Welcome to Lithium Valley, Perth, Western Australia… the world’s centre of battery metal mining and manufacturing excellence…. Well, that’s the dream, at least.
A coming surge in demand for battery metals and products could spark a new mining and manufacturing boom for Western Australia.
It’s a prospect that could be worth $56 billion a year to the local economy and tens of thousands of new jobs.
They’re calling it Lithium Valley
If executed correctly, the report argues, the potential opportunity for Western Australia could lead to 100,000 new jobs and significant new prosperity.
The potential boom surrounds minerals needed for high-tech consumer products, including a variety of rare earth minerals, lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, tin, copper, manganese as well as vanadium, for industrial scale applications.
“We are the only place in the world that has them all,” Curtin University professor of sustainability Peter Newman said.
“Not only do we have the resources, we also have the technological capability and skilled workforce to service this emerging industry.
“The world needs us and we can create ‘Lithium Valley’ to service this need,” he said.
In the report, ‘Lithium Valley: Establishing the Case for Energy Metals and Battery Manufacturing in Western Australia’, a vision is set to capitalise on a minerals boom like never before.
It details how Perth should become the global centre of excellence and leadership. From mining, to processing and manufacturing high-end battery products, for export around the world.
Sustainable energy, electric cars and electronics
As the world heads toward more sustainable sources of energy, the technology required to meet the demand will see significant investment in mining resources.
The coming boom is partly driven by the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), as well as electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, apparel and home appliances.
Then there is the trend toward off-grid home power systems and industrial scale grid storage, to handle the ebbs and flows of power from renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. For this, Vanadium is set to be a hot commodity.
According to The Economist, the flow batteries are too bulky for use in electric vehicles, but ideal for stationary storage. China’s government is planning on building huge 100 megawatt (MW) VRBs across the country to help manage the fluctuations of wind and solar energy.
Rare earth metals are also making a comeback, with China holding much of the known resources, Australian rare sources are coming into play.
Minerals like Cobalt, required to make a lithium-ion batteries, have skyrocketed in the last 18-months.
The price of lithium itself has also increased massively, with a number of new mines opening up in Australia in the last year alone, with many more on the way.
Western Australia is tipped to supply half of the world’s raw lithium needs by next decade.
Demand for graphite, another mineral required for battery production, is also set to increase 500% in the next few years, the annual Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie heard last year.
Global demand for battery metals ready to surge dramatically
In the last year alone, European nations like France, Britain and Norway say they will ban fossil-fuel cars in the coming years.
Companies like Volvo and have also said they will soon abandon the production of combustion engine cars, producing only electric or hybrid cars by 2021, an extraordinary step.
In July BMW said it would dedicate 25% of its total production to electric cars by 2025, signing a $5 billion deal with a Chinese battery manufacturer.
The pace of action in the space is happening so fast, politicians and business leaders will need to act fast to secure deals here in WA.
“For some of the metals, it’s a complete game changer,” said Simona Gambarini, a commodities economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London told Canadian media
“We’ve already seen a big impact on some metals like cobalt and lithium, which have soared over the past couple of years.”
Perth sustainability experts release the report ‘Lithium Valley: Establishing the Case for Energy Metals and Battery Manufacturing in Western Australia‘
While the dream and vision is out there, action is already underway.
In Perth’s south, at Kwinana, there are two major projects underway that will employ thousands.
A $700 million lithium processing plant is under construction, built by Chinese lithium producer Tianqi.
“This is a new frontier for WA,” Tianqi Lithium Australia general manager Phil Thick told the ABC.
“This is a first in this industry and our plant has sort of set the scene for other companies to look at doing the same.”
Meanwhile, local mining company Kidman Resources and Chilean-based producer SQM, signed an agreement to supply Elon Musk’s Tesla with lithium hydroxide, also from a proposed plant in Kwinana.
Representatives from Tesla had been in Perth to speak with Mark McGowan and ministers about potential future investment in the state.
In Kalgoorlie, Neometals will build a $200 million lithium processing plant in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Many mining companies are already positioning for the boom. Companies like Galaxy Resources, Kidman, Pilbara Minerals have seen share prices skyrocket and investors make potentially millions from just small investments just a couple years ago.
West Perth, the home of many local mining operations, is now quietly humming along with plans and strategies being mapped out to take advantage of the coming battery metals boom.
The challenge ahead
An extract from the report:
WA does not have a history of adding value to its raw materials before export.
There are differences with Lithium (and the other battery metals) of the New Energy economy and they are: reliable quality, high value products, security of supply and access to other New Energy metals in a stable political environment.
If WA can create global best practice environments that meet or exceed emerging users’ demands, this will attract international companies to local specialised industrial regions around the State.
WA also has a special ability to make quality minerals for export as it has developed the smart technologies, software and research capability that allows very precise determination of the mineral quality along the development chain, from discovery through exploiting the resource and transporting it to individualised markets – mostly overseas.
With Lithium this can be extracted to create high quality mineral products that can be combined into electrochemical processes that are then made into batteries.
There are good reasons why this should be done here.
WA is coming of age as an Indian Ocean regional trading power and an important centre for future global trade and security operations.
WA’s trading partners appreciate the developing strategic role the State has although Commonwealth and State policies do not yet reflect this shift, nor does the political debate suggest a proper appreciation of the scale of the opportunity for the State, Commonwealth and our alliance and trading partners.
The first signs of Lithium Valley are being built with the first ‘second stage processing’ of
Lithium being built at two sites in Kwinana and another under approval at Kemerton.
These current investments were based upon business decisions made months or years ago.
To build on this momentum a proactive approach is now required to influence further business decisions currently being made internationally and attract additional downstream processing to the State.
This is an opportunity that should now be grasped.
Lithium Valley may still be a dream, but with a little leadership, the reality is just around the corner.