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The Northern Territory is becoming a major player in one of the greatest treasure hunts in history.

Critical minerals are essential components in many rapidly growing clean energy technologies.

The Northern Territory has resources of 17 critical minerals – aluminium, cobalt, copper, lithium, gallium, graphite, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, phosphate, rare earth elements, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, zinc and zirconium.

Twelve are on Australia’s critical minerals list and five are on Australia’s strategic materials list.

Most are also on critical or strategic materials lists of key trading partners such as the United States, Britain, European Union, Japan, India and South Korea.

Two minerals, graphite and gallium, have been added to the list in the most recent update of the Critical Minerals in the Northern Territory guide.

They were added following the discovery of the Territory’s first gallium resource at the Transition Minerals Barkly rare earths‑vanadium project and the recent release of a maiden graphite resource at Kingsland Minerals Leliyn project near Pine Creek.

Graphite is an essential mineral used in battery cathodes, while gallium is used in high-technology applications, such as semiconductors and LED screens for smartphones

“The Northern Territory is well placed to take full advantage of the global surge in demand for critical minerals,” says Dr Ian Scrimgeour, head of the Northern Territory Geological Survey. “We have the opportunity to become a major supplier of many of the commodities the world needs for the renewable energy transition.

“The Territory is underexplored for critical minerals and the demand for these minerals is expected to soar to support renewable energy, battery storage and high-tech industries.”

Critical minerals will be widely discussed at AGES, the Annual Geoscience Exploration Seminar, which will be held at the Alice Springs Convention Centre from 16-17 April.

It is one of the most eagerly anticipated minerals exploration conferences in Australia and attracts a broad range of industry and government delegates with an interest in the discovery and development of the Territory’s minerals and energy resources.

The Territory Government wants to see more investment in the critical minerals sector. The Government’s $9.5 million Resourcing the Territory program provides exploration grants and freeof- charge geoscience data to support and de-risk exploration investments. The Territory is already a global leader in manganese production, has emerging rare earths and copper projects, and has Australia’s only lithium mine outside of West Australia.

Known NT resources for several critical minerals have risen in the past year – rare earths are up 5 percent, vanadium by 50 percent and lithium by 84 percent.

Mineral exploration in the Territory in 2023 shot up to $228 million – up 14 percent on the previous year and equalling the record level of expenditure set in 2011.

The 14 percent rise in expenditure was much higher than the Australiawide increase of 5 percent.

Figures showed that critical minerals spending is leading the way, increasing 29 percent in 2023 to $107 million – making up 47 percent of all mineral exploration in the Territory.

Critical minerals are used to manufacture advanced technologies, such as mobile phones, computers, fibre-optic cables, semi-conductors, banknotes, and in defence, aerospace and medical applications.

The most rapid increase in demand is driven by their use in low-emission technologies, such as electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and rechargeable batteries More than 3500 Territorians work within the minerals industry.