PROJECT FINANCE

Queensland digs deep for critical mineral cash splash

FLUSH with cash from increased coal royalties and a booming surplus, Queensland’s government has dug deep into its wallet and announced a big boost in spending on new generation critical minerals developments. 

(L-R) AMEC Queensland director Sarah Gooley, Scott Stewart, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Warren Pearce.

(L-R) AMEC Queensland director Sarah Gooley, Scott Stewart, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Warren Pearce.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and resources minister Scott Stewart teamed up with the Association of Mining Exploration Companies to unveil a A$245 million strategy to unlock further investment in the state.
 
Australia may not be able to match the rivers of cash being unlocked in the US with the Inflation Reduction Act, but Queensland is banking on the fact it is a tier one advanced economy in the Asia-Pacific with an abundance of natural resources will give it a look-in as the world seeks to advance to a net-zero emissions future.

Funding flows

The new Queensland Critical Mineral Strategy was unveiled at the World Mining Congress in Brisbane and involved a multi-faceted plan spanning $100 million for a new Critical Minerals and Battery Technology Fund, $75 million to establish critical mineral zones, initially at Julia Creek/Richmond and around Mount Isa, and the creation of Critical Minerals Queensland to act as a one-stop office to oversee the development of the sector.
 
Additionally, rent for new and existing exploration permits for minerals will be reduced to $0 over the next five years.
 
Scientific research for circular economy initiatives, an investment in mining waste and tailings for critical minerals plus other research options will share in $14 million of investment.
 
The co-ordinator-general also announced a commitment to undertake baseline environmental and social assessments for proponents at Cape Flattery designed to help ease the burden of cost and time on emerging silica sand explorers Diatreme Resources and Metallica Resources.
 
The strategy is in addition to the $68 million Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan and $75 million Queensland Resources Common User Facility that will be built in Townsville.

Downstream focus

Palaszczuk said the strategy was about both mining raw materials and developing downstream processing capacity.
 
Stewart said Queensland was well-placed to provide metals such as copper, zinc, vanadium and cobalt for production of batteries and renewable energy. 
 
"If we do not manufacture our future, someone else will, leaving Queensland to remain a low-end supplier of minerals and nothing more," he said.
 
AMEC CEO Warren Pearce described the new strategy as "nation leading and globally significant".
 
"Without exploration there are no new mines. The more we can do to reduce time and costs, the more exploration will move to Queensland," he said.
 
He hoped the new CMQ office, due to open in January, would "see better engagement from government with junior and mid-tier companies and help to reduce the lengthy assessment timeframes that proponents can experience, especially with regards to environmental requirements".

Queensland's vanadium dream

Queensland is particularly hoping to become a key player in the vanadium redox flow battery space, with some of richest vanadium deposits globally at Julia Creek and Richmond, and almost one third of global resources.
 
In recent days Vecco Group secured a contract for a VRFB to be deployed by Energy Queensland into the state's energy grid, with the vanadium electrolyte to be produced at Vecco Townsville facility.
 
Australia's first commercial scale VRFB was commissioned in South Australia last week.
 
The 2-megawatt/8MW-hour battery is connected to a grid of solar panels outside Port Pirie. 
 
VRFB are said to have significant advantages over lithium-ion batteries, being better suited to grid storage, extreme temperatures, less prone to fires and with a longer duration and lifespan.

Canberra investment

 
As one of the first policy decisions under the strategy, the government will direct $500 million of new investment into critical minerals projects, via the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, with some feeling it doesn't go far enough in competing with the IRA.
 
As BHP's CEO Mike Henry said today, trying to match the IRA was "is a losing proposition" because the nation was simply too small to support subsidies, and the government in Canberra could change the settings to allow for faster permitting and an industrial relations system that delivered productivity, flexibility, and competitiveness to drive job creation and wage growth.
 
"There is enough investment appetite for good projects under the right conditions," he said.
 
Queensland is hoping its new strategy will shine a light on the Sunshine State.
 
There are about 81 major critical minerals projects proposed in Australia, valued at some $40 billion, that could add some $200 billion to gross domestic product by 2040.
 

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