Charging up Australia's battery minerals

AUSTRALIA’S battery industry is worth nearly $1.5 billion in gross domestic product although the country could reap five times that, as battery demand accelerates nearly 10-fold over the next decade.
Charging up Australia's battery minerals Charging up Australia's battery minerals Charging up Australia's battery minerals Charging up Australia's battery minerals Charging up Australia's battery minerals

Battery value chain locations Australia 2021.

Paul Hunt

Senior Journalist: Energy & Commodities

Paul Hunt

Nearly all of this GDP benefit is thanks to Australia's mineral mining industry, however, miners need to prepare for a step-change in demand.

Research from Accenture, commissioned by the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, revealed a diversified battery industry in Australia would contribute $7.4 billion to Australia's economy and create 34,700 jobs by 2030.

The FBICRC has just released the report which outlined two pathways towards 2030: sticking with a business-as-usual mining focus, or developing a diversified battery sector.
 
Doing things largely as they have always been done - mining the raw materials, with some limited refining, battery integration and maintenance services - is forecast to add A$4.1 billion in gross value to the economy and generate 18,700 jobs over the next decade.
 
But, embracing mining, diversified battery industries, and onshore materials processing, and a manufacturing sector integrated with batteries and other services, would add $7.4 billion and 34,700 jobs.

FBI CRC CEO Stedman Ellis said the report gave a compelling business case for Australia to develop into a competitive player in the international batteries industry, and showed Australia had many strengths for succeeding in this ambition.

"We are shining a light on the different segments of an industry in which Australia can be a leader, and there is substantial economic value to gain if we capture the opportunity," he said.

Australia's battery industries contributed an estimated $1.3 billion GDP and 6000 jobs, almost all of which comes from mining raw materials.

Accenture director Tony Brennan said that would grow substantially over the next decade as demand for battery minerals grew.  

The report shows creating the $7.4 billion industry hinges on establishing a manufacturing industry and more downstream processing of minerals in Australia.

It identifies six opportunities for Australia to expand its battery industry.

At the top of that list is encouraging investment in mining for battery minerals and creating downstream refining opportunities.

Accenture said Australia could "position itself as a reliable participant" in the global battery value chain because of its "wide breadth and abundance of key minerals".

One of the biggest costs in battery manufacturing is proximity to minerals, and Australia is ideally placed to take advantage of this, if it is to develop the downstream industry.

The report notes the US has already developed a Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, and given China produces most rare earths and some critical minerals, Australia can become a reliable alternative.

"Over 50% of the world's lithium is extracted in Australia, and hard rock resources are generally regarded as better suited to battery production because of the ability to refine them directly to lithium hydroxide," the report says.

"As our refining and active materials segments develop, they will have access to quality resources."

The report highlights many benefits to a future battery manufacturing industry in Australia, including its climate, geography, defence capability, and transport routes to international markets.

Australia already has a 50% global market share as a world leader in mining raw materials, however, investment into refining capacity and downstream processing is seen as an "immediate priority" that the country is yet to meet.  

The report says cell manufacturing and battery pack assembly are medium-term priorities, partly because there is little to no domestic electric vehicle market and also slower growth in consumer electronics supply chains.

According to Accenture, a further $14 billion in finance could be needed by 2030 as "additional capacity" to boost critical mineral mining alone, and another $9 billion worth of investment for downstream processing and production.

"The additional investment required consists of $4-$6 billion for refining and active materials, $2-$3 billion for battery manufacturing and up to $500 million for integration and services," it says in the report.

Co-location of processing and manufacturing is needed to ensure logistical costs remain low.

The report says there is a risk the spread of minerals processing and battery manufacturing can occur, which will pose challenges to industry from personnel, to transport inefficiencies.