Rare earth metals: an untapped resource?
A James Cook University researcher hopes to reveal the economic potential of rare earth elements found in northern Queensland, which could help Australia transition to a high-tech, clean energy society.
Associate Professor Carl Spandler will be the chief investigator of a new project that aims to uncover the potential of undiscovered deposits of rare earth metals within the Australian continent.
He said the increasing use of smart phones, electric vehicles and renewable energy may help us realise Australia’s potential as a global supplier of these rare earth metals.
“The surge in global demand for high-tech applications and clean energy is accelerating demand for the metals used in their manufacture,” Dr Spandler said.
“Forty years ago, these metals were limited to specialist military and industrial applications, but today they’re essential components of electric vehicles, computer systems, and electricity generators.”
The project, which has received an Australian Research Council linkage grant, aims to improve our understanding of the presence of rare earth materials in Australia.
“We want to have a better understanding of how, where, and when rare earth elements become concentrated in the Earth’s crust,” Dr Spandler said. “This should speed up the process of discovering new deposits that are needed to secure global supply of these critical metals.”
China currently has a monopoly on the supply of dysprosium, which is used in high-powered magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Dr Spandler says tapping into Australia’s rare earth metals will help alleviate the pressure of relying on a single supplier.
“98 per cent of the world’s dysprosium comes from China,” he said. “If Australia can become a global supplier of these metals, it will help fill supply shortages and reduce the risks that come from the geopolitical uncertainties linked to the current monopoly.”
Associate Professor Carl Spandler