Queensland to build “common-user” vanadium processing plant


The Queensland government plans to build and own a new vanadium processing plant in the northeastern coastal city of Townsville in a bid to start local production and get small operations off the ground. Vanadium is a key resource for the burgeoning flow battery market and is also drawing increased attention as a cathode material for lithium-ion batteries.

“Australia has the world’s third largest deposits of vanadium resources, but right now we don’t produce a single kilogram of processed vanadium,” Queensland’s Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment, Cameron Dick, said.

Queensland’s Minister for Resources and Member for Townsville, Scott Stewart, said his department would go to market in the new year for detailed engineering assessments and costings for the plant, for which the state government would front at least $10 million from its $520 million Invested in Queensland program. The final investment amount though will depend on the outcome of the construction tender.

The government said it is in the final stages of site selection within Townville, and expects construction to start in 2022, with the plant scheduled to begin operating in 2023. The facility is part of what the Palaszczuk government described as its push for the state to become a leading producer and exporter of “new-economy minerals” and “the home of new industries.”

In September, the state government announced it had given the go-ahead to its first vanadium mine, Multicom Resources’s $250 million Saint Elmo mine near Julia Creek, in the state’s north west. The Saint Elmo mine is forecast to initially produce up to 5,000 tonnes per annum of vanadium pentoxide, eventually scaling to 20,000 tonnes per annum. 

The mine is just the first planned for what the Queensland government calls the ‘North West Minerals Province’, an area of the state particularly rich in resources useful for the clean energy transition, include cobalt, nickel, rare earth elements, copper and, of course, vanadium.

Queensland’s north west has been earmarked as potential vanadium hub with other mine plans progressing alongside the Saint Elmo plan, like Critical Minerals Group’s Lindfield vanadium and High Purity Alumina (HPA) project, which covers 295km² in Julia Creek. The government also pointed to projects like the Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub at the Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct as part of its push into downstream and value added minerals industries.

The Saint Elmo mine is wholly owned by Multicom Resources. Pictured: the future mine site.

Multicom Resources

Why vanadium

“Vanadium is used for the construction of large-scale grid batteries that store their charge in tanks of liquid,” Queensland’s Treasurer Cameron Dick said. “Because they hold their charge in a liquid form, redox batteries can be built to a much larger scale, powering larger communities for longer,” he added. Redox flow batteries are, after a long time in the market, beginning to gain traction in the utility-scale storage stage. 

Treasurer Dick said a common-user facility like that to be built by the Queensland government can be used by multiple, smaller mining companies. “This is an important step in attracting further investor interest and future off-take agreements. 

“Once producers can see for themselves how processing occurs, they will have the confidence to invest in more manufacturing infrastructure and more jobs.”

The news was welcomed by Queensland community group Solar Citizens. “This is a smart investment by the Queensland government that is a step towards turning Townsville into a renewable industry hub,” Stephanie Gray, Energy Strategist at Solar Citizens, said.

“North Queensland’s mineral deposits and natural renewable resources mean Townsville is perfectly placed to process minerals for clean technology and produce renewable hydrogen for export. Investing in these opportunities will create good, future-proof jobs for the region.

“It’s a shame that the Morrison government is not taking this potential as seriously.”

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