No||High||Manganese ore: 277,000 kt||Manganese ore: 4,900 kt||19,500 kt|
|Niobium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||216 kt||No data||75 kt|
|Platinum-group elements||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Moderate||247.7 t||0.470 t||380 t|
|Rare-earth elements||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||4,260 kt||23 kt||240 kt|
|Rhenium||No||No||Yes||Yes||Moderate||157 t||No data||59 t|
|Scandium||Yes||Yes||No||No||High||36.65 kt||0||No data|
|Silicon||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||No data||No data||8 kt|
|Tantalum||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||104.4 kt||0.1 kt||2.1 kt|
|Titanium||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||High||Ilmenite: 273,800 kt; Rutile: 33,800 kt||Ilmenite: 600 kt; Rutile: 200 kt||Ilmenite: 14,400 kt; Rutile: 600 kt|
|Tungsten||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||High||570 kt||<1 kt||79 kt|
|Vanadium||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||High||8,110 kt||0||110 kt|
|Zirconium||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||High||Zircon: 78,600 kt||Zircon: 500 kt||Zircon: 1,600 kt|
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 2021, Australia retained its position as the world’s top lithium producer (53%) and was also a top five producer for antimony (3%), cobalt (3%), magnesite (3%), manganese ore (11%), rare earths (8%), rutile (26%), tantalum (5%), and zircon (30%). 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.
The Australian resources industry has responded to increased demand for critical minerals with additional exploration and resource definition. Australia’s economic inventories increased for many critical minerals in 2021: platinum group elements (131%), scandium (21%), vanadium (10%), antimony (9%), cobalt (6%) and tantalum (5%).
Information regarding developing and advanced-stage critical minerals projects in Australia, can be found in the Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus 2022.
Click for further information about each critical mineral.
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 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT), and the state geological surveys. 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.
Access the data: Atlas of Australian Mine Waste.
- 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.
- 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.
Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub
The Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub (the R&D Hub) is hosted by the CSIRO and brings together expertise from leading Federal science agencies: the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Geoscience Australia (GA), and CSIRO. The R&D Hub will work with industry to address technical challenges and drive collaborative research across the critical minerals value chain needed to support clean energy and Australia’s net zero policy agenda.
The top priorities of the R&D Hub are to:
- scale-up and commercialise critical minerals research and development – including priority research projects on supply chains of strategic significance
- help coordinate, guide and prioritise critical minerals research and development efforts across Australia
- connect critical minerals projects to the technical and research expertise they need
- support strategic international critical minerals collaboration and science diplomacy.
For more information, including research projects, see the Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub website.
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.
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.
- Supports the objectives of Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030 to grow our critical minerals sector, expand downstream processing and help meet future global demand.
- Supports the Critical Minerals Office to help grow Australia's critical minerals sector and position Australia globally as a secure, reliable and ethical supplier of critical minerals.
- Works with Austrade to promote investment opportunities in Australian critical minerals projects to investors. These government agencies, publications and resources help investors find opportunities and navigate approval requirements to invest in Australia.
- Read more:
Science and technical information
- Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (2022)
- Deposit Classification Scheme for the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative Global Geochemical Database (2021)
- Geological Surveys United to Improve Critical Mineral Security (2021)
- International database on the abundance of critical minerals in ore: Relevance to research and development of critical mineral resources (2021)
- Outlook for Selected Critical Minerals Australia (2021)
- Critical Energy Minerals Roadmap CSIRO (2021)
- International Geoscience Collaboration to Support Critical Mineral Discovery (2020)
- Critical Minerals in Australia: A Review of Opportunities and Research (2019)
- Critical commodities in Australia – an assessment of extraction potential from ores (2017)
- Critical Commodities for a High-tech world (2013)
- Australian Resource Reviews
- Australian Mineral Exploration Review 2022
- Australian Operating Mines Map (2022)
- Australian Critical Minerals Map (2022)
- 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy, with a 2023 Critical Minerals Strategy under development, to outline priorities for the development of Australia’s critical minerals sector and to seize the opportunities of the net zero transformation
- The Australian government is committed to developing the country’s first National Battery Strategy to articulate a clear pathway for integrated, end-to-end onshore battery minerals supply chains
- The Australian government has committed $15 billion to establish the National Reconstruction Fund to provide finance for projects that diversify and transform Australia’s industry and economy.
News and media
Critical Minerals in the news
- 4 July 2022: Building stronger critical minerals cooperation with India
- 6 April 2023: Australia and Germany to collaborate on critical minerals study
- 4 April 2023: Australia-UK boost cooperation on critical minerals
- 24 March 2023: Ministers agree to support critical minerals
- 21 October 2022: Support for critical minerals breakthroughs
- 10 August 2022: Salt caverns and minerals across Australia unlock our nations hydrogen industry
- 20 July 2022: ‘Thumper trucks’ on the move across south-eastern Australia
- 9 May 2022: AusArray sensors to build national picture of Australia’s subsurface
- 14 April 2022: Australia records boost in critical mineral resources
- 17 March 2022: Virtual National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre
- 29 June 2021: Critical minerals portal to strengthen supply chains
- 4 March 2020: New data shows increase in critical minerals
- 19 November 2019: US-Australia partnership on critical minerals
- 08 March 2019: Critical Minerals in Australia report released
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: