Western Australia is strongly positioned to be competitive in the global battery minerals space, with its project readiness, innovative approach and capacity to value add, the state’s Mines and Petroleum, and Energy Minister Bill Johnston flagged yesterday.

Speaking at the two-day New World Metals Conference in Perth, the minister highlighted the WA government’s strong support for the established and emerging battery metals sectors in an opening address.

“Western Australia has a very strong position in the tech-metal space, and we know that global economy and global energy systems are changing very rapidly,” Johnston said.

“There’s a great uptake in batteries right across the world, and that’s being driven by a whole range of decisions, both political decisions and changing economics.

“We’re lucky that we’re able to put ourselves on the map in the middle of that.”

Johnston emphasised the west coast’s significant reserves of high-quality battery metals in his speech.


Exploration investments deliver results

He also flagged WA’s status as a producer of non-battery metals such as rare earth materials.

The minister pointed to the state’s $6.9m worth of exports of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements in 2018 as evidence of its world impact in the global battery materials space.

Western Australia is the largest producer of lithium in the world and sixth largest producer of nickel.

“We were very pleased that more people are spending money to look for nickel and cobalt across Western Australia,” Johnston said.

“There’s 170 million dollars of exploration activity in 2018 – double what it’s been in the previous year.

“And it’s good to see that even BHP is looking for new nickel here in Western Australia.”

The minister highlighted the January 2019 Future Battery Industry Strategy as an effort by the government to build on 2018 momentum and “support that move into the supply of these newly important global materials”.

The state is the only producer of nickel in Australia.


Processing projects will deliver earnings

Johnston said the century-old mining state was at the “leading edge of the global batteries metals industry” and had a skilled workforce and technical support industries such as processing to match.

The minister highlighted a number of upcoming lithium processing projects in WA as future income-earning projects.

These projects were the commissioning-stage 48,000-tonne-a-year Tianqi Lithium Australia project and the 44,000-tonne-a-year Covalent Lithium feasibility-study level project to open in 2021, both in the commercial port town of Kwinana south of Perth.

Another nickel project was the 100,000-tonne-a-year Albemarle construction project in Kermerton to start in 2021.

Another upcoming construction project in Kwinana was BHP Nickel West, with the nickel sulphate processing operation to start next year in 2020.


Rare earths show promise for future wealth

Rare earths were another source of wealth for the state Johnston emphasised, noting they were used globally in smartphones, wind turbines, computers, medicines and weapon systems.

“Rare earths is another important contribution to Western Australia and to the globe – and since 2010-11 production increased to over 29,000 tonnes,” he said.

“We would hope to see that continue to increase.”


Low sovereign risk makes investments attractive

The minister pointed to the excitement this week of Lynas Corporation’s (ASX:LYC) decision to build a cracking and leaching plant for rare earths processing in the Goldfields city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

READ: WA report card: Strong showing for downstream processing of critical minerals

“We’re very pleased by that,” he said of the rare earths effort for the state.

Johnston flagged other projects he considered important, including Northern Minerals’ (ASX:NTU) Browns Range project and the Hastings Technology Metals (ASX:HAS) project coming up for government approvals.

“There’s many reasons to invest in Western Australia, and the first of those is our low sovereign risk,” he said.

“The government of Western Australia has a strong focus on project facilitation and we want to assure you that we’re very focused on the need to support investors in their journey to get their projects underway – and this also includes our access to land right across Western Australia … close to transport and export infrastructure.”