1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2003   
   Page tools: Print Print Page  
Contents >> Mining >> Major commodities

The information in this section has been largely drawn from the publication Australia's Identified Mineral Resources, 2001 published by the former Australian Geological Survey Organisation, now Geoscience Australia.


In 2000, Australia's EDR of bauxite, brown coal, copper, diamonds, magnesite, mineral sands (ilmenite, rutile and zircon), nickel, phosphate, tantalum, uranium and vanadium increased, while those of black coal, gold, iron ore, manganese ore and lithium decreased. EDR of zinc, lead and silver were maintained at levels similar to those reported in 1999. The reductions in EDR were due mainly to ongoing high levels of production; commodity prices were a subsidiary factor.

Australia, however, continues to rank as one of the world's leading mineral resource nations. It has the world's largest EDR of lead, mineral sands, nickel, tantalum, uranium and zinc. In addition, its EDR is in the top six worldwide for bauxite, black coal, brown coal, cobalt, copper, gold, iron ore, lithium, manganese ore, rare earth oxides and industrial diamond.

Bauxite and alumina

Bauxite is a heterogeneous naturally occurring material from which alumina (Al2O3) and aluminium are produced. The principal minerals in bauxite are gibbsite (Al2O3.3H3O), boehmite (Al2O3.H2O) and diaspore (which has the same composition as boehmite but is denser and harder).

Australia is the world's largest producer of bauxite and alumina. In 1999, it was the third largest exporter of aluminium after the Russian Federation and Canada.

Data published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) show that in 2000-01 Australia produced 54.56 million tonnes (Mt) of bauxite, 16.10 Mt of alumina and 1.8 Mt of primary aluminium.

When exports of bauxite, alumina and aluminium are taken into account, the aluminium industry is Australia's second largest commodity exporter behind coal. The industry consists of five bauxite mines, six alumina refineries, six primary aluminium smelters, twelve extrusion mills and four rolled product mills (sheet, plate and foil).

In 2000-01, aluminium and alumina were among the major commodities exported. Exports of aluminium were 1.7 Mt, valued at $4.9b, which represented 4% of total merchandise exports; exports of alumina were 12 Mt, valued at $4.4b, representing 4% of total merchandise exports. Japan was the major market for aluminium, taking 39% of exports.

Bauxite mining employed 1,565 people nationally at the end of June 2000.


Black coal is primarily used for electricity generation and the production of coke, which is integral to the production of iron and steel. Black coal is also used as a source of heat in the manufacture of cement and food processing. It occurs in all Australian states and the Northern Territory. Queensland and New South Wales have substantial resources of high quality black coal, which underpin a major export industry. Small but locally significant resources occur in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

In 2000, Australia produced 301.2 Mt of raw coal (293.7 Mt in 1999), which yielded 244.6 Mt of saleable coal (231.0 Mt in 1999). Black coal exports in 2000 were 100.8 Mt of coking coal and 85.5 Mt of steaming coal. Australia has 6% of the world's recoverable black coal EDR, and ranks sixth behind the United States of America (27%), Russia (19%), China (12%), India (9%) and South Africa (7%). Australia produced about 7% of the world's black coal in 2000, ranking it the fourth largest producer after China (30%), United States of America (26%) and India (8%).

The coal industry was the single largest employer in the mining sector at the end of June 2000, with 17,154 employees, or 40% of the total. This represented a drop of 2,550 (13%) over the level at end June 1999. Coal was Australia's biggest export earning commodity in 2000-01, accounting for $10.8b or 9% of the total value of merchandise exports. The main market for Australian coal was Japan, which purchased 93 Mt of Australian coal at a cost of $5.0b (46% of total sales).

Australian brown coal deposits are Tertiary in age and range from about 15-50 million years old. The main deposits are in Victoria, which is the only state that mines brown coal mainly for the generation of electricity. Smaller deposits occur in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Another important use is for the production of briquettes used for industrial and domestic heating in Australia and overseas.

In 2000, Australian brown coal production was about 66 Mt, up slightly on 1999. The La Trobe Valley produces about 98.5% of Australia's brown coal. Australia has about 20% of the world's recoverable brown coal EDR, and ranks second behind Germany (22%). It produced 8% of the world's brown coal in 2000, placing it third after Germany (20%) and the United States of America (10%).


Australia's major copper mining and smelting operations are at Olympic Dam (South Australia) and Mount Isa (Queensland). Other significant copper producing mines are at Northparkes, Cadia Hill (New South Wales), Ernest Henry, Osborne, Mt Gordon (Queensland), Golden Grove and Nifty (Western Australia).

Australia has the world's third largest EDR of copper (7%), after Chile (25%) and United States of America (13%). As a copper producer, Australia ranks fourth in the world, with 6% of world production. In 2000, Australia produced 829,000 tonnes of primary copper, 13% higher than 1999. This increase reflected the first full year of expanded production at the Olympic Dam mine.

A major expansion of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium/gold/silver mine in South Australia, completed in 1999 at a cost of $1.94b, is now reflected in copper production of 200 kilotonnes per annum (ktpa) from the previous base of 85 ktpa. This was achieved despite disruptions in the copper solvent extraction plant following a fire in December 1999.

Exports of copper ores and concentrates totalled $1,036m in 2000-01, while exports of copper metal and copper articles totalled $1,708m. Copper mining employed 2,005 persons at the end of June 2000, representing 9.2% of total employees in the metal ore mining sector.


Diamonds are composed of carbon, and are the hardest known substances. They occur naturally but are extremely rare compared to other minerals. Diamonds are formed deep in the earth and are carried to the surface or near surface by volcanic rocks in narrow cylinder-like bodies called 'pipes'. A large proportion of industrial diamonds are manufactured, and it is also possible to produce synthetic diamonds of gem quality. Uses for diamonds include jewellery, computer chip manufacture, drill bit facing, and stone cutting and polishing.

Diamond (gem/near gem, industrial) production in 2000 was 26.6 million carats (Mc), a decrease of 4.2 Mc on the previous year. Most of this fall resulted from lower mining grades at Argyle diamond mine. Waste rock stripping, associated with expansion of the open pit, is expected to limit production over the next few years.

Australia's diamond production is the largest in the world for natural industrial diamonds and second largest (after Botswana's) for gem/near gem diamonds. Production is mostly from the Argyle AK 1 pipe with lesser contribution from the nearby Argyle alluvials operation. Minor production was also recorded at Merlin (Northern Territory) and Copeton (New South Wales).

Australia's EDR of industrial diamond ranks third (15%), after the Republic of Congo (26%) and Botswana (22%). Detailed data are not available on world resources of gem/near gem diamonds, but Australia has one of the largest stocks for this category.

Exports of diamonds (unsorted) in 2000-01 totalled $650m. This represents a 18% decrease from the 1999-2000 value. The two main destinations were the United Kingdom and Belgium-Luxembourg.


Gold has a range of uses, but the two principal applications are as an investment instrument and in the manufacture of jewellery. Secondary uses, in terms of the amount of gold consumed, are in electronic and dental applications.

The low US dollar price for gold in 2001 continued to attract much attention internationally. Within Australia a further fall in exploration expenditure was cause for concern. Production remained high at just under 300 tonnes, but well below record levels. Australia maintained its world standing in terms of both production and resources.

Australia's gold resources occur, and are mined, in all states and the Northern Territory. Based on figures published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and modified to incorporate the Australian resources estimates for 2000, Australia has the third largest EDR after South Africa and the United States of America.

Preliminary data from ABARE indicate that Australia's gold production in 2000 fell by just under 2% to 296.4 tonnes. Western Australia continued to be the dominant producer with a 203.7 tonnes, 4% lower than in 1999, and accounting for 69% of Australian production compared to 71% in 1999. Queensland remained the second largest producer and increased its output by over 3 tonnes to 36.9 tonnes. Other production (in rounded amounts) was: Northern Territory 23 tonnes; New South Wales 19 tonnes; Tasmania 6.8 tonnes; Victoria 4.4 tonnes; and South Australia 2.3 tonnes.

In 2000-01 gold was Australia's third biggest export earning commodity after black coal and crude petroleum oils, accounting for 4% of total merchandise exports at a value of $5.1b. The main markets were Singapore ($1.7b), Republic of Korea ($0.9b) and the United Kingdom ($0.7b).

The gold mining industry employed 6,240 people at the end of June 2000, making it the second largest employer in the mining sector behind the coal industry.

Iron ore

Iron ore is the source of primary iron for the world's steel industries. Almost all iron ore (98%) is used in steel making. It occurs in all states and the Northern Territory, with about 90% of identified resources in Western Australia. Over 80% of resources occur in the Pilbara region of that state.

ABARE reported that Australia's iron ore production in 2000 was 171.5 Mt (compared to 151.6 Mt in 1999).

Australia has some 10% of world EDR of iron ore and is ranked fourth after China (18%), Ukraine (16%) and Russia (15%). In terms of contained iron, Australia has about 12% of the world's EDR and is ranked third behind Ukraine (18%) and Russia (16%). Australia produces around 15% of the world's iron ore, and is ranked third behind China (21%) and Brazil (19%).

Iron ore accounted for $4.9b or 4% of total merchandise exports in 2000-01. Japan was Australia's largest market, taking 43% of exports in dollar terms. Iron ore mining employed 4,791 people at the end of June 2000.

Manganese ore

Over 90% of world manganese production is used in the desulphurisation and strengthening of steel. In Australia, manganese ore is mined at Groote Eylandt (Northern Territory) and Woodie Woodie (Western Australia). Resources at these mines are the basis of an important export industry.

In 2000, Australia produced 1.6 Mt of manganese ore, with a manganese content of 0.8 Mt. ABARE reported that exports of ore and concentrates totalled 1.4 Mt. Australia has 7% of world EDR of manganese ore, placing it fourth behind South Africa (46%), Ukraine (24%) and China (11%). In terms of contained manganese, Australia has 9% of world EDR, placing it third after South Africa (53%) and Ukraine (19%). Australia is the fifth largest producer (9%) of ore behind China (25%), South Africa (16%), Ukraine (14%) and Gabon (10%).

EDR of manganese ore decreased by 4.8% to 127.8 Mt in 2000, mainly as a result of new resource data becoming available for both Groote Eylandt and Woodie Woodie.

Mineral sands

The principal components of mineral sands are zircon (ZrSiO4) and the titanium minerals rutile (TiO2) and ilmenite (FeTiO3). Rutile and ilmenite are used mainly in the production of titanium dioxide pigment. A small portion, less than 4% of total titanium mineral production and typically rutile, is used in making titanium sponge metal. Zircon is an opacifier for glazes on ceramic tiles, and is used in refractories and the foundry industry.

In 2000, Australia produced 2.2 Mt of ilmenite, 237 kilotonnes (kt) of rutile and 352 kt of zircon. The bulk of Australia's rutile and zircon production is exported, compared to about 53% of ilmenite. The remaining ilmenite is upgraded to synthetic rutile, which contains 92-93% titanium dioxide (TiO2).

EDR of ilmenite continued its increasing trend in 2000, up from 180.9 Mt in 1999 to 196.0 Mt, an increase of 8.4%. A reassessment of resources in Queensland, which has the second largest EDR (28%), was the main reason for the increase. In Western Australia, which has the largest ilmenite EDR (68%), most of the increase was on the Northern Swan Coastal Plain and reflected successful infill drilling programs.

EDR of rutile (which includes leucoxene in Western Australia) rose by nearly 11% from 19.8 Mt in 1999 to 21.9 Mt in 2000. Western Australia and New South Wales were the main beneficiaries, with most of the increase (80%) within the Murray Basin in New South Wales. Queensland and Western Australia together have just over 80% of Australia's EDR of rutile.

EDR of zircon rose by nearly 6% from 26.3 Mt in 1999 to 27.9 Mt in 2000. Most of the increase was in the Murray Basin in New South Wales.

According to data from Geoscience Australia and USGS, Australia has the world's largest EDR of ilmenite, rutile and zircon with 29%, 44% and 40% respectively. In 2000, world production of ilmenite increased by 2% to 7.2 Mt, rutile by 11% to 431 kt, while zircon decreased by 3% to 902 kt. Australia produced about 30%, 55% and 39% each of world production of ilmenite, rutile and zircon respectively, and is the leading producer of all three minerals as well as the largest exporter.

The mineral sand mining industry employed 1,775 people at the end of June 2000.


More than 80% of world nickel production is used in steel alloys. When alloyed with other elements, nickel imparts toughness, strength, resistance to corrosion, and various other electrical, magnetic and heat resistant properties. About 65% of the world nickel output is used in the manufacture of stainless steel. Stainless steels are widely used in the chemical industry, domestic products (sinks, cooking utensils and cutlery), motor vehicles and construction.

Total identified resources of nickel rose by over 10 Mt (30%) in 2000. Most of this occurred in Western Australia, with minor increase in New South Wales and Tasmania. EDR increased by nearly 90% from 11 Mt to a record 20 Mt, representing 45% of total identified resources. Most of this was in Western Australia and mainly reflected industry reassessments of resources at existing deposits. Western Australia remains the largest holder of nickel resources with 94% of total EDR.

In 2000, some 799 kt of nickel concentrate (approximately 166 kt of contained nickel) was produced from Western Australia.

According to Geoscience Australia and USGS data, world EDR of nickel increased by 22.6% (47.5 Mt in 1999 to 58.2 Mt in 2000). Australia's share of EDR increased to 34.3%, up from 22.3% in 1999, making it the largest holder of EDR followed by Russia and Canada (both 11%) and Cuba (10%).

Australia produced about 14% of estimated world nickel output of 1.23 Mt. Russia was again the largest producer with 265 kt (22%), followed by Canada 194 kt (16%), Australia 166 kt and New Caledonia 129 kt (10%). Australian exports of nickel in 2000-01 totalled $1.6b.


Increased use of portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers and video cameras has maintained strong growth in demand for tantalum capacitors in recent years. Australia, through Sons of Gwalia's operations, is the world's largest producer of tantalum in the form of tantalum concentrates. The company's Greenbushes and Wodgina (Western Australia) deposits are the largest of their type commercially mined.

Despite increased production of tantalum pentoxide (Ta2O5), EDR increased by 19% in 2000 to just over 29,345 tonnes tantalum. This was largely due to reassessment of resources in the Greenbushes deposit. Sons of Gwalia Limited reported that the resources at Greenbushes increased from 75.2 to 98.1 million pounds (Mlbs) Ta2O5 (34.1 to 44.5 kt Ta2O5), while those at Wodgina remained unchanged at 30.1 Mlbs Ta2O5 (13.7 kt Ta2O5).

In 2000, Sons of Gwalia produced 737,516 lbs (335 tonnes) of Ta2O5 from the Greenbushes operation and a further 569,045 lbs (258 tonnes) from its Wodinga mine.

The increase in resources at Greenbushes and Wodgina consolidated Australia's position as the world's largest holder of tantalum resources. Based on world estimates published by the USGS and modified by Geoscience Australia to take account of recent discoveries, Australia has over 90% of the world's EDR of tantalum. Canada has the second largest resource base.

World production in 2000, based on USGS estimates modified to account for later Australian data, amounted to 628 tonnes tantalum. Production was dominated by Australia, with 485 tonnes in 2000 (about 77% of world output). According to USGS, minor producers of tantalum metal were Brazil (90 tonnes), Canada (50 tonnes) and Nigeria (3 tonnes).

Australia's exports of tantalum and niobium ores and concentrates in 2000-01 were 4,174 tonnes, an increase of 251 tonnes over 1999-2000. The total value of tantalum exports in 2000-01 was $136m, an increase of 68% over 1999-2000.


At December 2000, Australia had 654,000 tonnes of uranium (U) in the Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) category recoverable at less than US$40 per kilogram of uranium (<US$40/kg U). RAR recoverable at <US$80/kg U were estimated to be 667,000 tonnes uranium. Australia’s RAR recoverable at <US$40/kg U (equates to EDR) are the largest of all those countries that have reported resources in this category. Because all countries have reported their resources in the <US$80 category, the world ranking of the various countries is based on the <US$80 figures. Australia has the world’s largest resources of uranium in RAR recoverable at <US$80/kg U, with 29% of world resources in this category.

In 2000, Australia's RAR recoverable at <US$80/kg U increased by 96 kt U (17%) to 667 kt U. This was mainly due to reassessment of the ore reserves and mineral resources for the Olympic Dam deposit by Western Mining Corporation. The increases for Olympic Dam reflect the discovery of additional resources, and changes resulting from increases in long-term copper prices, lower exchange rates for the Australian dollar, and the recently completed expansion of the operations.

Approximately 95% of Australia's total uranium resources in RAR recoverable at <US$80/kg U are within the following six deposits: Olympic Dam, South Australia, which is the world's largest uranium deposit; Ranger, Jabiluka, Koongarra in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory; and Kintyre and Yeelirrie, Western Australia. Uranium oxide was produced at the Ranger and Olympic Dam operations. Commercial operations commenced at the Beverley in situ leach operation in November. Australia's total production for 2000 was a record high of 8,937 tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8) (equivalent to 7,579 tonnes of uranium), of which Olympic Dam produced 4,500 tonnes U3O8 and Ranger produced 4,437 tonnes U3O8. Nil production was reported from Beverley for the year. Australia's total production for 2000 was 27% higher than in 1999.

Total expenditure on uranium exploration in Australia for 2000 was $7.59m, 21% lower than for 1999. Annual expenditure on uranium exploration in Australia has declined progressively since 1997. Respondents to the annual survey (conducted by Geoscience Australia) of uranium exploration, and mining companies, attribute this to: low market prices for uranium in recent years; uranium mining policies of state governments in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania; and difficulties in accessing prospective areas because of native title issues.

Exports of uranium ores and concentrates in 2000-01 totalled 9,722 tonnes and earned $497m. All exports of Australian uranium are subject to stringent safeguards which provide assurance that none of the material is diverted from peaceful uses.

Zinc, lead, silver

Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element in the earth's crust. The construction and appliance manufacturing industries use large amounts of zinc, mainly as coatings on steel beams, sheet steel and vehicle panels in the automotive industry.

The widespread occurrence, relatively simple extraction, and combination of desirable properties have made lead useful to humans since at least 5000 BC. In deposits mined today, lead (in the form of galena, PbS) is usually associated with zinc, silver and commonly copper, and is extracted as a co-product of these metals. More than half of the lead used today comes from recycling, rather than mining. The largest use is in batteries for vehicles and communications.

The relative scarcity, attractive appearance and malleability of silver has made it suitable for use in jewellery, ornaments and silverware since before Roman times. Its extensive use in coins throughout history has declined over the last 40 years. Silver is mined and produced mainly as a co-product of copper, lead, zinc, and to a lesser extent, gold. Today, photographic paper and film, followed by the electronics and jewellery/tableware industries are the most important users of silver.

Australia has the world's largest EDR of lead (23%), and zinc (18%). It has the fourth largest EDR of silver (11%) after Mexico, Canada and the United States of America. As a producer, Australia ranks first in the world for lead, second for zinc (after China) and fourth for silver after Mexico, United States of America and Peru.

Australia's total identified resources of zinc (79.7 Mt) and lead (50 Mt) decreased by 2%, with silver staying steady at 85.4 kt in 2000. In the same period, EDR of zinc (32.8 Mt), lead (14.6 Mt) and silver (32 kt) remained unchanged as a result of production and reassessment of resources at major mines.

Mine production in 2000 for zinc, lead and silver was 1.42 Mt, 0.7 Mt and 2.06 kt, respectively. Production was mainly from mines at Cannington, Century, George Fisher, Hilton and Mount Isa in Queensland; McArthur River in the Northern Territory; Broken Hill and Elura in New South Wales; Rosebery in Tasmania; and Scuddles, Gossan Hill and the Lennard Shelf deposits in Western Australia. Australia's gold mines are significant contributors to silver production.

The silver-lead-zinc ore mining industry employed 2,811 people at the end of June 2000.

Crude oil and condensate

Australian production of crude oil and condensate in 2000-01 was 38,705 million litres (ML), an increase of 3% over 1999-2000. Production of total crude oil and condensate from the North West Shelf accounted for 31% (or 11,936 ML) of total Australian crude oil and condensate production, and Gippsland accounted for 24% (or 9,328 ML). The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 2000-01 with 73% (5,121 ML) of total Australian production sourced in that region.

In 2000-01 exports of crude petroleum oils totalled 22,501 ML, valued at $7.6b; they were substantially up on 1999-2000 (19,173 ML, $4.9b). The main markets were Singapore, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Japan and United States of America.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG is a valuable co-product of oil and gas production and petroleum refining. The major constituents of LPG are propane and iso- and normal-butane, which are gaseous at normal temperatures and pressures, and are easily liquefied at moderate pressures or reduced temperatures. Operations involving LPG are expensive in relation to other liquid fuels because LPG has to be refrigerated or pressurised when transported and stored. LPG is an alternative transport fuel for high mileage vehicles in urban areas, as well as a petrochemical feedstock and domestic fuel.

Production of naturally occurring LPG in Australia in 2000-01 was 4,056 ML, an decrease of 7% over 1999-2000. The major contributors were the Gippsland Basin (1,725 ML or 43% of total production) and the North West Shelf (1,493 ML or 37% of total production).

In 2000-01 Australian exports of liquefied propane and butane totalled 1.5 Mt, a decrease of 3% from 1999-2000. Export earnings from liquefied propane and butane in 2000-01 were $830m, up $182m (28%) on the previous year.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

During 2000-01, some 31,524 million cubic metres (Mm3) of LNG were produced for domestic consumption and export, an increase of 1% over 1999-2000. Production was dominated by the North West Shelf, which accounted for 16,042 Mm3 of natural gas, or 51% of the total.

Export earnings from LNG increased by 37% to $2.6b in 2000-01.

Previous PageNext Page