Australia-US energy pact can boost lead exports, says Nyrstar

Australia-US energy pact can boost lead exports, says Nyrstar

Australia-US energy pact can boost lead exports, says Nyrstar 1000 657 Batteries International

June 15, 2023: Rising exports of Australian refined lead to the US could be boosted still further after the signing of a clean energy pact between the nations, according to a new white paper by Nyrstar.

Nyrstar’s report on opportunities for Australia’s critical minerals supply sector, published on June 6,  said the US has seen a significant increase in quantities of imported lead from 313 kilotonnes to 535kt since 2020.

The Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact announced by the White House on May 23 — in addition to an existing free trade agreement — could lead to even higher exports.

The compact aims to coordinate policies and investments to expand and diversify the clean energy and critical minerals supply chain.

According to Trafigura-owned Nyrstar, Australia is already a net exporter of lead and the company’s Port Pirie operations accounted for around 75% of refined lead exported by Australia worldwide in 2022.

The company’s Australian operations also accounted for around 60% of Australian zinc exports.

In addition to the US, lead is especially in demand in China and India, where it is principally used for lead acid batteries for the automotive, energy storage and critical power sectors, as well as for rolled and extruded products, compounds in the glass and plastics industries and radiation shielding, Nyrstar said.

In 2022, Australia exported 38kt of refined lead to Asian countries. However, Nyrstar said that volume formed only 7% of total Asian lead imports and was a significant reduction from previous years’ imports to Asia.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports to Asia increased from 3kt in 2020 to 52kt in 2022.

Port Pirie in the state of South Australia is one of two primary lead refiners in Australia. In the longer term, Nyrstar said there is an opportunity to expand processing across its operations in Tasmania and Port Pirie.

“Bringing together major lead, zinc and copper production into one processing business including critical minerals processing would deliver significant benefits to Australia and the local region and leverage an established skilled workforce,” said the firm.

Nyrstar’s co-CEO, Dale Webb, said “metals are central to the energy transition, but their markets are today vulnerable to instability, shock and geopolitical risk.

“Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond to the shift in commodities demand and in doing so strengthen the role it plays in providing supply and energy security to Southeast Asia and the US.”

The white paper comes just five months after Batteries International reported Nyrstar was restarting its Port Pirie lead smelter following a planned 55-day outage.

A Nyrstar spokesperson also confirmed the start of “early works” on its product recycling facility (see image) at Port Pirie aimed at further reducing lead in air concentrations.