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Supporting critical minerals research and development

The Australian Critical Minerals Research and Development Hub (the Hub) was announced on 21 October 2022 by the Prime Minister The Hon. Anthony Albanese and the Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia, The Hon. Madeleine King.

Hosted by the CSIRO, the Hub brings together expertise from Australia’s leading science agencies: the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Geoscience Australia, and CSIRO. These agencies are working collaboratively to scale up and commercialise Australia’s critical minerals potential by aligning R&D to priority technical challenges and Australia’s strategic priorities. The Hub also works closely with the Critical Minerals Office at the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR).

The Hub is working with industry, universities and the research community, to address technical challenges and drive collaborative research across the critical minerals value chain needed to support clean energy and Australia’s net zero policy agenda, in line with Australia's Critical Minerals Strategy 2023-2030 .

The Hub's mission covers four main work streams:

  • Scaling-up and commercialising critical minerals research and development: by undertaking priority projects and identifying research and development priorities, gaps, and technical obstacles in supply chains of strategic significance. The Hub will also leverage Australia’s resource potential to support onshore processing and create opportunities in downstream high value industries. 
  • Coordinating, guiding, and prioritising critical minerals research and development and expertise across Australia: by fostering closer cooperation and collaboration across the domestic and international research and development ecosystem, including government, industry, universities, and other research institutes. Closer collaboration will help to reduce duplication, establish priorities for research and development across the critical minerals sector, inform future policy and funding decisions and grow Australia's domestic capabilities.
  • Connecting critical minerals projects to technical and research experts: by building capability and tailoring activities to meet the needs of the sector. The Hub will help de-risk and commercialise projects by creating Australian intellectual property (IP) in critical minerals research and disseminating relevant scientific knowledge freely and openly as a public good and/or protecting and commercialising it to deliver impact.
  • Supporting strategic international critical minerals collaboration: by advancing international research and development engagement and working with likeminded partners to support strategic supply chains.

Research projects

The Hub's Research Program supports collaborative projects conducted by the three science agencies which are designed to deliver the technical breakthroughs needed to leverage Australian opportunities in the critical minerals sector.

There are seven Hub-funded research projects, including three announced in January 2024.

Criticality and opportunity assessment : Geoscience Australia is leading the criticality assessment, which is examining Australia's mineral export and import vulnerabilities, and the extent to which minerals are critical for Australia's economy, future sovereign capabilities, and security. To date, project outputs have been used to inform the December 2023 update of the critical minerals list . The project will build an enduring mineral criticality assessment capability at Geoscience Australia to support evidence-based government decision making and inform Australian strategic policy on critical minerals.

High Purity Silica (HPS) – Two Projects:

  • HPS Mineral Systems Study: Geoscience Australia is undertaking a detailed mineral potential study of High Purity silica mineral systems with the goal of identifying mineral systems and regions that have the greatest potential to supply raw feed stock material suitable to support the production of silicon, stimulating exploration and supporting the development of a downstream silicon industry in Australia.
  • HPS Process and Product Development: ANSTO is developing processing routes for High Purity Quartz (HPQ) production from Australian quartz and silica sand projects, complementing the Geoscience Australia program. HPQ is used for the manufacture of the consumables (fused quartz products) required in elemental silicon production, plus a range of optical and speciality applications. This project will provide access to the technologies and know-how required for HPQ production, in particular, high temperature chlorination for all future Australian projects.

High Purity Alumina (HPA):  CSIRO is investigating more efficient purification and processing techniques for HPA, which was added to Australia’s critical minerals list in March 2022.  The project aims to capitalise on Australia’s plentiful supply of aluminium-containing feedstocks and develop intellectual property to assist Australian companies to take advantage of this emerging market which could be applied to other critical minerals processing . This research is focussing on innovative approaches to purification methods typically associated with the production of HPA, by using a wide range of feedstocks and developing new analytical capability to benchmark HPA product quality.

Rare Earth Elements (REE): ANSTO is leading this project which involves all three science agencies.  While Australia’s rich endowment of high grade REE and processing techniques are understood, greater knowledge of the mineralogy and processing routes is needed to unlock the potential of lower grade deposits, particularly in clay-hosted REE and ionic adsorption deposits. This project will  accelerate the discovery, extraction and processing of REE from these deposits by: assessing Australia’s mineral potential for lower grade REE deposits; developing and testing process options specific to Australia’s clay-hosted rare earth and ionic absorption deposits; demonstrating how these deposits can be used in existing REE separation technologies; establishing a dedicated testing facility; and enhancing the environmental outcomes of critical minerals mining and processing.

Downstream value chain: CSIRO is developing intellectual property and knowhow needed to help downstream industries produce high purity metals and materials. This project seeks to extend Australian value chains for lithium and rare earths and add value to tungsten ores and refractory metals. The project aims to produce rare earth material for magnet-making industries, and lithium metal suitable for long-life one-use batteries and the next generation of solid-state lithium rechargeable batteries. Working with ANSTO, the project will also develop a deep technical understanding of the conversion of tungsten mineral concentrates to high value-added chemical concentrates and tungsten oxides, complementing concurrent refractory metals metallisation studies.

Critical mineral by-product potential: Geoscience Australia is leading research into development opportunities of a domestic industry for critical minerals - such as gallium, germanium and indium - which are often by-products from processing primary commodities such as zinc and bauxite. Geoscience Australia is developing methodologies and tools to help understand Australia’s geological resource potential for these critical mineral by-products and the CSIRO is assessing the techno-economic opportunities for Australia to produce these minerals from existing operations. Under this project, ANSTO will also explore the technical recovery of gallium from bauxite refining process liquors and determine the opportunity for Australia from existing bauxite refineries.

All research projects will be completed by June 2026.

Partnership between ANSTO, CSIRO , Geoscience Australia and the Australian Government, Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

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