Old Scholar Spotlight - Ron Mitchell

The School provided a wonderful balance of discipline and creativity that encouraged me to pursue my interests with vigour.

Short & Sweet

  • Class of: 1991
  • House: Carnley
  • Tertiary education: Bachelor of Science (Environmental Management), Masters Environmental Management (Tokyo)
  • Current role: Managing Director, Global Lithium Resources (ASX:GL1), Chairman London Metal Exchange Lithium & Cobalt Committee, Husband, Father, Footy Coach
  • Music you are currently listening to: All the good stuff from the 90s
  • Dream dinner guest: Elon Musk
  • Favourite subject at school: English
  • Your experience at St Mark’s in six words: Interactive, immersive, athletic, respectful, nurturing, inspiring.

A Little Longer

Your St Mark’s experience ...

As only the second-year class to go through the school after it was officially opened, we had a wonderful rivalry with the inaugural-year class. We were often involved in competitive sports battles on the footy oval or basketball courts. Our summers were simple, with a sports run down to Whitfords Beach; it was amazing to be part of the School’s early years that helped drive and create a culture that now embodies the school.

Where has life after St Mark’s taken you? Were you certain about what career path you wanted to follow?

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science, I worked for the WA Government for seven years at the Department of Fisheries, where I had the wonderful opportunity to travel the state. I then applied for a Japanese Government scholarship and moved to Tokyo to study a Master’s degree in Environmental Management. Here I successfully published several articles in various international journals. After graduating, I was offered a commercial role with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of the largest Japanese clean energy conglomerates and worked in an International Business Development role for four years before relocating to Australia. I was then headhunted for a role in the lithium industry and returned to Perth in 2011. I have worked for three mining companies involved in battery materials and future-facing commodities. I have also worked as Chair of the LME Lithium and Cobalt Committee for the past 4.5 years.

How do you think St Mark’s prepared you for life after school?

The School provided a wonderful balance of discipline and creativity that encouraged me to pursue my interests with vigour. An incredibly supportive teaching group has been instrumental to my career success.

What school-based accomplishment are you most proud of?

Earning School Colours and Captaincy for Interschool football and making lifelong friends.

What is your fondest memory of your time at St Mark’s?

The school camps were always fun, and I have great memories of the School Athletics Carnivals on the secondary oval.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

“Pursue your passion” is some personal advice bestowed on me from my St Mark’s days, and I wholeheartedly agree.

How do you see the lithium industry evolving over the next 10-20 years?

The Lithium industry is poised for significant growth and transformation over the next 10-20 years on the back of several future-facing industries, including e-mobility and increasing rechargeable battery demand.

  • The global push towards renewable energy and the electrification of transportation will be major driving forces. As demand for EVs and energy storage solutions increases, the need for lithium-ion batteries will surge.
  • Regional supply chain diversification, with new lithium deposits being developed in various regions and ongoing and future upstream development in ex-China countries.
  • Innovations in lithium resource extraction and battery recycling will play a critical role, making lithium production more sustainable and cost-effective.
  • Next-generation battery technology development like solid-state batteries is trajecting towards commercial utilisation.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the lithium industry?

  • Supply and Demand Imbalance and price volatility: As the demand for lithium continues to grow rapidly, ensuring a stable and sufficient supply will be a critical challenge. Developing new mining projects and expanding existing ones require significant investment, time, and regulatory approval.
  • Environmental Impact: Lithium extraction, especially from traditional mining methods in a number of developing nations, can have substantial environmental impacts. Balancing the need for lithium with environmental sustainability will remain a concern especially for local communities. However we are seeing new and more environmentally responsible mining methods emerge especially relating to waste water and tailings management.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The majority of lithium reserves are concentrated in a few countries, such as Australia, Chile, Africa and China. This concentration can lead to geopolitical risks and supply chain vulnerabilities.
  • Potential substitutes or energy solution (like hydrogen): Keeping pace with rapid technological advancements in battery technology and ensuring that lithium remains a competitive and preferred material is another challenge. Hydrogen has great potential in large stationary energy sources, however, is unlikely to rival lithium as a substitute for the passenger vehicle market due to cost and infrastructure build-out.
  • Regional nationalisation: This is especially a concern in South America and African nations, where protectionist policy settings can create investment risk for international companies.

How is the industry addressing environmental concerns related to lithium extraction and production?

  • Increased ESG awareness and efforts in the industry: Companies are investing in more sustainable mining practices. Related active organisations include Initiative of Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), International Lithium Association (ILiA) which works on Lithium Product Carbon Footprint Guidance.
  • Innovative extraction methods: Innovations such as direct lithium extraction (DLE) and underground mining are being explored to minimise environmental impacts.
  • Recycling and Reuse of byproducts/tailings: There is a growing focus on lithium-ion battery recycling and re-use of various byproducts in the construction industry. Dry stack tailings management is an emerging design practice which mitigates the requirement for a tailings dam and leads to lower water usage.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

I really enjoy leadership and building teams, the best part of my role is to bring together high-performance teams and help to build a culture which brings out the best in each individual.

Travelling and undertaking business in other countries has been another highlight, experiencing different business cultures has allowed me to gain deeper respect for the world and the cultural differences between people of all nations.

Can you share a memorable experience or project you’ve worked on in your career?

I have experienced many memorable moments in my career, something I am very proud of is to have been selected at the inaugural Chair of the London metal Exchange (LME) Lithium Committee. A role I have acted in for over 4.5 years. The Lithium Committee is an advisory body representing the interests and views of stakeholders of the global lithium industry, comprising key participants from across the lithium industry, including representatives from car makers, battery makers, trading companies, investment banks and lithium suppliers.

Who is your biggest inspiration, and why?

Elon Musk is a guy who had a dream and has reshaped the electric mobility global landscape. The traditional car companies said, “No way, you will never be successful”. As the second richest (and most influential) person on the planet, he has proved them all wrong.

What advice do you have for students wanting to have a career in mining/renewables?

Modern-day environmentally and socially responsible mining practices are key to a future green planet, so I encourage students to enter a mentoring program where they can get a taste of what mining companies can offer young graduates. I also strongly encourage students interested in mining to attend a few expos or conferences around town to get a taste of the type of roles that are available. The mining industry provides wonderful careers, and WA has some of the most highly sought-after future-facing mineral commodities, so the future is very bright.

When you are not working, where can we find you?

Relaxing with my family, snorkelling, fishing, and generally engaging with the ocean, camping along the coast or coaching my two young boys at the Whitfords Junior Footy Club.