Battery metals major focus for greenfield exploration in WA

Pilgangoora lithium-tantalum project. Image: Pilbara Minerals

Nearly a third of participants involved in the current round of an ongoing state-backed commodity exploration scheme in Western Australia are focusing on battery metals.

The Western Australian Government-backed Exploration Incentive Scheme (EIS) Co-funded Exploration Drilling Program commenced in 2009 and is currently in its 19th round, with a focus on “innovative drilling in greenfields areas”, according to WA Minister for Mines Bill Johnston.

“Most of the explorers hunting commodities needed for Western Australia’s fast-growing battery industry are searching for nickel, with others seeking lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements and graphite,” Johnston said in a statement.

The McGowan Government has paid out $5.12 million in grants to 45 companies and prospectors in the round.

Co-funding is available for several traditional mining commodities, such as gold, copper, base metals and diamonds, metals such as lithium and cobalt have been highlighted at a time when WA is ramping up its status as a premier supplier of battery materials.

The increase in activity is tightly linked to global electric vehicle (EV) battery and energy storage battery production, which both require significant volumes of materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth elements (REE) to build.

Noted lithium expert Joe Lowry stated last week that lithium alone would require over $17 billion in investment to meet demand over the next five years.

Western Australia is starting to become strongly associated with battery metals activity, with a number of projects on the horizon.

The Federal Government and WA Government have both committed to a Curtin University-led cooperative research centre (CRC) in Perth called the Future Battery Industries CRC, which is intended to deliver an estimated $2.5 billion in benefit to the battery metals sector over the next 15 years.

Neometals is a recent example, revealing definitive feasibility study (DFS) results yesterday showing that its Barrambie titanium-vanadium project holds a pre-tax value of $US301 million ($437.4 million) based on its vanadium reserves alone.

Vanadium, while not commonly used in EV batteries, is a highly beneficial material for large energy storage batteries, such as vanadium redox flow batteries.

Earlier this week, BHP announced it was raising its low-case forecasts for the global electric EV market to 2035 and 2050, while fellow major Rio Tinto announced last week that it was moving the Jadar lithium project in Serbia forward to the pre-feasibility stage (PFS) for a proposed production start in 2023.

“The sharp rise in popularity of battery materials among explorers underscores the importance of the McGowan Government’s Future Battery Industry strategy,” said Johnston.

“We’re pleased that this round reflects such a varied mix of new-energy and traditional exploration projects.”

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