Mining’s most-clicked: The top stories of 2021

Australian Mining takes a look back at the year that was with a recount of the top 5 stories in 2021.  

Invisible gold seen for the first time

A Curtin University research team in Western Australia uncovered the nature of invisible gold trapped in pyrite and developed an eco-friendlier way to extract it.

The phenomenon of gold trapped in pyrite has been commonly known as ‘fool’s gold’ but remained unrecognised at this depth until the research took place.

Lead researcher Denis Fougerouse said the research was increasingly important as global gold was consumed and new methods were called upon.

“The discovery rate of new gold deposits is in decline worldwide with the quality of ore degrading, parallel to the value of precious metal increasing,” Fougerouse said.

“Previously gold extractors have been able to find gold in pyrite either as nanoparticles or as a pyrite-gold alloy, but what we have discovered is that gold can also be hosted in nanoscale crystal defects, representing a new kind of “invisible” gold.

Read more here…


Australian coal exporters brush Chinese ban aside

In late 2020 and early 2021, China’s bans on Australian exports subsided to allow Australian exports to increase by 26 per cent.

Thermal coal accounted for most of the increase to meet the northern hemisphere’s winter energy demands and Resources Minister Keith Pitt applauded Australia’s resilience.

“Coal was worth $3.7 billion to the Australian economy in December alone as exporters looked to fill gaps in international markets and made the most of the increase in thermal coal prices,” Pitt said.

“This again reinforces the importance of coal as an Australian export commodity and that it will remain so for many years to come.”


WA lockdown disrupts Perth FIFO workers

Fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers in Western Australia were heavily impacted by the state government’s border regulations, with a number of lockdown stages plaguing the industry in 2021.

February saw Premier Mark McGowan impose a snap five-day lockdown despite mining being declared an essential industry, with FIFO workers unable to fly to the Pilbara and back.

In June, however, the state of play had shifted, and a number of jobs were added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) to address the resources sector’s local skills shortage.

“Today’s announcement may well prove to be a turning point in Australia’s skills crisis,” AMMA chief executive officer Steve Knott said.


Fluctuating iron ore prices claim another two mines

Iron ore had a rollercoaster of a year, with prices topping $200 per tonne and falling below $100 just months later.

The Ridges iron ore mine in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia was placed into care and maintenance in October, while Mount Gibson Iron enacted a staged suspension of its Shine iron ore project in Western Australia’s mid-west.

This followed September’s casualties when iron ore prices dropped to a 10-month low due to China slowing steel production even further.

UBS expects the price of iron ore to average $US86 per tonne in 2022, while the industry consensus sits around $US132 per tonne.

In BHP’s economic and commodity outlook from mid-August, the major didn’t predict iron ore to suffer too much further and recognised the current state of play in comparison to years gone by.

“The increasing likelihood of stern cuts to steel output in China in the current half year, as affirmed by China’s peak industry body in early August, is testing the bullish resolve of the futures markets,” BHP stated.

“Prices have decreased materially in late July and early August, but they remain extremely high relative to history at around $US160 per tonne at the time of writing.”


Fortescue produces first-ever green iron ore

In a year of major technological advancement, Fortescue Metals Group produced high-purity green iron ore and trialled ammonia-powered freight as part of its Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) renewable energy and industry initiative.

The initiative aimed to test if there was 100 per cent green energy to manufacture green iron and steel, fertiliser and cement.

Fortescue’s former chief executive officer Elizabeth Gaines said the company is hard at work to transition from a fossil fuel importer to a renewable energy exporter.

“At Fortescue, we are leading the heavy industry battle against global warming, transitioning from being a major fossil fuel importer to a significant green and renewable energy and product exporter,” Gaines said.

“We are leading by example to decrease emissions across our operations, using our large industrial platform of operating mine sites in the Pilbara to trial and demonstrate technologies in completely renewable green hydrogen, green ammonia and green electricity.”


From the entire team at Australian Mining, thank you for supporting the mining industry in 2021 and we wish you a safe and happy holidays.

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