Geologists have unearthed evidence that suggests Queensland may be sitting on a treasure trove of rare minerals that underpin 21st century technologies and lay undiscovered in the remote north west of the state.
Speaking at the Queensland Museum’s Mineral Heritage display, Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the Diamantina Minerals Province could be Queensland’s next frontier of resource exploration and investment.
Experts from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) and the University of Queensland have uncovered evidence of platinum and gold as well as Rare Earth Elements (REE) used in advanced technologies from hybrid vehicle batteries to super-conducting magnets.
“This may be a whole new frontier for Queensland,” Dr Lynham said.
“Beyond the potential economic boost for Queensland, the discovery brings a new understanding of mineral potential in a previously under-explored area.”
The discovery, loosely being referred to as the Diamantina Minerals Province, covers an area from the copper, gold and platinum-rich Fifield in central New South Wales, through Queensland’s north west country and up to the Merlin diamond mine in the Northern Territory, where one of Australia’s largest diamonds was discovered.
UQ’s Emeritus Professor Ken Collerson and DNRM geologists uncovered the potential resource when they discovered extremely rare geological pipe structures in a remote area of western Queensland south west of Mount Isa and near the Northern Territory border.
The rare pipes originate from very deep within the earth, when pulses of mineral-rich material are forced to the earth’s crust.
These pipes have previously only been found in South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Finland, but the Queensland ones could be up to six kilometres in diametre.
Minerals likely to be in the pipes include scandium, cobalt, nickel, copper, light and heavy rare earth elements, yttrium, niobium, hafnium, zirconium, tantalum, phosphorus, silver, gold and platinum group elements, as well as potential for diamonds.
The REEs are a group of chemical elements that exhibit a range of special or unique properties which are used in many modern and “green” technologies. The REEs are subdivided into Light Rare Earth Elements (LREE) and Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE).
“The type of minerals found in the geological pipes are in high demand around the world, particularly in the development of cutting edge technology,” Dr Lynham said.
“Advanced technologies such as fuel cells (scandium), mobile phones (tantalum), super-conducting magnets (niobium) and hybrid vehicle batteries (cobalt) all rely on access to the minerals we believe are here.
“An opportunity exists for the right type of company to maximise this detailed geological information and take it to the next step commercially.”
Predictions of REE demand and supply outside China show that several elements are likely to be in critically short supply in the next 10–15 years. Global REE production is estimated at 112,500 tonnes, with an economic value of $4–6 billion. However technologies that rely on these elements are worth many trillions of dollars.
These rare earth elements are considered critical because of their increasing importance in modern and green technologies.
Rare earth can be regarded as pivotal for the shift from a carbon based economy to the new 21st century electron economy of the future.