Potential for zero-emissions metals to boost Australian manufacturing

The growing demand for metals produced sustainably present an opportunity for Australian manufacturing, write the authors of a new report from the Energy Transition Hub.

Outlining a plan for zero-carbon metal manufacturing, the report, From Mining to Making, highlights that while metal production produces 9 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, there are ways to produce more metal, and cut its carbon footprint.

The author, Michael Lord, from the University of Melbourne, note that Australia has the potential to make the most of a future transition to zero-carbon metal. Australia’s potential to become a renewable energy superpower, producing well above its domestic consumption needs, combined with its deposits of mineral resources, would make the country’s metal manufacturing sector globally competitive.

The report goes on to note that with investment in metals manufacturing, there are knock-on effects for the wider manufacturing sector, with the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs and more than $100 billion in export revenue. To achieve this ambitious target, the report highlights that a Zero Emissions Metals Strategy should be implemented by state and federal governments to make the most of the opportunity.

Key areas where metal demands are to grow includes the manufacturing of renewable energy technology, including wind turbines and solar panels. Metals such as steel, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and titanium are all increasingly in demand.

Today, Australia extracts the ores that go into many of these metals, however most of the added-value manufacturing that occurs to turn the ores into metals occurs overseas. Less than 1 per cent of iron ore mined locally is locally manufactured into steel.

With other countries lacking the untapped renewable energy potential that Australia has, whether that be wind, solar, or batteries, Australian metals could be cost competitive and low-carbon. While variable power supplies have limited the uptake of renewable energy in aluminium production, and steel’s appetite for coal has limited lower emissions there, new technologies are becoming cheaper and allowing manufacturers to overcome these impediments, as the report highlights.