Professor Caroline McMillen AO, Chief Scientist for South Australia. Image: Supplied
Decarbonisation relies on the deep science capability present across our universities and the ability to train the next generation to enable one of the world’s biggest industrial shifts — towards net zero.
This issue of Australian University Science could not be more prescient. The most recent World Economic Forum Global Risks Report found that respondents ranked “climate action failure” as the number one threat with the most likely severe impact on the world in the next decade. In this context, industry sectors in countries not focussed on decarbonisation will face increasing costs of carbon and significant difficulties trading in global markets. As the world gears up to meet net zero commitments, metals and mining companies are positioning to drive this massive technological transition.
Critical minerals are at the heart of decarbonisation and electrification as we harness renewable energy, fuel-cell-based electric vehicles and scale green hydrogen production. These changes will drive significantly increased demand for raw materials such as copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt, tellurium, neodymium and others. Most of the tellurium used in solar panels is collected from electrolytic copper refining, and while copper demand may increase, its mine supply may not expand at the same rate to meet this demand.
In this context, the world and Australia face both opportunities and challenges. As summarised in Australia’s 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy, we have some of the world’s largest recoverable resources of critical minerals such as cobalt, lithium, vanadium and Rare Earth Elements. As also highlighted in the Strategy, Australia’s real asset is that of the scientific and technological know-how built over decades in fields spanning extractive metallurgy, analytical, macromolecular, materials and physical chemistry, materials engineering, geology and geochemistry digitisation — to name just a few.
It is the value chain created by long-standing collaborations forged between energy, mining and manufacturing companies with Australia’s remarkable university scientists that have delivered the innovation and translation outcomes that drive our supply chains and are key to meeting the challenges of the future.
Australia is well positioned as a trusted global leader to overcome the challenges of a global energy, industrial and economic transition and to reduce the risks highlighted by those respondents to the Global Risk Report. Now is the time to back the best of Australian science and to support the next generation of scientists coming through our university system, who carry the weight of the planet’s future with them.
Professor Caroline McMillen AO, Chief Scientist for South Australia
First published in Australian University Science