The rush to renewable energy means a new mining boom – what you need to know

Minerals play a crucial role in the energy transition. Modern wind turbines would not function without rare earths, solar panels without high-purity quartz, and electric vehicles without vanadium, manganese, graphite, cobalt, and lithium. Likewise, electric cars require six times more minerals like copper, nickel, cobalt, and lithium than petrol-powered cars. Wind turbines require four times as many minerals as coal-fired energy stations to generate the same amount of electricity. Despite the irony, more mines are essential if we are to save the planet.

Due to the huge demand for renewable energy, the world’s mining capacity is increasing more than ever. This is forcing some tough decisions and redrawing the battle lines between miners and environmentalists. As these robust actions continue, there might be a possibility of trade-off between the preservation of native habitats and the worldwide effort to halt the worst effects of local weather change. However, the Australian government must learn the lessons of its previous mining boom: rather than just digging up and exporting raw minerals, doing more value-added here can lead to significant job growth.

In recent years, Australia has missed out on opportunities to enter large-scale renewable-energy manufacturing, but refining minerals here could help us catch up. With many of Australia’s mineral exports at record prices overseas, now is the time to refine and transform them here, taking advantage of the boom and creating scores of manufacturing jobs. In addition to seeking out new deposits, or even reopening old pits, miners also face national security concerns, especially with a dominant China holding the market for many critical raw materials.  As a consequence, it’s challenging to build an Australia-made future if materials for today’s products and tomorrow’s are procured from China.

Government and industry must work together to ensure ordinary Australians are able to share in this exciting new boom. The modern mining techniques, environmental regulations, and labour laws in Australia make it possible for Aussie workers – including many of our members across the country – to do their jobs much cleaner and more efficiently.

In order to take part in this potential mining and manufacturing boom, Australia must invest more in R&D and innovation, and above all, in its people. It is essential that we train the next generation of renewable energy technicians and ensure blue-collar jobs can be found in the realm of renewable energy manufacturing. This means the supply chain for critical minerals determines who controls the next industrial revolution, which is dominated by renewable energy. During the 20 years to 2040, lithium demand is expected to grow 13-fold, rare earth demand to triple, copper demand to double, and cobalt demand at least six-fold. All these critical minerals are available in Australia, making this one of the largest contributions the country can make to combating climate change.