Rethinking Australia’s mineral futures

10 Dec 2009

In a world with growing resource demands and water and carbon constraints, Australia must rethink how it can deliver long term benefit from its mineral resources.

Will the future be underpinned by simply expanding production, based on the philosophy of dig-and-sell? What opportunities arise if we focus on a transition to delivering ‘metal services’ within a more sustainable economy? What extraction and recycling technologies would feature in this scenario? How will business models change?

The Institute for Sustainable Futures has joined with the CSIRO and four other universities to form the Mineral Futures Collaboration Cluster to map out the role of Australia’s minerals industry in a more sustainable future “The minerals sector has shaped – and continues to shape – Australia’s economy, our environment, and the lives of people all over the country,” Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, said at the launch of the Cluster last month.

“The Cluster’s research will help us determine how we can get the maximum benefit from Australia’s rich minerals endowment”, he said.

The cluster will be a three-year collaboration between CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship and the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, the Institute for Sustainable Futures, the Research Centre for Stronger Communities at Curtin University, the CQ Universityand the Australian National University.

The Institute’s research team, led by Dr Damien Giurco has published an initial discussion paper on the sustainability issues, challenges and opportunities to be investigated by the research.
At present, activities towards addressing environmental sustainability with respect to minerals and
metals are often limited to reducing energy and water inputs per tonne of product (rather than in absolute terms), and to ensuring mined land rehabilitation on-site.

The Cluster aims to shift the focus towards reconceptualising value of mineral resources within a holistic approach to stewardship along the production and consumption cycle.

Originally published in ISF's newsletter, The Wrap, in November 2009.