Mining atlas helps map Australia's clean energy future

Mining atlas helps map Australia's clean energy future

An industry-led collaboration is unlocking value in previously mined and discarded earth and rock to help boost Australia’s global position as a clean energy powerhouse.

The Atlas of Australian Mine Waste was launched this week by Geoscience Australia in partnership with RMIT and University of Queensland researchers and geological surveys across the country.

The online resource maps sites across Australia that could contain previously overlooked critical minerals – including those used to produce electric vehicles, batteries and solar panels. 

Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Madeleine King, said the new atlas could provide industry with additional opportunities to extract valuable resources from previously mined rock and earth.

“Some of the minerals we need now, and into the future, may not just be in the ground - they're also in rock piles and tailings on mine sites around the country,” King said. 

“These minerals might not have been of interest when first extracted but could now be in hot demand as the world seeks to decarbonise – for example, cobalt in the tailings of old copper mines.”

Mount Keith nickel mine, Western Australia. Mount Keith nickel mine, Western Australia.

Project Lead from RMIT, Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, said based on databases from his research the Atlas identified 1,050 sites across Australia as possible sources of critical minerals, with more to be added in future.

“This is the first time in the world that any nation has mapped all of their tailings dams and developed information on them,” said Mudd, from RMIT’s School of Engineering. 

“These tailings could be reprocessed to extract critical minerals – those fundamental to modern technologies such as renewable energy, energy storage batteries and other technologies – and do so with much less environmental impact than developing a new mine.” 

“Tailings reprocessing could therefore become a sustainable and responsible supply for critical minerals and help to achieve better long-term environmental outcomes at each mine.” 

Dr Gavin Mudd on site near the Mount Morgan copper, gold and silver mine in Queensland. Dr Gavin Mudd on site near the Mount Morgan copper, gold and silver mine in Queensland.

Future research is aimed at exploring the geochemistry of tailings and the potential for critical minerals, as well as the environmental benefits of reprocessing old mine waste such as tailings. The new atlas provides the most comprehensive basis in the world to conduct such research.

Mudd is a renowned expert on environmental impacts and sustainability in mining and Chair of the Mineral Policy Institute.

The Atlas of Australian Mine Waste can be accessed here.


Story: Michael Quin

01 June 2023


01 June 2023


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.