Australia, with its very large mining industry, and relatively small population, has become one of the world’s largest exporters of energy and mineral resources worth AU$195 billion in 2013/14 across all of the commodities (Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics [BREE], 2015). In particular, iron ore has been Australia’s most significant export commodity for over a decade. In 2010-11 exports were worth AU$54 billion (BREE, 2011) and in 2013/14 exports had increased to AU$74 billion (BREE, 2015). The majority of these exports come from the Pilbara region in Western Australia which has 22 % of the world’s economically accessible iron ore.
Production has risen from 159 Mt in 2000 to over 650 Mt in 2013/14 (BREE, 2015). These dramatic increases in production have come about through the rapid expansion of the industry associated with new projects and increases in productivity of existing mines. The expansion into new mining areas has meant that Australian ores now cover a wide range of porosity, mineralogy, composition and other physical properties. This, combined with differences in clay type and gangue composition, can cause serious problems during transportation and storage. Increasing fines content and variations in composition also impact on ironmaking performance in ways that will need to be characterised in order to improve the acceptance of these products. Opportunities to enhance the product grade through beneficiation, especially in a more competitive market, may become much more important in the coming years.