Aluminium sector vies for ‘critical’ status amid green tech rush
Major aluminium producers including Rio Tinto, Alcoa and the co-owner of the Portland aluminium smelter are backing a push for Australia to recognise their products as “critical minerals” because of their significance as building blocks of the clean energy revolution.
Aluminium and the raw material bauxite are deemed critical in jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada and Europe, but Australia’s definition of critical minerals – those the government plans to target for growth funding to help meet future global demand – is largely limited to smaller ingredients in batteries and electric cars, including lithium, cobalt and rare earths.
In a new submission to the Albanese government, the Australian Aluminium Council says bauxite, alumina and aluminium are “among the most widely used commodities in the global clean energy transition”.
“To capitalise on the nation’s abundance of these commodities and to position Australia as a supplier of choice, they need to be recognised as critical minerals,” said Mike Ferraro, the chief executive of ASX-listed Alumina, which jointly owns Victoria’s Portland smelter.
“Australia should be aligned with its peers on critical minerals in order to ensure it is optimally placed to capture the increasing demand for minerals like bauxite, alumina and aluminium… it is an opportunity the nation cannot afford to miss.”
Aluminium is a widely used material in solar panels and wind turbines. Transitioning the world towards green energy sources is expected to drive a 50 per cent increase in demand for aluminium in electricity sector, according to industry estimates, while the global car industry’s aluminium consumption is set to rise by 60 per cent by 2030 due to soaring uptake of electric vehicles.
Ferraro, the incoming president of the Australian Aluminium Council, whose biggest members include Alcoa, Rio Tinto and South32, said Australia was uniquely placed as the world’s top producer of bauxite and the largest exporter of alumina, with six alumina refineries producing about 20 million tonnes of alumina a year. Australia is also the seventh-largest producer of aluminium, with seven aluminium smelters and 20 extrusion presses.
“Australia is one of the very few countries that has bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium smelting and aluminium extrusion industries, making aluminium one of the few commodities for which the entire value chain from mining to the manufacture of consumer products is represented locally,” Ferraro said.
In December, the federal government released a discussion paper and opened public consultations on the future of Australia’s critical minerals industry and how the sector can grow to help Australia become a clean energy superpower. Resources Minister Madeleine King said the consultations would inform the government’s new “critical minerals strategy” and help the sector capitalise on the global boom in demand for clean energy technologies.
“By leveraging our competitive advantages, the critical minerals we mine and refine here can help us move up the value chain and into downstream processing, helping to create new opportunities and high-paying jobs across Australia, including in our regions,” she said.
Meanwhile, federal Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic is set to launch a public consultation on Friday for a national battery strategy, which he said would develop a new manufacturing industry to harness Australia’s abundant mineral resources and tap a global investment boom.
“Our general approach should be one where if we mine it here, we should make it here,” Husic said.
“New battery capacity will help support grid scale capacity, power our homes, and electrify our transport sector.”
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Source: Thanks smh.com