Australia’s big move to take part of China’s ‘monopoly’

Australia has made a big move to stake a claim in an industry that’s been dominated by China for years.

The Tasmanian Government has offered $10 million in funding to help a tungsten mine reopen on King Island in Bass Strait, around 80km northwest of the island state.

The Dolphin Tungsten Mine, owned and operated by the ASX-listed company King Island Scheelite, has been closed for almost 30 years.

The mine operated between 1917 and 1992, before it was closed due to extremely low tungsten prices – not due to a lack of reserves.

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But tungsten has been experiencing a global resurgence, with the mineral now essential in the manufacturing of weapons, electric vehicles and fighter jets.

The Dolphin Mining Project is located near the town of Grassy on the southeast coast of picturesque King Island, and produces scheelite, a form of tungsten.

China has long held a monopoly on global tungsten production, controlling around 83 per cent of the world’s supply.

However the reopening of the King Island mine could leave other nations, that are similarly facing trade tensions with China, with a different option.

The Tasmanian Government’s agreement to provide the company with a $10 million loan will help the mine begin to get back on its feet, however King Island Scheelite is still hoping to secure a further $15 million in federal government support.

Tasmanian Minister for State Growth Michael Ferguson yesterday said the project would provide a much-needed boost to the King Island community.

The mine is expected to create up to 90 full-time jobs during construction, and a further 55 ongoing full-time jobs when the mine is up and running.

“It would be great to see a clever, job-creating mine up and running again under this proposal, producing significant social and economic benefits for the King Island community,” Mr Ferguson said.

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King Island Scheelite executive chairman Johann Jacobs said the reopening of the tungsten mine was coming at a crucial time.

“Tungsten is a strategically significant metal and a key input to industries that are vital to national security,” Mr Jacobs said in a statement.

“We note that several Western governments have recently identified a crisis in the supply chain for critical minerals, particularly tungsten, for which North America currently has no mines in production.

“Therefore, we see a close alignment between the company’s development objectives, the Tasmanian Government’s interest in maintaining and growing both Tasmanian jobs and export revenue, and the strategic objectives of the Australian Government as implemented by Austrade and the Critical Mineral Facilitation Office.”

Former US president Donald Trump identified 35 minerals that were “essential” to the nation’s economic and national security in 2018.

Tungsten was one of them, with lithium and rare earths also listed as critical.

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New US President Joe Biden has continued to focus on cutting down America’s reliance to China.

Australian company Lynas won $US30 million ($A40 million) in funding from the Biden administration in July last year to run a rare earths processing plant in Texas.

Lynas Corp, the largest producer of rare earths outside of China, is expected to have the plant up and running by mid-2021 after the funding from the US Department of Defence.

Around 40 per cent of the world’s rare earth deposits are in China, however the nation has developed the most advanced facilities to process them into usable minerals.

Tungsten is best known for its robustness and has the highest melting and boiling point of all elements found.

It is also the second-hardest mineral on Earth, behind diamonds.

Its hardiness has made tungsten a highly sought-after mineral.

It is mainly used in the production of hard materials and is used to make knives, drills, saws and tools used in the metal, woodworking and mining industries.

Tungsten is also used in the production of ballistic missiles and other weapons.

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