1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Contents >> Mining >> Profile of major commodities

The information in this section has been largely drawn from the publication Australia's Identified Mineral Resources, 2002 published by Geoscience Australia.

Bauxite and alumina

Bauxite is a heterogeneous naturally occurring material from which alumina and aluminium are produced. The principal minerals in bauxite are gibbsite, boehmite 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. When exports of bauxite, alumina and aluminium are taken into account, the aluminium industry is Australia’s second largest commodity exporter behind coal, with export earnings approaching $8.9 b in 2000-01. The industry consists of five bauxite mines, six alumina refineries, six primary aluminium smelters, twelve extrusion mills and two rolled product (sheet, plate and foil) mills.


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.

Australia has 5% of the world’s recoverable black coal EDR, and ranks sixth behind the United States of America (27%), Russia (19%), China (12%), India (10%) and South Africa (6%). Australia produced about 7% of the world’s black coal in 2001, ranking it the fourth largest producer after China (27%), United States of America (26%) and India (8%).

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 2001-02, Australia produced 273.2 Mt of black coal. Of this amount, 197.9 Mt were exported at a value of $13.3b. Exports of coking coal and steaming coal were 105.5 Mt and 92 Mt respectively. In 2001-02, Australia consumed 66.2 Mt of coal, with the majority of consumption by power stations.

The main brown coal deposits are in Victoria, which is the only state that mines brown coal, mainly for the generation of electricity. In 2001-02, the La Trobe Valley produced 98.5% of Australia’s total brown coal production of 66.7 Mt. Smaller deposits occur in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Briquettes are also produced for industrial and domestic heating in Australia and overseas.

Australia has about 20% of the world’s recoverable brown coal EDR, and ranks second behind Germany (23%). 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 and Cadia Hill (New South Wales), Ernest Henry, Osborne and Mt Gordon (Queensland), and 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 (after Chile 35%, United States of America 10% and Indonesia 8%), with 6% of world production.


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.

Australia's EDR of industrial diamond ranks third (14%), after the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) (26%) and Botswana (23%). Detailed data are not available on world resources of gem/near gem diamonds, but Australia has one of the largest stocks for this category.

Australia’s diamond production is the largest in the world for natural industrial diamonds and second largest (after Botswana) for gem/near gem diamonds. The majority of Australia’s production comes from the Argyle diamond mine located in the East Kimberley region in Western Australia. This mine is the world’s largest diamond mine by volume, with the bulk of output being near gem or industrial diamonds. It is the world’s largest supplier of diamonds producing approximately 30 million carats each year, accounting for approximately one-quarter of the world’s natural diamond production. The Kimberley Diamond Company, currently Australia’s second diamond producer, commenced mining at Ellendale in Western Australia in May 2002.


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.

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 2001, Australia has the third largest EDR (10%) after South Africa (38%) and the United States of America (11%).

Western Australia continued to be the dominant producer accounting for 70% of Australian production in 2002. Queensland remained the second largest producer followed by the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Gold is also produced in smaller quantities in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

Iron ore

Iron ore is the source of primary iron for the world's steel industries. It occurs in all states and the Northern Territory, with about 86% of identified resources in Western Australia, most occurring in the Pilbara region of that state.

Australia has some 9% of world EDR of iron ore and is ranked fourth after China (19%), Russia (19%) and Ukraine (16%). In terms of contained iron, Australia has about 11% of the world's EDR and is ranked fourth behind Russia (21%), Ukraine (18%) and China (11%). Australia produces around 18% of the world's iron ore, and is ranked third behind China (22%) and Brazil (20%).

In 2002, Western Australia produced 97% of the national total. Smaller quantities were produced by South Australia and Tasmania.

Mineral sands

The principal components of mineral sands are zircon and the titanium minerals rutile and ilmenite. 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.

According to data from Geoscience Australia and USGS, Australia has the world's largest EDR of ilmenite, rutile and zircon with 32%, 44% and 42% respectively. In 2001, world production of ilmenite decreased by 2% to 7.29 Mt, rutile by 1% to 379 kt, while zircon increased by 5.6% to 1.07 Mt. Australia produced about 28%, 55% and 37% 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.

EDR of ilmenite continued its increasing trend in 2001, up from 196.0 Mt in 2000 to 201.6 Mt, an increase of 2.8%. Successful exploration on the Douglas Project and Ouyen Project tripled the ilmenite resources of Victoria (almost 4% of the Australian EDR).

EDR of rutile (which includes leucoxene in Western Australia) increased by nearly 3% from 21.9 Mt in 2000 to 22.5 Mt in 2001. All of the increase occurred in the Murray Basin in Victoria (up 34%), New South Wales (up 8%), and South Australia (a thirty-fold increase). Queensland and Western Australia, which together hold 77% of Australia's EDR of rutile, had slight decreases in 2001, due to production.

EDR of zircon rose by nearly 6% from 27.9 Mt in 2000 to 29.6 Mt in 2001. All of the increase was in the Murray Basin particularly in South Australia (a ninety-fold increase), Victoria (85%) and New South Wales (19%).

The bulk of Australia's rutile and zircon production is exported, compared to about 45% of ilmenite. The remaining ilmenite is upgraded to synthetic rutile, which contains 92-93% titanium dioxide.

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 sometimes 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 (27%), zinc (18%) and silver (15%). As a producer, Australia ranks first in the world for lead, second for zinc (after China) and third for silver after Mexico and Peru.

Australia's total identified resources of zinc (80.8 Mt), lead (50.7 Mt of contained lead) and silver (87.3 kt) all increased slightly in 2001, by 1.4%, 1.3% and 2.2% respectively. In the same period, EDR of zinc (35.1 Mt), lead (17.3 Mt) and silver (41.4 kt) experienced strong growth (7.1%, 18% and 29% increases respectively). These increases were the result of increased resources, reclassification of resources, increased resource definition and growth of existing resources.

In 2001, production of zinc, lead and silver 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.

Crude oil and condensate

In 2001-02, production of total crude oil and condensate from the North West Shelf and the Gippsland Basin respectively accounted for 38% and 24% of total Australian crude oil and condensate production. The North West Shelf was the major producer of condensate during 2001-02 with 73% of total Australian production sourced from that region.

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.

In 2001-02, the major producers were the North West Shelf and the Gippsland Basin accounting for 44% and 39% of total production respectively.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

All Australian LNG production comes from the North West Shelf Venture and all is exported. LNG production in 2001-02 was 7.6 Mt, increasing by 5.8% to 8.1 Mt in 2002-03. Export earnings from LNG in 2001-02 remained at $2.6b.


Australia’s uranium mining operations are at Ranger (Northern Territory) and Olympic Dam and Beverley (South Australia).

Australia has the world’s largest low cost recoverable uranium resources and currently ranks as the world’s second largest producer behind Canada. The mineral is exported as uranium concentrates (yellowcake) and is used to generate electricity in nuclear power stations. There are stringent safeguard arrangements in place to ensure the uranium is not diverted from peaceful uses.


Tantalum had been subject to escalating demand during the past decade due to the increased use of tantalum capacitors in mobile phones, computers and video cameras, and tantalum ingots to produce land and air-based turbine alloys.

Australia has the world's largest commercial tantalum resources. Sons of Gwalia Ltd is currently the world’s major producer in the form of tantalum concentrates which are exported for further processing to produce tantalum metal powder. The company’s Greenbushes and Wodgina (Western Australia) deposits are the largest of their type commercially mined.

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