New uses for gold including in antibiotics, smartphones and electric vehicles will bring new opportunities over the next three decades for gold companies in Australia, the world’s second-largest gold producer and largest exporter.
The World Gold Council’s report Gold 2048: The Next 30 of Gold includes contributions from industry leaders in the gold sector, finance and international relations on the long-term issues shaping gold markets around the world.
The report shows that world gold demand has soared in the past 30 years due to significant growth in emerging economies – particularly China and India.
And growth has not just been limited to gold’s traditional role as an investment asset or for use in jewellery, with gold increasingly being used as a component in modern consumer electronics products such as smartphones and in the circuitry of electric vehicles.
According to Dr Trevor Keel at the World Gold Council gold compounds are also ‘showing promise as a new class of antibiotic in early-phase clinical studies. It is conceivable that gold-containing drugs will form part of our defence against infection by 2048’.
These new applications for gold combined with traditional investment demand in growing economies presents a significant opportunity for Australian gold mining companies to play a major role in future global supply chains.
However, this opportunity is far from guaranteed, with the report listing a range of production challenges: ‘discoveries have been scant; permitting timelines are long; capital costs have ballooned; ESG [environmental, social and governance] requirements are becoming more challenging; operating costs have risen; and political risk has increased’.
These factors handicap the capacity of Australian gold producers in their efforts to develop new mines and sustain existing operations.
The recent risk of increased gold royalties in Western Australian and the Northern Territory shows a short-sighted approach to encouraging a world-class Australian industry at a time when production costs are growing.
Australia has already missed an opportunity in the past decade. The report shows much of the recent growth in global gold demand has been supplied from new emerging gold regions and mines in other parts of the world.
Both federal and state governments must support Australian gold miners with stable royalty and tax systems, sound environmental regulation and a commitment to exploration programs if Australia is to make the most of the next phase of technology-led growth in gold demand.