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Australia’s resources projects have entered a new growth cycle during the past year, with early stage projects increasing by more than 30 per cent compared with the prior corresponding period.

This is according to the Office of the Chief Economist’s latest Resources and Energy Major Projects: 2020 review, which showed this 30 per cent rise in projects growing from first announcements to final investment decisions.

At November 2020, the resources and energy sector’s projects were worth more than $50 million with 335 development projects in the pipeline, covering more than 20 commodities.

The Office of the Chief Economist put this growth down to record gold prices bringing several Australian mines back to production, some having been closed for more than 20 years, plus new exploration and development in this sector.

Australia progressed 15 gold projects, worth a total of $4.3 billion to the committed stage during the past year, which are expected to contribute a total of 182 tonnes per annum of gold to Australia’s existing capacity.

Gold exploration reached a record high of almost $1.2 billion in Australia during 2019-20, accounting for 42 per cent of Australia’s total mineral exploration expenditure.

Australia’s largest gold projects include Newcrest’s $685 million and $175 million Cadia stage 1 and 2 expansion projects in New South Wales and Newmont’s $750 million Tanami expansion 2 project in Western Australia.

The Office of the Chief Economist also cited the uptake of battery technology globally driving greater investment in nickel, cobalt, rare earths and lithium.

Rare earths and critical minerals are particularly important investment for future prosperity, as these commodities have important economic functions and cannot be easily substituted with an alternative mineral.

In 2020, Northern Minerals announced that it had completed the stage 1 pilot plant for the Browns Range rare earths project in Western Australia, with rare earths products being evaluated as the company anticipated an expansion.

At present, Northern Minerals is evaluating stages 2 and 3 of the project, which is worth an estimated $250 to $499 million.

Western Australia spent the most on exploration expenditure, investing just under $2 million or 60 per cent of Australia’s total budget into exploration, into gold, copper, nickel and lithium.

Queensland followed, lifting its exploration in 2019-20 due to higher coal exploration, with exploration also increasing in third placed New South Wales, driven by coal and gold exploration.

Coal exploration expenditure increased overall for the third year in a row, rising by 66 per cent to $303 million.

“The previous commodity boom led to record levels of investment to unlock Australia’s massive commodity deposits,” the Office of the Chief Economist stated.

“However, this investment declined sharply as projects reached completion and the commodity cycle shifted towards exports.

“It is now clear that commodity investment has turned a corner, with a new investment cycle emerging amidst a surge in technological change and shifts in the global economy.”