As Australia moves glacially towards exporting products that mitigate climate change instead of exporting products that increase it, Western Australia is taking Robyn Denholm’s advice seriously. The Chairperson of Tesla recently spoke at a mining conference urging Australians to get involved higher up the value chain with the minerals we are digging out of the ground. Australia’s mining companies are world leaders when it comes to cost-effective practices, but do not exploit the value of their product — just digging it up, putting it on a ship, and sending it somewhere else. This is not just exporting value and profits, but also jobs.
Australia produces over half the world’s lithium, and is a significant producer of copper and nickel. At present, this is exported to Asia for processing.
With the global battery market booming (expected to grow to $150 billion by 2030 — but many CleanTechnica readers might expect a much higher figure by then), Western Australia is planning to jump into the deep end. Three big battery chemicals plants are set to come online in the next few months. Some heavyweights are moving it along — BHP (nickel sulphate); Albemarle Corp; Tianqi (lithium hydroxide); BASF. Australia believes it can bank on its solid reputation as a responsible producer (more on this later regarding Rio Tinto) and steal some market share from China.
Western Australia state mining minister Bill Johnston has assured end users that they could be confident that processing was done to high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards.
It would be very good for the GDP bottom line, too, supporting up to 35,000 jobs and contributing $7.4 billion to GDP. So the question in mind is — why are we still mining coal? Having battery precursor chemical production close to mining operations will reduce freight costs by 30% and provide a massive reduction in CO2 emissions from bulk carriers (using the worst sort of fuel oil).
The population of Australia was outraged when Rio Tinto blew up caves that were considered to be an indigenous sacred site last year. It cost the CEO his job and the company has been ordered to rebuild the caves. There was evidence that the caves had been used for human habitation since the ice age. This has put pressure on the government to review its legislation to make sure this never happens again.
“We are in a situation where trust has been damaged and therefore heightened efforts are required.”
This act, however abominable, will not slow the battery behemoth down. Let’s watch to see how trust is restored and respect is given.