Australia looks downstream

THE Australian government has formally launched a strategy to become a global powerhouse in lithium-ion battery manufacturing.
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Image: iStock/Vefimov 513057360

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham launched Austrade's new strategy, Lithium-Ion Battery Value Chain: New Economy Opportunities for Australia, at a lunch in Melbourne yesterday.

Birmingham said Australia was well-positioned to become a global leader in the fledgling industry.

"Lithium-ion battery technology has enabled the mobile device revolution and is driving innovation and a global shift in energy storage solutions," he said.

"With growing global demand for lithium-ion batteries, this report recognises that Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform into a major processing, manufacturing and trading hub for lithium-ion batteries."

Birmingham noted Australia produced around half of the world's lithium, but much of it was being shipped offshore.

"Australia is uniquely blessed with numerous rare earths that are increasingly important both economically and strategically across the globe," he said.

"Our ambition is to drive enhanced investment across the value chain of commodities like lithium."

Birmingham said it was the right time to accelerate the development of a high-tech lithium manufacturing sector in Australia.

"Through Austrade's resources team we are ramping up our activities overseas to attract investment and highlight our significant comparative advantage such as our strong economic conditions, skilled workforce and well-established resources infrastructure network," he said.

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan said it was critical Australia took advantage of the lithium boom.

"Lithium prices have tripled since 2010 and global battery consumption is predicted to increase five-fold in the next 10 years, driven by a global shift to electric vehicles in some markets and off-grid storage to support renewable energy development," he said.

"As the world's largest producer of lithium and with mineral reserves covering 90% of the elements required in lithium-ion battery production, we have an enormous opportunity to leverage off this rapidly-growing industry."

Canavan said the government's Resources 2030 Taskforce report had highlighted the importance of developing new strategies to develop competitive downstream industries.

"It is a roadmap for how we can put Australia in the best position to make the most of investments in the lithium supply chain," he said.

"With the right policies we can advance our industry further up the value chain to become the world's leading supplier of high grade lithium components including ion-batteries - creating new jobs and opportunities for Australians."

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies CEO Warren Pearce said the report joined the growing body of literature around Australia's potential global leadership in battery materials.

"Australia currently produces nine of the 10 mineral elements required to produce most lithium-ion battery anodes and cathodes, and has commercial reserves of the remaining element, graphite," he said.

"To meet the forecasted growth in demand for batteries, Australian mining will need to provide a range of minerals including, lithium, nickel, copper, graphite, manganese and cobalt."

Pearce said the opportunity had the potential to reshape the Australian economy.

"It is a timely report and a call to action for Australia. It clearly spells out the opportunity and Australia can seize it," he said.