The full transcript of CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship director Dr Peter Lilly’s keynote address at the 6th Annual Australian Mining Prospect Awards:
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I’d like to talk to you about vision.
There would be none of you amongst the award winners tonight who do not have vision as it is one of the key criteria that is the hallmark of the leader.
We all know how important the minerals sector is to our nation’s economy and that it underpins our extraordinarily good standard of living.
We all know about the jobs, the multiplier effect and the export income.
And the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has estimated that, last year, the sector contributed over $20 billion dollars to governments’ finances through royalties and taxes.
That’s a lot of schools, roads and hospitals.
It’s also about 28 times the annual Commonwealth appropriation investment in CSIRO.
So the minerals industry, love it or hate it, is one which Australians simply cannot afford to live without and the green economy of the future is entirely reliant on minerals, as are all other sectors of the economy.
So it’s an industry, along with its associated world class services sector, that we must nurture.
We must seek to ensure that it remains globally competitive in a seriously competitive world.
And a good deal of this competitive advantage that we need to put in place will be based in science and technology.
So, I’d like to particularly talk to you tonight about an ambitious vision for science and technology outcomes for the Australian minerals sector.
However, that vision will not become reality unless we recognise that genuine technology partnerships and collaboration are essential.
Why do I say this?
Well, the world is changing very fast indeed.
If we don’t change the way we do things, we’re unlikely to continue to be the lucky country and we’re certainly not likely to be the clever country.
Successful countries will continue to be those that place a premium on knowledge, know-how and innovation, and for Australia, as I alluded to a minute ago, this particularly means science- and technology-based innovation.
But the issue for us in Australia is that we’re small fry.
I’d like to read you a few statements that put this into perspective.
These statements come from several sources: a June 2008 lecture on globalisation delivered at ANU by John Micklethwait (editor-in-chief of The Economist); the updated version of Shift Happens by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod; the Australian version of the same by Kelvin Davis; and some comments made by James Wolfensohn, the Australian-born former head of the World Bank, quoted in the Weekend Australian newspaper on 19 September this year.
These are the points:
1. In purchasing power parity terms, for the first time in over a century, the combined output of the emerging economies accounts for more than 50% of the total world GDP.
2. The G7 economies are likely to account for as little as 25% of world GDP by 2050 (this means that people currently in high school or undergraduates at university will be at the peak of their careers at that time).
3. China’s economy is doubling every ten years. When America and Britain were industrialising in the 19th century, they took 50 years to do the same.
4. If you’re one in a million in Australia, there are about 21 of you, but in China 1300 and in India, 1100 of you.
5. The 1.6% of the population in China with the highest IQs is greater than the total population of Australia. In India it’s the top 1.9%.
6. China and India have more honours students than Australia has students.
7. During the course of my ten minute talk, about 5 babies will be born in Australia, about 75 in the US, about 300 in China and about 440 babies will be born in India.
8. More than 3,000 new books are published on average each day.
9. It is estimated that over 40 exabytes (4 x 1019) of unique new information will be generated worldwide this year. That’s estimated to be more than in the previous 5000 years.
So I repeat: things are changing quickly and we’re a small country.
We’re not likely to be the clever country if we don’t collaborate. We need to develop critical mass through collaboration.
Leadership at all levels in CSIRO understands this well, and more than a third of our $1.2 billion annual investment in R&D is in collaborative activities.
The Mineral Resources Flagship that I have the privilege of leading is doing the same:
• We drive internal collaboration by engaging about 450 scientists and engineers across seven CSIRO Divisions.
• We have meaningful collaborations with over 50 other research institutions, about half of them overseas.
• We are investing over $2 million per year of CSIRO cash into university-based R&D that is closely aligned with our goals and vision.
• And, in the current financial year, we are working with well over 200 companies.
So my colleagues and I are practising what I’m preaching here tonight.
We MUST collaborate to achieve our goals and our vision.
CSIRO, as you know, is the nation’s lead science agency, with a staff of 6400 and footprint in 55 locations around the country.
CSIRO should and does have a central role in catalysing a science and technology response to national challenges and opportunities.
As such, it is important that CSIRO has a vision for the future of the various elements of the Australian economy and society that our work impacts on.
So I’d like to share with you some elements of our ambitious 2030 vision across the mineral resources value chain.
It is this vision that guides the R&D investment strategy in my Flagship. In stating this vision, please note that I’m speaking in the present tense as if we are tonight in 2030:
Four-dimensional geological interpretations are now routine, and simulation of all geological processes is possible.
A predictive understanding of geochemical anomaly formation is also possible and imaging of potential new discoveries at depths of up to 1km takes place.
As a consequence, the average real cost of discovery in Australia is half what it was in the decade 2000 to 2010.
Drilling economics have been transformed by lightweight, easily transportable drilling equipment.
Hard wearing new materials are engineered into drill bits and fibre composite coiled tubing contains embedded fibre optics for telemetry.
High power laser and plasma drilling is more common than it was in the 2020’s.
Logging and measuring while drilling are standard, with feedback to intelligent control systems for drill rigs.
Semi-autonomous moles are guided with pin-point accuracy and are used to drill multi-lateral boreholes from a parent borehole.
Sampling boreholes themselves are now very small in diameter, and down-hole probes measure elemental and mineralogical compositions in real time.
Remotely controlled semi-autonomous rigs are able to move around in mines or in the field.
Many mines are controlled from major centres.
Operations are fully automated, highly selective and host minimal local support staff.
Geologically “intelligent” autonomous mining systems are capable of mining ore selected for grade, and are able to sort ore as it is mined.
Deep ore mining systems keep people isolated from the hazardous activities of drilling, explosive placement, access construction and ore haulage.
Large resources of mineral sands, alluvial gold, alluvial uranium and alluvial iron ore are being mined with minimum impact on other land uses using keyhole mining techniques.
The injury frequency rate is now a very small fraction of what it was in 2010, and there are no fatalities on mine sites.
Innovative biological processes have revolutionised heap leaching, and processing underground using in-situ and in-place leaching technologies is widespread.
For some ore bodies, in-situ processing has meant lower energy and water use, and reduced disruption to the environment from waste storage in tailings dams.
Many large Australian deposits that were on hold due to limited availability of process water are being developed and operated using dry processing technologies.
Australian mineral exports continue to grow to meet global demand as new, low grade and complex resources are seamlessly integrated into the production cycle, with products that meet evolving customer needs.
Fully integrated exploration, mining and materials characterisation technologies are on stream and provide unparalleled data transparency to manage every aspect of the production cycle.
The minerals industry no longer competes with communities for allocations out of the nation’s stretched water resources.
Forests are now considered a key part of mining as biomass partially replaces coal as a major energy source and reductant in several metallurgical processes such as in blast furnaces.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of mineral products are extracted from old tailings dams or from what once were tailings product streams.
Many other materials, once considered to be wastes, are used to generate valuable products.
Based on low waste and in-situ technologies, several mines now operate with wide community support in close proximity to Australian towns and cities.
Waste high grade heat is recovered from molten slags, which is used for the desalination of water.
Millions of hectares of salinity affected farmland in Western and South Australia have been rehabilitated through partial revegetation with Mallee trees, restoring the soil and land quality, and electricity and charcoal by-products from this agricultural industry are recycled into the metal production industry, making it almost greenhouse gas neutral.
The Australian mining and minerals technology services sector remains the world leader and its exports exceed $20 billion per year.
Now, whilst individuals may quibble with all or part of this vision, the key thing is to actually have one.
As Geoff Garrett, former Chief Executive of CSIRO says when he quotes from Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
“Vision” is what tonight is all about, ladies and gentlemen, because you can’t have leadership without it.
Thank you for your attention.