If QEM is feeling a little smug today, it might be because the pieces needed for the company to achieve its goal of becoming a significant supplier of critical minerals in Australia are starting to fall into place.

The specific pieces in this case are the Queensland Government’s $5bn decision to buy and upgrade the CopperString 2.0 project and its agreement with Sun Metals Corporation (SMC) for the supply of vanadium-bearing spent catalyst from SMC’s Townsville operations.

So just how do these pieces fit together to advance QEM Limited’s (ASX:QEM) objectives, which include the development of its Julia Creek vanadium and oil shale project?

For starters, Queensland’s move is aimed at connecting the North West Minerals Province, where Julia Creek is located, with the national energy grid near Townsville.

The expanded $5bn investment into the 1,100km transmission line is aimed at increasing its power capacity, enabling it to connect the largest renewable energy zone in Australia with more than $500bn in critical minerals.

Early works will begin this year with construction planned for commencement next year.

Importantly for the company, CopperString 2.0 will run through the western portion of QEM’s Julia Creek vanadium and oil shale project, giving the company access to renewable energy with which to power its operations cleanly.

Speaking to Stockhead, QEM managing director Gavin Loyden said the state government’s acquisition of CopperString was a major advance for the company’s project planning.

“Access to affordable, reliable and renewable energy has been a key development pillar for QEM along with access to this resource.  Within two days, we have greater certainty about both,” he added.

“CopperString will harness the wind and solar resource along the corridor and provide the reliable and affordable access to electricity to develop and process the critical minerals in the North West Minerals Province.”

The Julia Creek vanadium/oil shale project in northwestern Queensland is a unique world class resource with a best estimate (2C) Contingent Resource of 79 million barrels of oil (along with a less certain high estimate – 3C – resource of 696MMbbl) and a Mineral Resource of 2,850Mt grading 0.31% vanadium pentoxide.

Waste to vanadium

Meanwhile, the five-year agreement (including provision for a five-year extension) with Sun Metals provides the company with access to a stream of industrial waste material which can be upcycled into battery grade vanadium pentoxide.

The spent catalyst from Sun’s zinc refinery in Townsville will be processed using standard, tested methods to extract high grade vanadium pentoxide with greater than 99% purity, which is the grade required to produce electrolyte for vanadium redox flow batteries (VFRB), at the Queensland Government’s $75m Critical Minerals facility.

This was acknowledged by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who noted that the projects represented the next steps towards making vanadium batteries in Townsville.

VRFBs are used in large scale, battery storage systems that store excess power from the grid for use during peak demand periods.

The batteries use vanadium-ions in the electrolyte solutions and are considered safer, more scalable, and longer lasting than their lithium counterparts with a lifespan of more than 20 years.

Loyden added that the collaboration between QEM and Sun Metals represents a circular economy opportunity where industrial waste can be repurposed to a higher use.

“Spent catalyst recycling is an environmentally beneficial solution, without which valuable metals like vanadium may be lost,” he told Stockhead.

This article was developed in collaboration with QEM, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.