Critical minerals list expands and new strategic materials list

By John Hedge
Critical Minerals Energy Mining

What they are and how they are used 4 min read

As discussed in our previous Insight, part of Australia's Critical Minerals Strategy was to review and update Australia's list of critical minerals.

That process has now been finalised, with the critical minerals list expanded to 30 minerals, including five new entries (fluorine, molybendum, arsenic, selenium and tellurium) and the removal of helium.

A new strategic minerals list has also been created, initially consisting of six minerals (copper, nickel, aluminium, phosphorous, tin and zinc).

Key takeaways

  • Where the update and Ministerial announcement state that the lists will be used to allocate appropriate support for these resources and ensure government focus, projects for these minerals will be expected to attract future government funding and policy support.
  • Australia's regulators, including the Foreign Investment Review Board and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, are already focused on emerging critical minerals markets and will be expected to extend that scrutiny to the new minerals added to the list.
  • It is likely this will lead to updates to the various lists of critical minerals in Australian state and territory strategies and polices such that, in time, they are also likely to translate to assistance for the new minerals at a state and territory level.

Critical minerals

Australia's critical minerals list was last updated on 16 March 2022.

The criteria used to determine the minerals to make the list in this review was to identify minerals:

  • essential to modern technologies, economies or national security, specifically the priority technologies set out in the Critical Minerals Strategy (including batteries and battery components, rare earth permanent magnets, catalysts for hydrogen production, semiconductors for microchips and solar PV, defence technologies, and high performance alloys and metals)
  • for which Australia has moderate to high geological potential for resources
  • in demand from our strategic international partners
  • that are vulnerable to supply chain disruption.

The resulting updated critical minerals list as of 16 December 2023 (with the new additions highlighted) is:

High-purity alumina Antimony Arsenic
Beryllium Bismuth Chromium
Cobalt Fluorine Gallium
Germanium Graphite Hafnium
Indium Lithium Magnesium
Manganese Molybendum Niobium
Platinum-group elements (platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium) Rare earth elements (yttrium,  lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium) Rhenium
Scandium Selenium Silicon
Tantalum Tellurium Titanium
Tungsten Vanadium Zirconium

The applications of the minerals (as described in the update and shown below) are in the technology (particular net-zero transition applications) and defence areas, consistent with the existing strategic priorities:

Arsenic used as an alloying agent in many industrial processes. It also has some defence applications. Importantly, high-purity arsenic metal is used to manufacture semiconductors.
Fluorine used in batteries and for manufacturing semiconductors and solar photovoltaic cells. Its main use is as a fluxing material for manufacturing steel and aluminium.
Molybendum used to increase the strength, hardness and corrosion resistance of alloys. Molybdenum alloys are widely used as a refractory metal in chemical applications and in structural steel, aircraft and automobile parts.
Selenium used in copper and steel alloys, manganese metal production, and solar cells and photocells.
Tellurium used to produce thin-film solar cells and thermoelectric devices for cooling and energy generation. It can also be used as an alloy for steel, copper and lead.

Australia has known resources of most of these minerals, or potential sources of production by recovering by-products from the processing of other minerals.

Consistent with the criteria, including reference to the needs of Australia's strategic partners, the list also achieves greater alignment with current critical minerals lists in the United States, the European Union, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Strategic materials

The review process also highlighted the need to establish a 'watchlist' of other minerals that would meet the criteria for being a critical mineral, but have more established supply chains that are not currently vulnerable to disruption and are considered robust enough to meet current demand.

The initial Australian strategic materials list consists of:

Aluminium Copper Nickel
Phosphorous Tin Zinc

There have been some calls in consultation for these materials to be included in the critical minerals list. However, it appears the Government sought to find a way to recognise their importance without signalling an immediate need to support their development (while still monitoring any potential need for support for these minerals in the future).

Future reviews

To ensure each list remains fit for purpose, the update notes that reviews will be conducted at least every three years. However, the Government has sensibly signalled it may review the lists more frequently as a response to significant changes in technology, trade, domestic capacity or geopolitical developments.

The Critical Minerals Strategy itself will be comprehensively reviewed in 2026, and with annual reporting to occur against its objectives in the interim, the critical minerals sector is sure to be a strong area of government focus, funding and policy change in the coming years.