Australian Economy

GE eyes Australian project for critical minerals key to offshore wind turbines and EVs

Energy giant GE Renewable Energy has struck an agreement with Australia’s Arafura Resources that could lead to a supply chain of critical minerals that are key to its most powerful offshore wind turbines, and the electric vehicle industry.

The deal between GE Renewables and Arafura for the massive Nolans project in the Northern Territory was unveiled at the Sydney Energy Forum hosted by the Australian government this week, where security of supply chains for the green energy transition – and reducing the reliance on China – is a dominant theme.

GE’s interest is in the rare earth minerals neodymium and praseodymium, known as NdPr, which are key to making the NdFeB magnets used in the manufacture of EVs and clean energy technologies.

GE, for instance, needs 600kg of NdFeB magnets for every megawatt of wind turbine capacity, and so it needs 7.2 tonnes of NdFeB for each of its Haliade-X 12MW offshore wind turbines, one of the most powerful turbines on the market.

The Nolan’s resource is globally significant and has an estimated five per cent of the global demand over a projected life of mine of 38 years. Arafura plans a processing facility at the site, which would make it Australia’s first vertically integrated rare earths operation.

It has already received conditional letters of support for debt facilities from Export Finance Australia ($200 million) and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility ($100 million), and in March was awarded a $30 million grant under the federal government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI).

GE is looking to strike a a binding long term off-take agreement, and may also take equity in the Nolans project.

“The signing of this MoU … is a terrific outcome,” said Arafura managing director and CEO Gavin Lockyer said.

“Long-term Nolans NdPr may be used in magnets critical for power generation from GE’s Haliade-X 12 MW, one of the most powerful offshore wind turbines on the market.

It is very gratifying that a new supply chain model, along with transparency of the value chain, will ensure we know exactly where our NdPr will be used, whether it is in a particular EV model or a series of wind turbine.

“The contribution of Nolans NdPr to enable clean energy technologies to decarbonise the world is becoming more and more apparent.”.

Analysts predict annual offshore wind installations will more than triple from 6.1GW in 2020 to 23.1GW in 2025, and Australia is also now host to more than 20GW of potential offshore wind projects, with Victoria targeting 9GW of capacity by 2040, and the first production from 2028.

“This MoU is another example of our efforts to develop strategic collaborations that can help us accelerate the energy transition,” GE Renewable Energy Vice President, Chief Technology Officer Danielle Merfeld said in a statement.

“Working with Arafura gives us a new and exciting option to obtain reliable, sustainable, and competitive sources of key materials going forward that will help us lower the cost of renewable energy.”

GE has also signed an MoU with US car giant General Motors to evaluate opportunities for supplies of heavy and light rare earth materials and magnets, copper and electrical steel that are needed for manufacturing of electric vehicles.

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