REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Our rare chance to beat China at its own game

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by the Mount Isa-based Derek Barry.

North West Queensland is an unlikely battlefield in the growing global conflict of the US-China trade war.

But we've got something Donald Trump wants, and something he - and the rest of the world - relies mostly on China for.

That something is "rare earth elements", a group of useful elements with similar chemical properties and names you've likely never heard of.

For instance, neodymium is used to make magnets in loudspeakers and computer hard drives, lanthanum is used in camera and telescope lenses, cerium is used in catalytic converters in cars, and praseodymium is used to create strong metals for use in aircraft engines.

They are crucial to the manufacture of many high tech and expensive products such as fighter jets and tanks, electric vehicles, wind turbines and electronic gadgets.

The growing strategic importance of rare earth elements was reflected in their inclusion in the US Government's 2018 list of 35 critical minerals.

There are rare earth deposits across Australia with hot spots in North West Qld, SA, NT and eastern WA.

There are rare earth deposits across Australia with hot spots in North West Qld, SA, NT and eastern WA.

Despite their collective name they are actually abundant in nature. They are "rare" because they don't react easily with other elements and are difficult to mine.

China dominates the world supply, which is rather inconvenient for a US president that wants to make America great again.

Luckily for him Australia has substantial deposits of rare earths and this is why Mr Trump sent his commerce secretary Wilbur Ross to Canberra in October to meet our Resources Minister Matt Canavan.

Within a month Geoscience Australia and the United States Geological Survey signed an agreement to assess each country's resource potential and develop new supply.

And there are financial incentives to find the stuff.

Minister Canavan said suitable projects would attract financial support through Export Finance Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

It also fits in with Australia's Critical Minerals Strategy released in April which maps out a vision for Australia as a world leader in exploration, extraction, production and the processing of rare earths.

Queensland Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham (wearing hat) checks out core samples at the Mount Isa drill centre where the race is on to find rare earth elements.

Queensland Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham (wearing hat) checks out core samples at the Mount Isa drill centre where the race is on to find rare earth elements.

The Queensland government has got on board, putting $13.8m into the search with Mount Isa's John Campbell Miles drill core storage facility set to play a key role.

The storage facility - named for the miner who first discovered Mount Isa's rich ores - is a massive geological library of core samples from drilling at every site in the region since the 1960s.

It is a treasure trove of geological data.

There are likely plenty of rare earths in the collection. The trouble is up to now no-one was looking for them, as in the 20th century we preferred to mine copper, zinc, nickel, lead and silver.

Now experts will go back through core samples, old mine shafts and tailing dams to find overlooked minerals with a range of exploration techniques, including aerial magnetic and gravity surveys to encourage companies to explore promising areas.

As Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham told the North West Star: "We know they're here - we just have to find out where and how much of it there is."

The race is on to beat China at its own game and meet increasing global demand.

We're raring to go.

Derek Barry, editor of the North West Star

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