Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals

WA School of Mines Kalgoorlie campus director Sabina Shugg responds to Thursday's Outcrop column on critical minerals.
Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals Letter to the Editor: Outcrop on critical minerals

Sabina Shugg

In response to Critical minerals: are we still in the race? - MiningNews.net 28/7/22.

As per the article it's unclear as to the new federal government's approach to Australia getting into downstream processing of critical minerals and the author duly notes the world isn't standing still on this issue. Here in Kalgoorlie, we aren't standing still either. At the Curtin campus - the historical home of the WA School of Mines, we have recognised that as a nation we need to rebuild our pyrometallurgical capability and capacity to meet the needs of industry and society in this global race.

We know that the drive for carbon neutrality is likely to force miners to do more downstream processing - customer countries want carbon neutral metals and metal precursors (e.g., nickel sulphates) not concentrates or bulk raw commodities. We also know that it's time for the (WA) mining industry to get out of the ‘quarry to ship' thinking.

We are well placed in the Goldfields-Esperance region to combine abundant mineral resources with the potential for significant renewables, like solar and wind, to produce green metals, critical metal precursors and alloys. Downstream processing using renewables has the potential to diversify and deepen the mining and metals industries, increase the number of long-term skilled jobs whilst being ideally placed to export more finished green materials via the Port of Esperance.

Many of the future critical metals (excluding Ni, Cu & Co) are yet to be developed and we have lacked the technical skills or the will to process them into higher value products. Curtin Kalgoorlie Campus and the WA School of Mines is working to become an internationally recognised centre of excellence in the transition to carbon neutral downstream processing, through -

    1. Improving our skills base through undergraduate teaching in carbon neutral metals production
    2. Initiating post graduate carbon neutral metals research
    3. Collaborative industry projects which aim to deepen our focus on new paths to carbon neutral metals and green critical metals production
    4. Fundamental and applied research into carbon neutral to carbon net negative paths for metal production

Where are we on this journey so far?

We've made significant investment in the most modern high temperature furnaces and other equipment, we are readying laboratory space, recruited new staff, signing up industry partnerships and seeking further funding - we cannot do this alone. The new Kalgoorlie Metals Research Lab will develop world-leading capability, including a renewable micro-grid allowing for truly green metal production. The concept of the KMRL is to develop carbon neutral pathways to metals and precursors and to prove new markets for downstream value-add, super alloys and by-products e.g., Te, Nb, Co, REE.

Our vision is for WA to be a beacon for the critical minerals industry. We want to ensure that WA secures sovereignty of critical minerals and technology metals supply for Australia and our allies. Significant new metals and battery industry activity in the Goldfields will bring economic diversity and sustainable jobs to the region. Curtin and WASM will attract more students, industry funded research and visiting experts and researchers from around the world for increased vibrancy of university, industry, and community.

Come join us and support this journey.

Sabina Shugg AM
Director | Kalgoorlie Campus
WA School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering
Faculty of Science and Engineering