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Australian expenditure on mineral exploration increased by 21 per cent to more than $2.6 billion in 2019, according to the latest report from Geoscience Australia.

The annual Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources (AIMR) report was released for the year to December 2019, providing a reference point for next year’s report into the effects of COVID-19 on the industry.

The figures were Australia’s highest exploration expenditure since 2012.

Australia’s Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt explained how important the success of the sector was.

“At the end of 2019, Australia remained a global leader in mineral exploration and production, and one of the world’s most desirable locations for investing in the mineral sector,” Pitt said.

“Advancements in technology are driving the world’s appetite for critical minerals. Because of their use in cutting-edge low-carbon, defence, medical and other applications, demand for commodities like lithium, cobalt and graphite is projected to rise significantly over coming decades.”

Earlier this month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced a 2.5 per cent increase in exploration expenditure for the December 2020 quarter.

This reinforces the expectation that the trends can only continue as the federal government announced the Exploring for the Future program earlier this month.

“The government’s $225 million Exploring for the Future program, led by Geoscience Australia, is opening up new exploration opportunities across the nation, supporting new mineral discovery that is essential for Australia’s future economic prosperity,” Pitt said.

The program will only help to capitalise on the promising findings in the AIMR report, such as Australia being a global top five producer for a total 15 commodities, including gold, bauxite, iron ore, rare earths, mineral sands, zinc, nickel and coal.

On gold, the commodity accounted for 40 per cent of the country’s exploration expenditure in 2019 and constitutes one-fifth of the world’s resource.

As for lithium, the World Bank estimated that demand for the critical mineral could rise by 965 per cent by 2050. This is a result of the increased need for lithium powered batteries in products such as electric vehicles.

Promisingly, Australia produces 56 per cent of the world’s lithium, and contains 29 per cent of the world’s resources.