Port of Townsville, already Northern Australia’s largest container and automotive port, has forecast that trade is set to triple by 2050 as new projects in mining and renewables come online.

The Queensland-based port also expects to welcome larger cargo and cruise ships from late 2024, following the completion of a channel widening project, which will allow vessels up to 300 metres long to access the port.

The AUD251m ($160m) channel upgrade project is part of a broader $1.6bn, 30-year expansion plan for the Port of Townsville.

P&O’s 2,600-berth Pacific Encounter (built 2002) and the 1,950-berth Pacific Explorer (built 1997) are the first major cruise liners scheduled to call at Townsville following the upgrade project.

Port of Townsville chief executive Ranee Crosby said the latest developments marked the “biggest port expansion in its 160-year history”.

“There are huge opportunities at the port moving forward in both critical minerals and hydrogen which will support good jobs in Townsville into the future,” said a local government official.

Queensland’s acting premier Steven Miles said the Port of Townsville is the link between Queensland’s rich North West Minerals Province (NWMP) and the world.

“North Queensland’s growth potential is picking up at an enormous pace as new projects in rare earth, critical minerals, renewable energy and tourism come to realisation because of the strong investment by this government,” he said.

The NWMP, which covers some 375,000 square km of North West Queensland contains one of the world’s richest deposits of critical minerals worth an estimated AUD 500bn.

Critical minerals are described as the “essential components” for the production of emerging technologies such as electric vehicles, renewable energy products and storage and low-emission power sources.

Under a deal agreed two years ago, Port of Townsville aims to be exporting green hydrogen on tankers by the middle of this decade.

The port has been described as a “world-class location” for renewable hydrogen production, with significant export potential close to Asian markets.

In the last financial year, Port of Townsville reported an operating result of AUD 17.5m in 2021-22, up over 22% from AUD14.3m the previous year.

However, overall trade of 7.23m tonnes remained lower than pre-pandemic levels in the face of ongoing supply chain disruptions and commodity market changes.