New economy minerals
In order to develop a sustainable pipeline of ‘new economy minerals’ projects into the future, the Queensland Government is investing in exploration activities to improve scientific understanding and supply the valuable geoscience data needed by industry to help locate and define deposits for future production.
What are new economy minerals?
The term ‘new economy minerals’ refers to a range of metals and mineral elements used in many emerging technologies including electric vehicles, renewable energy products, low-emission power sources, consumer devices, and products for the medical, defence and scientific research sectors.
The ‘new economy’ describes market conditions created by the fast-changing nature of emerging technologies and a global shift towards the future of electrification and battery-powered storage. Demand for the materials used in their production can exceed existing global resource production, causing manufacturers and industries to seek secure, predictable supplies into the future. In turn, this increases trading prices, creating a ‘new economy’ for the metal or mineral element.
Queensland has a rich endowment of many new economy minerals, including:
- Rare earth elements (Cerium, Dysprosium, Erbium, Europium, Gadolinium, Holmium, Lanthanum, Lutetium, Neodymium, Praseodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Scandium, Terbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, Yttrium)
- Silica (Lump silica, Silica Sand)
Where are new economy minerals found in Queensland?
New economy minerals, while found across Queensland, are mostly concentrated in the state's North West and North East mineral provinces – from Mount Isa in the west to Townsville in the east, a distance of nearly 1,000km. Some new economy minerals are found with other traditionally mined resources, such as cobalt with copper, while others occur as the primary commodity in a deposit.
You can search for more information on Queensland's new economy mineral operations and current projects through the GeoResourcesGlobe.
Two project streams commenced in January 2020.
Stream 1: Refocusing and extending current efforts
Finding hidden value
In collaboration with the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, the Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ) is re-analysing samples from mine tailings (i.e. waste material, often stored in dams) at established and historic mine sites throughout Queensland, to identify new economy mineral opportunities. Of particular interest are cobalt concentrations in tailings of substantial copper mines in the North West Minerals Province.
Mine the core
In the past, cost constraints prevented many companies from analysing drill core samples beyond a restricted suite of metals when conducting their exploration programs. For example, a copper explorer might typically examine core only for copper, lead, zinc and possibly gold and silver. Cobalt, which may be associated with copper, was not commonly included in those examinations.
GSQ is re-analysing large volumes of core samples obtained from known deposits. GSQ has access to a large number of representative drill core and surface samples through its drill core libraries (Exploration Data Centre, Brisbane, and the John Campbell Miles facility at Mount Isa), as well as through collaborative relationships with key Queensland explorers. This information will be digitised and released to the public.
- Old mines, new value
Secondary prospectivity – that is, the examination of previously unconsidered mining opportunities in existing mines – is a key step towards a circular economy. There are a number of previously mined sites in Queensland that have returned to state control that may contain untapped opportunities.
GSQ is collaborating with The University of Queensland to examine a number of sites and the surrounding region to determine their overall potential, in terms of both mineral endowment, and the mining technologies and techniques required to exploit these opportunities. If this analysis returns positive results it could be used to support re-packaging these sites and offering them back to market, perhaps with incentives or collaborative arrangements to address legacy environmental issues.
Stream 2: New exploration activities
Kamilaroi airborne magnetic survey
GSQ is undertaking a high-resolution airborne magnetic survey north of Mount Isa, following the known trend of cobalt mineralisation associated with major copper deposits. This survey will better define key structures known to be responsible for this style of mineralisation. The survey has the potential to open up exploration for copper and cobalt in previously under-explored areas.
Canobie gravity gradiometry survey
GSQ will undertake a high-resolution gravity gradiometry survey north of Cloncurry, including the Saxby area, to assist with targeting for new economy mineral and iron-oxide-copper-gold deposits (IOCG). In addition to being a major source of copper in the North West, IOCG deposits are a key host to other critical minerals such as cobalt and rare earth elements.
Carpentaria Conductivity Anomaly MT survey
GSQ is undertaking 2 broad-scale magneto-telluric (MT) surveys to the south and east of Cloncurry to map out the Carpentaria Conductivity Anomaly, a geological feature that may be prospective for copper, cobalt and rare earth elements.
Collaborative Exploration Initiative
The Collaborative Exploration Initiative (CEI) supports innovative mineral exploration by providing grants to companies undertaking higher-risk exploration activities, or activities in previously under-explored areas of North West Queensland and elsewhere.
Extension of the popular initiative is a practical way of facilitating new exploration activity, offering the potential for new discoveries and identification of future mineral provinces.
Re-imagine Queensland’s phosphate deposits
This project will define an entirely new class of rare earth element (REE) deposits in Queensland. The project is focused on REE mineralisation along a 1,000km belt of the North West Minerals Province, from Boulia to Century.
Extracting rare earth elements sustainably
This initiative is crucial to the future development of an entire REE supply chain; by demonstrating an economic and environmentally sustainable extraction method for REE, numerous exploration-stage REE projects will become viable.
Commercialisation of resultant techniques will create new jobs in and around a Queensland-based processing facility, with flow-on benefits for communities and the region.
Determining the rare earth element potential of Queensland’s basins
Researchers at Adelaide University have developed a cutting-edge model for rare earth mineralisation in basin environments. GSQ will conduct a project in collaboration with Adelaide University to develop this model further with particular reference to specific examples and regions in North West Queensland, such as the Georgina Basin around Mount Isa. This model will enable explorers to identify prospective target areas more effectively.
Last updated 15 July 2021