Apr 16, 2017

Newly discovered minerals province may feed technological revolution

Newly discovered minerals province may feed technological revolution

Geologists have unearthed evidence that suggests Queensland may be sitting on a treasure trove of rare minerals in what has been dubbed the Diamantina Minerals Province.

The discovery covers an area from Fifield in central New South Wales, through Queensland’s north-west and up to the Merlin diamond mine in the Northern Territory.

Experts from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines’ 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,” Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said today.

“Beyond the potential economic boost for Queensland, the discovery brings a new understanding of mineral potential in a previously under-explored area.”

UQ 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 6km in diameter.

DNRM says 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 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.