Australia - Country Commercial Guide
Mining

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-08-16

Overview

Mining has long been a cornerstone of the Australian economy. The gold rushes in 1850s were pivotal in the early development of the country. Today, it remains one of the country’s most well-established sectors.  It is a major contributor to national GDP, accounting for around 10% of total GDP in 2020.  The industry is strongly export-oriented, with minimal processing onshore. The outlook for Australia’s mineral exports continues to improve, as the world economy rebounds from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world economy recovers, record iron ore prices have driven a surge in export earnings. 2020–21 export earnings are estimated at $230 billion, up almost 7% on the record set in 2019–20.

Australia is the world’s largest producer of lithium and a global top five producer of gold, iron ore, lead, zinc, and nickel.  It is also has the world’s largest uranium and fourth largest black coal resources, respectively.  As the fourth largest mining country in the world (after China, the United States and Russia), Australia will have ongoing demand for high-tech equipment, representing potential opportunities for U.S. suppliers.

There are over 350 operating mine sites across the country, of which approximately one-third is located in Western Australia (WA), one-quarter in Queensland (QLD) and one-fifth in New South Wales (NSW), making them the three major mining states. By volume, Australia’s two most important mineral commodities are iron ore (29 mines) – of which 97% is mined in WA – and coal (over 90 mines), which is largely mined on the east coast, in the states of QLD and NSW. In contrast to most global production, the majority (around 75%) of black coal in Australia is produced from open-cut mines.  This ratio of 3:1 open-cut/surface to underground mines also applies to the broader (i.e. non-coal) local mining sector.

The United States is one of the largest exporters of mining equipment to Australia, with Japan, China, and Germany being other important sources of imported equipment. Major players such as Caterpillar, Komatsu, Wirtgen, Joy Global, and Liebherr have a strong presence in the market.  Smaller-scale local manufacturers cater to niche and specialized markets and are particularly competitive in mining-related software, fine coal cleaning and process control, and strata reinforcement technology.

Underpinning the growth of the mining industry in Australia is a strong demand for Australia to be a reliable and stable supplier of resources to the United States and the world.  Australia and the United States have strengthened bilateral cooperation to improve the reliability and diversity of global critical minerals supplies. Australia’s abundant reserves of critical minerals such as antimony, manganese, and rare earths are crucial to communications, renewable energy, and defense industries. In 2019, the United States and Australia formalized their partnership on developing both nations’ critical minerals assets between Geoscience Australia and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The two partners outlined specific steps to strengthen an existing Memorandum of Understanding by collaborating on research and increasing critical minerals capacity for both countries.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Applications to improve efficiency of maintenance and service of mines

One of the key opportunity areas for U.S. exporters in the Australian mining industry is maintenance and service. Mining companies remain strongly focused on reducing operating costs, so products and services that enhance or extend existing infrastructure, and improve the bottom line, are likely to be well-received. Heavy construction equipment and drilling equipment are also leading sub-sectors.

Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies

With the growing demand to lower carbon emissions in the Mining Industry, there is a growing demand for technologies that will limit greenhouse gas emissions by otherwise polluting industries. The Australian government, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and UN’s lead agency for assessing climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the technology will be critical to meeting net zero emissions targets to slow the trajectory of global warming.

Blue Hydrogen processing technologies

There’s a strong drive to decarbonise mining operations. Hydrogen can be used to store renewable energy to generate electricity, it can power equipment, trucks and cars, and it can even be used in certain mining processes as a reductant. The Australian government announced the National Hydrogen Strategy, setting a path and committing substantial funding to accelerate the commercialization of hydrogen energy and build a strong domestic hydrogen sector.

Opportunities

With the high cost of labor in Australia, there is strong interest in automation technology such as driverless vehicles (trucks and trains), drills, and excavation equipment.  This interest is strongest in the iron ore sector, where the large scale of mine operations justifies the investment in automation.  The Australian mining industry is, in many areas, an early adopter of technologies, such as mobile and wearable technologies.  There are also moves to convert particular types of heavy moving equipment, e.g. underground loaders, to non-diesel power, for both environmental and occupational health and safety.

The mining sector is set to be an early adopter of blue hydrogen production. In  March 2020, four mining giants - BHP, Fortescue, Anglo American and Hatch – formed the Green Hydrogen Consortium, pledging to work together to accelerate renewable energy-powered hydrogen production and its application to the resources sector and other heavy industries. According to the the Director of the CSIRO Hydrogen Energy Future Science Platform Dr Daniel Roberts, “There are a whole range of opportunities for hydrogen in the mining sector.”

The Australian Department of Industry and Science established the Critical Minerals Facilitation office to grow Australia’s critical minerals sector to find pathways to increase foreign direct investment into Australia from countries such as the United States.

Events

  • AIMEX – Australasian International Mining Exhibition which is held biennially in Sydney (NSW), next taking place in 2023.
  • QME – Queensland Mining which is held biennially in Mackay (QLD), next taking place July 19-21, 2023.

Resources

  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM)
  • Australasian Tuneling Society (ATS)
  • Australian Drilling Industry Association (ADIA)
  • Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG)
  • Geoscience Australia
  • Minerals Council of Australia (MCA)
  • Mining & Energy Services Council of Australia (MESCA)
  • Office of the Chief Economist (produces the Resources and Energy Quarterly publication)
  • https://publications.industry.gov.au/publications/resourcesandenergyquarterlyjune2021/documents/Resources-and-Energy-Quarterly-June-2021-Overview.pdf