When a Japan-bound ship carrying coal from Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal set sail from Queensland in August, it cemented a new era in global bulk commodity logistics and trade. 

Leveraging Australia’s competitive advantage as the home to myriad world-first blockchain applications, the shipment was proof blockchain-enabled, end-to-end trade for bulk commodity logistics and trade settlement was nearing commercial reality. 

The ship was the fourth and final vessel in a pioneering proof of concept for blockchain platform CommChain, which digitises traditional paper-based systems for logistics and trade settlement, and was conducted through logistics firm TransCoal in collaboration with several parties along the supply chain, including Jellinbah Group and Stanmore Coal. 

An accurate, indisputable, cryptographically secure method of digitising the flow of data, the implementation of blockchain technology is expected to simplify complex supply chains across a variety of sectors, forming a logical approach to digital ledger technology (DLT). 

DLT is a database that exists across several locations or among multiple participants, eliminating the need for a central authority to process, validate or authenticate transactions, while blockchain is one way of achieving this. 

Benefits of blockchain include fewer paper exchanges, faster transactions, the removal of human error and comprehensive end-to-end tracking of ores and minerals with real-time updates between all stakeholders connected to the broader value chain. 

CommChain Executive Chairman Gary Zamel said the company’s vision was to create a step-change in the bulk commodity industry. He said its platform would transform the way bulk commodity trades were processed which, despite transporting billions of dollars’ worth of exports, still relied on outdated systems. 

“This proof of concept has illustrated that blockchain-based processes are commercially viable and bringing enormous benefits to industry in the form of savings of both cost and time, as well as security and provenance,” he said. 

CommChain Co-Founder and Director Faith Dempsey said the aim of the experiment was to enhance efficiency and liquidity for companies in order to optimise asset utilisation through the supply chain, and facilitate faster payments. 

“An immediate benefit to the coal industry is the elimination of the liquidity ‘air-gap’ for those sales agreements which rely on paper-based shipping documents being delivered to the buyer to commence the payment process,” she said. 

“In addition, the risk of losing or delaying document delivery via couriers is eliminated. These efficiencies can also be applied to the buyer’s business and their end users if blockchain technology is used.” 

Further up the supply chain, blockchain technology has begun to infiltrate the workings of miners. 

The diamond sector was among the first to take up the technology, using it to track diamonds from the moment they are mined to when they are put on display at a retailer. 

London-based company Everledger, for instance, has placed more than 1.6 million diamonds on a blockchain system, digitally recording the colour, carat and certificate number of each stone and replacing a paper certification process. 

Earlier this year blockchain information technology company Security Matters announced it was working with The Perth Mint to develop bespoke tracing technology to protect the institution’s gold by marking and tracking the commodity from ore processing to final product. 

Among the world’s top blockchain research organisations, CSIRO’s Data61 has authored five of the 30 most globally cited research papers on the subject. 

Blockchain 2030: A look at the future of Blockchain in Australia outlines Australia’s competitive advantage, including that it is already home to a number of world-first blockchain applications, as well as industry-specific trials in energy, agriculture and the public sector. 

ACS President Yohan Ramasundara said investment in blockchain was growing. 

“Right now there are 14 job positions for every blockchain developer,” he said. 

“While current activity is largely concentrated in financial and insurance services, there are many potential applications across the gamut of Australia’s industries.” 

Additional uses in the mining sector include accurate visibility of ore inventory at ports, processing and securing significant amounts of internet-of-things data, the automatic execution of contracts and carrying out tamper- proof joint-venture settlements. 

Lead Author of the Data61 report Dr Alexandra Bratanova said blockchain could continue to open up new opportunities in the mining sector, though she cautioned the technology would need its champions. 

“I do think it is very promising and has got huge potential to change the way we operate,” she said. 

“However, we are likely heading towards what is sometimes called the ‘trough of disillusionment’, where industry adoption begins to slow down. 

“That said, it has been over a decade since blockchain was first introduced, and distributed ledger technology is far from dead.” 

Ms Dempsey called on the resources sector to continue to live up to its reputation for innovation and explore the opportunities afforded by blockchain. 

“Let the Australian resources industry be a leader in this field, not a follower,” she said