Globally, Australia’s metalliferous industry is a force to be reckoned with, from a production and trade perspective and is considered amongst the most lucrative in the world. Dating back to the mid-1800s when the first gold rush came to fore, Australia has maximized on the diverse natural mineral resources to establish a metal mining industry from an economic point of view. Australia’s metalliferous mining industry includes both surface and underground mining of iron ore, copper, tin, nickel, gold, silver and zinc. In the interest of grouping types of mining by sectors metalliferous mining also includes mining of gemstones such as diamonds, uranium and mineral sands. In Australia, there are over 60 major employers each employing over 200 people and as of 4 years ago the sector was estimated to be worth over $53 billion to the Australian economy with projected industry workforce to rise from 99 300 in 2020 to 114 100 in 2024. Recent 2020 statistics show that the value addition from the metal ore mining industry to Australia is about AUD 82.3 billion and the total income of the metal ore mining industry stands at about AUD 135.8 billion. The top players in the metalliferous mining industry in Australia include BHP Billiton Limited, Rio Tinto, Anglo American, Glencore and Macmahon Holdings. The article seeks to introduce the first part of a series of three articles which will evaluate metalliferous mining in Australia from minerals, dust generation and dust control. Key to our discussion in this first article will be the types of minerals, the statistics in Australia and Global Road Technology’s role in the metalliferous mining industry in Australia.

The Iron Throne

Attributed as the leading export commodity in the financial year 2019, iron ore export value in Australia was estimated to be worth AUD 77.26 billion making it the largest of all metalliferous minerals or metals. 2019 also saw Australia produce 918.73 million metric tons of iron ore which was higher than 2018 and consistently increases the year on year growth trend from 2010. In the 2018 fiscal year, the value of iron ore across Australia was projected to be over AUD 223 billion with a marked decrease in iron ore value since the peak in the 2015 fiscal year. Over the past decade the gross value added of the iron ore mining industry in Australia has steadily increased with significant mine located in Western Australia. As of March 2019 the gross value added of iron ore mining sector in Australia amounted to over AUD 11 billion. China tops the export destination leading market of iron ore from Australia in terms of value with 2019 value of iron ore amounting to AUD 64.7 billion. The quarterly expenditure on iron ore exploration in Australia in the past decade has reached its peak in June 2012 with recent statistics from March 2020 showing an expenditure of about AUD 75.5 million.  

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Copper and Gold

Australia is positioned 6th in the production of copper worldwide with export volume of unrefined copper reaching values of about 480 000 mega tons and much of the copper exports from Australia finding their way to China as the leading market. South Australia’s copper resources are a key focus for more than 130 companies currently committed to exploring, developing and mining copper in South Australia. Australia ranks 3rd in the worldwide production of zinc and the zinc output from mines in Australia is approximately 1280 mega tons. Australia is considered as one of the leading gold-producing nations in the world and in the 2019 fiscal year about 321 metric tons of gold were produced in Australia a yield that was the largest in two decades. In about two years from now, an increase of 57 metric tons is expected which coincides with Australia being marked to be the world’s largest gold producing country by 2021 surpassing China in the process. The leading three Australian gold mining companies by market capitalization in 2019 were Newcrest Mining, Northern Star Resources and Evolution Mining and in the same year Cadia Mine in New South Wales was the largest gold producing mine in Australia with approximately 913 000 ounces of gold production volume. Forecasts projected a peak of AUD 26.4 billion export value of gold from Australia in 2020 largely driven by higher prices, increase in local mine production and larger export volumes with China being the leading export destination for Australian gold in terms of value.

Silver, Tin, Nickel, and Uranium

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Ranked amongst the major silver producers in the world, Australia sits in  4th position alongside Russia with statistics from 2013 showing that about 6.5% of the worlds production of silver was obtained. Most recently the annual production coming from South Australia sat at 1.33 million metric tons of silver in 2019 which was a slight increase from 2018. The announcement of plans to increase production by Australia’s largest tin producer, Metal X in addition to extending mine life by a decade at the Renison Tin Operation in Tasmania will boost Australia’s tin production beyond 2020. Australia’s annual mine production normally is around 18 mega tons with about 3.8% of the annual world mine production of tin coming from Australia. 7 years ago the world production of nickel metal was 2.5 mega tons with Australia as one of the dominant producers contributing 240 000 tonne nickel metal mainly from sulphide and laterite deposits in Western Australia. In the world production of uranium, Australia ranks 3rd producing about 6600 mega tons of uranium with the value of uranium mined in Australia amounting to AUD 1.1 billion. South Australia is the major exporter of uranium oxide and is known to host vast resources of uranium with approximately 80% of Australia’s economic demonstrated resources of uranium and about 23% of the world’s uranium resources. The Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia is the largest uranium deposit in the world containing more than 2 million tonnes of uranium oxide. 

Summing Up

There are different types of metalliferous minerals in Australia and each contributes differently to the economy based on export values and mining quantities obtained from the different sources of the metalliferous minerals. In some metalliferous minerals, statistics show a sharp rise in production with a few of them showing decline in production although majority of the metalliferous minerals have shown a steady rise in production. Some sources of metalliferous minerals in Australia are the best in the world with most production rankings considered amongst the best in the world which cements Australia’s position as a global metalliferous mining and production powerhouse. Global Road Technology’s role in the metalliferous industry in Australia is strategically positioned in offering expert solutions through effective dust control technologies that contribute to worker health and safety, environmental stewardship and cost saving initiatives that increase productivity whilst working within acceptable and allowable limits of dust generated from metalliferous mining activities. 

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REFERENCES 

Australian Industry and Skills Committee. Metalliferous Mining. Retrieved 26/12/20

Government of South Australia. Mineral commodities. Retrieved 26/12/20

Granwal, L. 2020. Metal mining industry in Australia – statistics & facts.