Western Australia working on critical minerals JVs with Indian mining majors

 Australia is a major player in critical minerals and rare earths, producing about half of the world’s lithium. (Photo: PTI)
Australia is a major player in critical minerals and rare earths, producing about half of the world’s lithium. (Photo: PTI)

Summary

  • The focus of an emerging India-Australia partnership in will be on lithium, vanadium and green steel as well as nickel, copper and magnetite.

New Delhi: Major Indian mining firms are in talks with authorities in Western Australia exploring investments in the mineral-rich province, said Nashid Choudhury, the region's investment and trade commissioner for India and the Gulf. Choudhury said the province is currently mapping and building a pipeline of joint ventures with major Indian firms.

“There are a number of powerhouses across India who are definitely exploring Western Australia as a market. Alongside, our federal government colleagues are definitely working on a number of leads, which we are supporting them on. So I would say an absolute range of leading private houses and PSUs which are on that decarbonization journey, are interested," Choudhury told Mint.

“Not only are we a major supplier of critical minerals, we're also home to a buzzing ecosystem that is developing lithium and is looking at the future of lithium-ion technology for batteries and vanadium redox flow batteries, which will be a very key opportunity to grow and address the demands—be it for vehicles or for storage," she added. While Japan, Korea and European nations have been Australia’s traditional partners, Choudhury sees an increasing opportunity for Indian firms.

The focus of these emerging partnerships will be on lithium, vanadium and green steel as well as nickel, copper and magnetite.

Western Australia has already seen investments from major Indian mining firms. Legacy Iron Ore Ltd, a subsidiary of state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), has invested in a gold mine in WA’s Mount Celia. NMDC has also struck a deal with Hancock Prospecting, a major Australian mining firm, for a joint venture deal to secure supplies of lithium and other critical minerals from Western Australia’s Central Yilgarn area.

In 2021, India and Australia signed a Critical Minerals Partnership with a focus on securing supplies for India’s energy transition. Earlier this year, this partnership announced that it had identified two lithium and three cobalt projects in Australia for due diligence. Australia is a major player in critical minerals and rare earths, producing about half of the world’s lithium. It is also the fourth largest producer of rare earths and the second largest producer of cobalt.

Amid a global race to source critical minerals, all large economies including China and the US are eyeing international acquisition of critical mineral mines. Given their requirement in batteries, solar photovoltaic cells, semiconductor among others, minerals like lithium and cobalt are in demand.

With India setting an ambitious net zero target of 2070, the demand for lithium and vanadium has grown as these minerals are used in battery manufacturing and both private and public sector companies are looking for mines abroad as India does not have the required reserves.

However, in a bid to harness the domestic potential, the government has eased mining norms for critical minerals and come up with a list of 31 minerals critical to the economy. Last week, the mines ministry launched the second tranche of auctions for critical minerals blocks in the country.

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