Tin: The time has come

Right now most of Australia, and most of the world, has its sights set on the iron ore and coal industries. 
But while we're leading the world on these fronts we're also heading up the resurgence of a lesser-known sector. 
An industry that's becoming increasingly vital to modern life, the tin sector is undergoing rapid change and a small group of Australian-based companies are leading the charge. 
Backed by new European Union laws banning lead solder in electronic goods, demand for tin has been steadily on the rise and producers are finding it more and more difficult to fill the gap. 
A dearth of new mines on the horizon has many manufacturers concerned, and they're increasingly looking toward Australian companies to help provide a solution. 
For an industry that has struggled through some bad days in ­recent history, the turnaround represents a striking change of fortune for many companies. 
 

Bad rep 

Kasbah Resources managing director Wayne Bramwell told Australian Mining much of the tin industry's previous misfortune had been linked to its bad reputation with investors. 
"Tin as a commodity effectively destroyed its reputation in 1984 and basically destroyed the market as a place where people wanted to invest," he said. 
"A group of producers in the 70s and 80s decided to setup an OPEC style cartel in tin. 
"They tried to corner the market and it failed dismally and with great fanfare. 
"Effectively people who thought tin was a good place to invest vacated that space for almost 30 years." 
Kasbah is currently focused on developing its Achmach mine in Morocco, which is the largest undeveloped tin project in the world. 
Bramwell said with electronic manufacturers forced into using tin solder instead of lead, the entire dynamic of the tin industry had changed and most of the market was still playing catch-up. 
"The market has very much changed from something that was driven by tin plate and packaging to something which is fundamentally driven by consumer goods and electronic uses," he said. 
With demand on the rise and supply increasingly unstable many smelters, manufacturers, and investors are now taking notice. 
 

Close to home 

While most of the world's new tin projects are being led by Australian companies, the locations of these developments are primarily offshore. 
But Australia has its own history in the sector, and these regions are now being eyed for further expansions. 
Perth-based Venture Minerals is focused on developing its Mt Lindsay tin-tungsten-magnetite project in Tasmania. 
Like Kasbah's Achmach development Mt Lindsay is one of the largest undeveloped tin projects in the world. 
But while Venture's project is developing a lot of buzz it's also attracting the ire of conservationists. 
The campaign to stop Venture in its tracks has been rising in popularity, and has even attracted the support of the influential lobby group GetUp. 
Venture managing director Hamish Halliday told Australian Mining the company was working with locals and determined to make Mt Lindsay co-exist with the sensitive environment in the region. 
And Halliday said most of the local population was supportive of the Mt Lindsay development, with opposition mainly coming from the outside. 
"Tasmania's west coast is massively supportive of the mining industry and has a multi-generational workforce in the sector that always wants projects to go ahead," he said. 
"People forget that Australia's longest running magnetite mine has been in the Tarkine for half a century, and it's not an isolated case." 
Tin industry veteran and Tin International chief Ron Goodman also told Australian Mining most of the population in Venture's area was supportive of the industry. 
"The whole west coast is a mining area," he said. 
"People work in the mines and understand it generates a lot of wealth for Tasmania." 
Nevertheless many conservationists see an expanding industry presence in the Tarkine as an unacceptable threat to the region's forests, rivers, and wildlife. 
A recent report by former Australian heritage commissioner Peter Hitchcock said it was likely the Tarkine could qualify for world heritage listing and was home to "outstanding heritage values". 
 

Bright future  

While environmental approvals will remain a challenge for the broader mining industry and not just Venture, the future of the tin industry looks promising. 
With the production of consumer electronics constantly on the rise and a lack of companies with plans for new projects, those few with expansions on the cards are in an enviable position. 
"The key message is that there's not a lot of new mine production coming on stream," Goodman explained. 
And with Stellar Resources and Metals X also joining Venture and Kasbah in the fold of new tin producers, Australia sits in a commanding position for the future. 
"In the list of potential tin pro­jects in the world, most are either small, fictitious, or just pure flights of fantasy," Bramwell said. 
"The only people doing work in exploration, fundamentally, are Australian. 
"And it's far more important than most people think." 
 

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