Our love affair with digging holes is only just getting started

Our love affair with digging holes is only just getting started

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Australia is the only country that you could throw a wall around and still have all the materials you need – cobalt and graphite and lithium – for battery storage.

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“Dad, I dug a hole.” said Dale.

The proud father’s reaction (I’m talking about The Castle if you missed it) was perhaps an unintentional “art imitates life” moment, reflecting Australia’s love affair with digging stuff out of the ground. As The Australian Institute reports, we have dug so many holes, we have lost track of them and forgot to fill them in.

The Castle’s chief protagonist, Daryl, shows us when the little guy stands up for what is right in a democracy, anything is possible, legal skills and eloquence notwithstanding. The acclaimed film, shot in 11 days for $750,000, also shows it doesn’t take a big budget to have a big impact. These are two lessons our Federal Government would do well to consider, when it comes to digging holes.

Let me explain.

Despite the environmental impact, I suspect our love affair with digging holes will go on. Last week, Brian Craighead of Renaissance Energy was on point.

“Australia is the only country that you could throw a wall around and still have all the materials you need – cobalt and graphite and lithium – for battery storage,” Craighead told RenewEconomy in an interview last week. We also have rare earths, silver, nickel, manganese, the list goes on.

Talk of a gigafactory in the north should have tongues wagging in Canberra.

This is Turnbull’s chance to align market ideology, with new energy technology, the environment and mining, a confluence that historically has been impossible.

When it comes to mining, all we hear from Canberra is The Adani Story, in which the Australian Government considers pouring $1b of debt down the toilet on a deal no bank will touch, propping up a foreign business on the ropes to boot, or how Clean Coal might save us, maybe, sometime.

Presumably, there aren’t any better deals on the table for our merchant banking trained Prime Minister? How about these.

Altura Mining (ASX: AJM) looks set to become Australia’s next lithium producer, following in the footsteps of Galaxy Mining (ASX: GXY), Galaxy being the 2nd best performing stock on the ASX200 in 2016. Altura is in the process of finalising finance (circa $100m) to build a mine and process around 220kt of lithium/pa over the mines’ life.

Total mine cost? $140m. Payback? 1.8years. 100kt/pa is subject to a binding offtake and recent prices paid to lithium producers have been in the order of $800-$900/t. Altura has already sold equity to Chinese battery manufacturer Optimum Nano, and balance of finance could come from overseas. Another Australian success story is on the cards, and the well known script of the biggest beneficiaries being offshore looms large.

And then there are a host of aspiring near term cobalt producers – Ardea Resources (ASX: ARL), Cobaltblue (ASX:COB) and smaller players like Barra Resources (ASX: BAR) and Conico (ASX: CNJ).

With 50% of the world’s cobalt sourced from the Congo where child exploitation and violence is rife, and increasing pressure on battery supply chain ethics from consumer groups, Australia is very well placed to meet the surging demand for cobalt expected from the electrification of transport at a time when supply is at risk of tightening. A perfect commodity storm.

Australia even have a listed Graphene producer, Talga Resources (ASX:TLG)  based in Perth, with operations in Sweden and Germany – now there is an endorsement for a high-tech materials play. They are applying advanced materials technology to bring down the cost, and enhance the performance of batteries (and a whole lot more).

Think Electric Vehicles aren’t enough to get excited about? How about passenger drones like Lilium, offering mind boggling potential to radically reshape our transport patterns and costs.

Time permitting, the list of opportunities could go on…

Alas, I have a small business to run though, far less challenging than running a nation, but potentially more rewarding… if only I can figure out how to transfer my personal and business tax contribution away from Adani, and across to some of these other investments.

In the name of disruption, is anyone democratising our taxation system? Like Daryl, should I take my tax challenge to the high court, and argue the vibe of the constitution?

Or is democracy meant to, you know, “democratise tax”.

Tosh Szatow is Director and co-founder of Energy for the People and The People’s SolarDisclosures: Tosh is either invested in, or considering investing in, all the companies mentioned in this article.

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  1. john 4 years ago

    In the present climate one would expect more waffle along the lines clean technology needs to improve to be beneficial and clean coal is affordable.
    The myth about coal needs puncturing.
    It is rather like clean diesel in engines they have proved to be the exact opposite.

  2. Neometals 4 years ago

    Nice article Tosh. A couple more facts…

    1. Western Australia is the world’s largest supplier of lithium and is adding capacity faster than any other country in the world https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/
    2. Two battery grade lithium hydroxide plants are being developed in WA as we speak. One is well underway and the other is yet to be formally announced…but watch this space (it’s not Neometals just to be clear).
    3. At least two WA based nickel miners are seriously studying the merit in building battery grade nickel sulphate plants.
    4. Current lithium miners in production are: Greenbushes (JV between Tianqi & Albemarle), Mt Marion (JV between Ganfeng Lithium, Neometals and Mineral Resources) & Mt Cattlin (Galaxy Resources). Two more mines are in development – Pilbara Minerals and Altura Mining. And there are a handful of other deposits that have serious prospects as well.

    Between WA & Chile, we account for around 80% of total world lithium supply. You would think that would provide some bargaining leverage when it came to attracting investment into domestic battery production. Anyway, we shall see.

    • Brunel 4 years ago

      Goodness gracious! There should obviously be a massive export tax on lithium ore, bauxite, titanium ore, iron ore, LNG, coking coal to encourage value add to be done in AUS.

      The dumbing down of Aussie degrees should be reversed to produce graduates who know how to turn lithium ore into batteries and titanium ore into titanium.

      • juxx0r 4 years ago

        Why dont we put a tax on dumbass bankers and governments that create the exact situation you want to tax the victims of.

        • Brunel 4 years ago

          There is a bank tax now.

          So if the banks have to chose between an ore export tax and a banking tax, I wonder which one they will chose.

          • Joe 4 years ago

            …and SA is going in for ‘afters’ with a bank tax as well. Just gotta luv this stuff.

    • Tosh Szatow 4 years ago

      Great to read Neometals. I’m sure I barely scratched the surface. When will a minister bring a lump of lithium to parliament? I’m sure no one is holding their breath, but still, seems bizarre there is not more attention on this right now.

      • Neometals Ltd 4 years ago

        The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies has been working on this and indeed it was a dominant thread on Day One of their recent Annual Conference.

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