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Mining rare earth minerals in Australia

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1 August, 2013

1 August, 2013

A report from Geosciences Australia, “Critical commodities for a high‑tech world:

Australia’s potential to supply global demand,” found that Australia could become a major global supplier of the rare earth minerals used to make smartphones. The metal, non-metal and mineral commodities, also used to make flat-screen televisions and electric cars, are considered crucial to the economies of the EU, Japan, South Korea, UK and US.

“This is the first report on Australia’s mineral resources potential to supply critical commodities, and Australia could be a key player in providing a diversity of supply to the global market", said Australia’s Resources Minister Gary Gray in a statement.

According to IT News, the question remains whether Australia has the ability to extract economic value from the commodities, given the high costs of labour, capital and energy involved in smelting and refining the raw materials.

“Unless we’re coming up with new technologies to get these metals out and doing it here as opposed to just shipping off the concentrates overseas, we’re not going to get that much economic value out of it”, said Dr. Gavin Mudd, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne.

China, which currently dominates the world market for rare earths, has tightened restrictions on exports of the metals. “Instead of just exporting the primary rare earths and the concentrates they want to take them right through to the high value-add electronic products themselves so they get a better return on it”, said Mudd.