The next mining boom? Rare earths and the rise of Australia’s ‘other’ minerals – by Nick Toscano (Sydney Morning Herald – December 13, 2019)

Lithium, cobalt, titanium, rare earths – expect to hear more about them as we transition to green technologies. But what are they, actually? And what are they for?

Coal and iron ore are the heavy hitters of minerals in Australia. They’re our two top mining commodities by far, together accounting for 30 per cent of national exports.

But a handful of other minerals have become rather fashionable in recent times. They account for a small fraction of our export earnings and it’s mostly small operators that dig them out of the ground, with just a couple of big names in the mix. Yet they are rapidly becoming more important and edging their way into common parlance as result.

The sci-fi-sounding rare earths is one. Titanium is another. “He’s a man of titanium,” US President Donald Trump declared of our Prime Minister Scott Morrison this year, adding a zeitgeisty, if incomplete, fast fact: “You know, titanium’s much tougher than steel.”

And no conversation about the future of energy would be complete without a knowing nod to lithium, nickel and cobalt. The resources sector has found itself the target of growing pressure as activists and climate-conscious investors push for the reduction in emissions necessary to avoid the most dire and immediate effects of climate change.

But behind the heightened profile of these “other” Australian minerals is a simple fact: they are essential in many green technologies, from solar panels and wind turbines to electric vehicles and large-scale batteries.

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