Despite accelerating sales and increasing demand for iron ore - primarily from China - Australia's magnetite resources, and their international market potential, remain largely untapped, according to Dr Ralph Holmes, Iron Ore Program Manager at CSIRO Minerals.
"Awareness of our magnetite resources and our two current operational pellet plants is low among the steel industry within China and within Asia generally," Dr Holmes says.
"However, a recently announced memorandum of understanding between International Minerals and Wuhan Iron and Steel involving supply of five million tonnes per annum of high grade magnetite concentrate over 25 years indicates that this is starting to change."
CSIRO Minerals has been investigating magnetite deposits and prospects in Australia for some time. The work has been driven by the increasing level of overseas interest in magnetite ore, as well as indications that demand for hematite/goethite iron ores (the current primary sources in Australia) well outstrips supply.
Magnetite ore is a well-known, viable alternative to hematite/goethite ores and can produce high grade concentrate suitable for either pellet or sinter production.
"It is characterised by high iron grade and lower impurities, the benefit of the exothermic magnetite-to-haematite oxidation reaction and the production of quality pellets at lower firing temperature with less fuel and lower maintenance costs," Dr Holmes says.
"As more pelletising capacity is currently being put into operation, or is under construction in China, there is a strong demand for pellet feedstock.
"However, while it is common knowledge that Australia has abundant hematite and goethite sinter fines and lump ores for the blast furnace, few Chinese steel companies are aware of our magnetite resources."
There are more than 20 identified magnetite deposits and prospects located across South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
This amounts to an estimated 4.7 billion tonnes of magnetite resources in Western Australia, 1.6 billion tonnes in South Australia and about 700 million tonnes in Tasmania and Queensland.