Zinc-Lead-Silver

This information has not been updated since 2010 and is provided for general reference purposes. For more detailed information and for the latest data, please see the Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources zinc, lead, silver chapters External site link.

Australia has the world's largest economic resources of both zinc and lead, accounting for more than one quarter of world zinc economic resources and one third of world lead economic resources. In terms of world production, Australia ranks in the top three for zinc and lead. Exports of zinc, lead and silver total at $5 billion annually.

Zinc, Lead and Silver Properties and Uses

Zinc, lead and silver often occur together in mineral deposits. Zinc is widely used in the construction, transport and appliance manufacturing industries as an anti-corrosion on steel with around four million tonnes, or more than half of the world's total zinc consumption used annually in steel coating, or galvanising. Zinc is used also in brass and bronze production as well as in pigments, as oxide additives to rubber and in agricultural chemicals.

Lead is mostly used in batteries for vehicles which accounts for 80 per cent of modern lead usage. The remaining 20 per cent of uses include underwater cable sheathing, solder, casting alloys, chemical compounds, ammunition, glassware and radiation protection. More than half of the lead currently used is from recycling, rather than mining.

Silver’s use in jewellery, ornaments and household silverware derive from its attractive appearance, malleability and relative scarcity. Other uses include photographic paper and film, electronics, coatings for mirrors and as an anti-bacterial agent.

Further information about zinc, lead and silver distribution and uses is given in the Australian Mines Atlas fact sheets on zinc External site link, lead External site link and silver External site link.

Zinc, Lead and Silver Production and Exports

Lead was the first metal mined in Australia at Glen Osmond in South Australia in 1841. In 1901 a flotation process to recover zinc minerals was devised at Broken Hill silver-lead deposit in New South Wales which led to the Australian-developed Jameson flotation cell used world-wide today. Previously the zinc ore at Broken Hill had been consigned to waste dumps.

The Century zinc mine in northwest Queensland close to the Gulf of Carpentaria ranks second globally in zinc production while nearby Cannington mine is a significant producer of zinc and the world's largest single mine producer of both silver and lead. Also significant are the Mount Isa and George Fisher mines, also in northwest Queensland, McArthur River in the Northern Territory, Golden Grove in Western Australia and the Broken Hill deposit. Further information on these deposits is available from the Australian Mines Atlas External site link.

The zinc content of mine production in Australia is currently about 1300 kilotonne a year which represents about 12 per cent of world zinc production, making Australia the third largest producer after China and Peru. The lead content of mine production in Australia is currently about 600 kilotonne a year, or about 14 per cent of world lead production, making it the second largest producer after China. For silver production, Australia ranks fifth after Peru, China, Mexico and Chile.

Australian exports of zinc and lead total about $2 billion each a year while exports of silver total about $1 billion a year. As a group, zinc, lead and silver represent about three per cent of Australia’s total mineral exports. The major markets for zinc exports are China, Korea, Japan and the Netherlands and for lead it is China, the United Kingdom, Korea and Japan. Information on Australia’s mineral production and exports is given in Australia’s Mineral Statistics produced quarterly and Australian Commodities twice yearly by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) External site link.

Zinc, Lead and Silver Resources

Australia ranks first in the world for both zinc and lead resources with a quarter of the world’s zinc economic resources and one third of world lead economic resources. Almost two thirds of Australia’s zinc and lead Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) is in Queensland. Mining occurs in the Northern Territory and all States except Victoria. Australia’s national inventory of zinc, lead and silver resources is updated annually in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources. Geoscience Australia produces maps of Australia’s mines, mineral deposits, and endowment (including zinc, lead and silver). Custom maps can be created on-line and selected mineral resource datasets can be generated via the Australian Mines Atlas External site link mapping and data download tool.

Zinc, Lead and Silver Exploration and Discovery

Australia attracts significant investment in zinc, lead and silver exploration making up around five per cent of all of Australia’s mineral exploration each year. Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales are the focus of most of this exploration expenditure with Western Australia accounting for about one third.

Mineral exploration, including zinc, lead and silver exploration, are reviewed annually in Australian Mineral Exploration Review and Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Topic contact: minerals@ga.gov.au Last updated: April 17, 2014