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Keynote Spotlight with Shannon O'Rourke

· 900 words, 4 minute read

The Lithium, Battery, and Energy Metals Conference 2022 is only days away. We sat down with keynote speaker Shannon O’Rourke, CEO of the The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, to unpack his thoughts on the future challenges of critical minerals and the race to keep in the game, as well as the important steps his research team are taking to improve mixed battery recycling.

What are the key messages being highlighted at next week’s conference?

In the field of batteries, Australia is playing a game that everyone in the world wants to win, and we hold all the aces. We have all the critical mineral resources needed to create the batteries, and we already produce over 50% of the world’s supply. Australia has an unrivalled ESG track record and is a safe place to invest, but currently we only receive 0.5% of the value of those minerals.

Other global players are upping the ante in terms of lending vast amounts of money, subsidising their industries and critically, they are putting rules in place that require the manufacturing to happen on their shores, thus ensuring their own domestic market and supply.

Our next moves in this high-stakes game will determine our role in the industry over the long term. There won’t be another round; if we don’t deal ourselves in at this point, I fear we will be locked out of the biggest opportunities this market offers - in a similar way to how the manufacturing of solar panels panned out.

Can you talk about the challenges impacting lithium and energy metals, especially regarding ESG?

Decarbonisation does not happen without critical minerals. The biggest challenge the industry is facing is communicating this to a sceptical global audience.

The industry must maintain exceptionally high standards of ESG so that people have confidence in mining, mineral processing, and manufacturing. The public will not think in terms of trade-offs, they’ll want to see an industry with impeccable credentials.

Can you give us a snapshot into Future Battery Industries research programs?

Our research programs include three interdependent streams:

Resources, processing and recycling
Industry development
Manufacturing, testing and deployment

Starting with Recycling – by 2040, about one third of battery materials will come from recycled sources. Currently, the level of recycling is poor and the level of recovery from recycled materials is also poor. Our research program aims to improve mixed battery recycling, with new processes that recover all the materials from batteries with a lower environmental footprint.

Our Industry Development program seeks to develop a battery industry across the entire value chain. Through thought leadership in our Future Charge reports and with the support of Government via its Australian Made Batteries policy, we are already seeing growth in industry investment.

The Manufacturing, Testing and Deployment stream is building essential capabilities which demonstrate and qualify Australian materials and provide basic prototyping support for Australian manufacturers. With our leading facilities such as the National Battery Testing Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, we can validate the performance and safety of batteries in an Australian context.

Why do you think it is important for professionals from all levels to continue development and connect on a global scale through conferences like AusIMM’s?

The emerging battery industry is a fantastic example of why continuous learning and professional development is necessary for all professionals regardless of the sector they currently find themselves in. Over the last 10 years the battery industry has really taken off and the future job opportunities it offers are limitless.

According to our Future Charge Report, a diversified Australian battery industry will be able to support over 34,000 jobs by 2030 – which represents a five-fold increase from just two years ago. Of these roles, about 40% will be university educated professionals in fields involving: material science, industrial metallurgy, electrochemistry, chemical engineering, and electrical and electronic engineering.

However, many of these new roles or around 60% won’t require a university degree and will instead be trained via the VET system. These include roles like plant operators, installers, electricians, technologists, laboratory assistants and technicians.

So, the message is clear, with a vast array of roles to grow from, emerging sectors like battery minerals refining, battery cell and pack manufacturing and in recycling activities for batteries, no one can afford to ‘sit still’ in their career. You never know where your next role may come from, nor the next big market opportunity, so keep evolving and keep learning.

Our student members and New Professionals Network will be attending Lithium 2022. Do you have advice for students looking to kick start their career in mining?

My advice to students and early career professionals is to actively build your professional networks from day one. In the same way that emerging industries can produce new and exciting career opportunities, you never know how important your current connections might be to your future roles.

From my personal experience of working in the energy sector for a quarter of a century, I have been fortunate to work with a wide range of talented people that have crossed many different business sectors. In my current role with the Cooperative Research Centre, I have been struck by just how important the breadth of my connections are.

Shannon will be presenting his thought-provoking keynote presentation ‘Playing to Win – Battery Mineral Processing and ESG’ at the next weeks Lithium, Battery, and Energy Metals Conference 2022, hosted on 14-15 September in Perth and online. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to build your professional network and hear the latest from leading global experts. Final chance, register now!

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