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Building the green economy Ontario’s critical minerals

May 2, 2023

As nations transition to green economies and governments accelerate the adoption of new technologies and renewable energy, the demand for reliable, sustainable and ethical sources of critical minerals will grow.

    Canada is a hub for critical minerals globally and Ontario’s mining industry leads the way by producing and processing mineral resources used in manufacturing  everything from computer drives, renewable energy technologies, electric vehicle parts, rechargeable batteries, nanotechnology and much more.
    The development and coordination of Canada’s policies and programs on critical minerals is driven by Natural Resources Canada’s Critical Minerals Centre of Excellence (CMCE), in collaboration with industry, provincial, territorial, Indigenous, non-governmental and international partners. The Centre helps to advance critical mineral resources and value chains, which are important for a green and digital economy.
    Ontario, meanwhile, is a main contributor to Canada’s critical minerals strategy. Its diverse geology offers a wealth of possibilities built on a storied geological past. This is reflected in the wide range of mineral deposits that have been and continue to be developed into operating mines that are significant contributors to the provincial economy.
    Ontario promotes social and environmental responsibility, making it attractive for mining companies and investors with a commitment to favourable Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices.
    Still, several First Nations concerned about the increase of critical mining exploration and production have formed an alliance to ensure their interests and rights are met.


Canada’s Place on list of Leading Nations Critical Minerals


    In 2022, Bloomberg News hosted a special one-off Summit on the lithium-ion supply chain and other critical minerals in Bali, Indonesia, ahead of both the Business 20 (B20) and G20 Summits. They ranked 30 leading countries’ lithium-ion battery supply chain performance based on 45 metrics across five key themes.
    The themes include the availability and supply of key raw materials, manufacturing of battery cells and components, local demand for electric vehicles and energy storage, infrastructure, innovation, and industry and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations.
    Based on those measures, Canada ranked third, eighth, tenth, fourth and sixth, and although China leads the ranking in three of the five categories, Canada was 2nd in overall ranking. Canada has large lithium reserves. It has significant lithium in brines associated with oil and gas reservoirs.
    Canada is rich with deposits of all the necessary battery metals. Most resource-rich countries rank low overall because they generally lack domestic battery manufacturing capabilities and EV demand. Below are brief reviews of the various battery metals.
    Canada has large lithium reserves and is home to both brine deposits (in the west) and spodumene hard rock deposits (in Québec and Ontario). It also has significant lithium in brines historically associated with oil and gas reservoirs.

    Canada has been a leading supplier of nickel for many years, producing 6.7% of the world’s nickel in 2020. This amounts to 170ktpa; however, at present, Canada does not process any battery-grade nickel. There are however several pathways from Canada’s sulphide ore deposits to producing battery metals. Currently, Canadian nickel from Vale’s Long Harbour facility in Newfoundland is mined and refined to Class 1 nickel metal and then shipped to Europe for further processing into battery-grade material. Elsewhere, Vale’s Ontario and Manitoba operations produce nickel concentrate that is smelted to matte and refined to Class 1 nickel in Ontario.
    Glencore’s Ontario and Québec operations produce nickel concentrate that is smelted to matte in Ontario and shipped to Europe for refining to Class 1 metal. Sherritt International produces Class 1 nickel in Alberta from imported joint-venture feed materials. However, producing Class 1 metal may not be the most efficient route from mine to battery metals. Sherritt pioneered the use of hydrometallurgy for treating nickel concentrates from Manitoba in the 1950s, and Long Harbour has adopted a different hydrometallurgical route in Newfoundland. Modern hydrometallurgy can be a low-carbon alternative to traditional fossil fuel smelting.
    Canada is home to significant copper production in Québec, Newfoundland, Ontario, and British Columbia. Teck Resources, a homegrown senior Canadian firm with a significant global footprint, supplies Canada’s needs in the near-term from its new Chilean project.
    Canada is well stocked with rare earth elements (REEs), with promising demonstrations for mining, processing, and recycling. In 2022, the Avalon Advanced Materials Nechalacho deposit in the Northwest Territories began production under Australian miners, Cheetah Resources. The project mines material from the Nechalacho deposit and transports it to Saskatchewan for further processing.
    Cobalt is usually a by-product of nickel and copper mining with the notable exception of the silver-cobalt camp in northeast Ontario, and several firms are seeking to expand Canada’s processing capacity to produce the cobalt hydroxide and sulphate needed for the battery metals supply chain.

    Manganese mining and production has not been developed in Canada, but the country is home to the largest deposits in North America and two junior miners, Manganese X and Canadian Manganese, have explored deposits suitable for producing battery metals.

Canadian Minerals and Metals Sector

Natural Resources Canada recently reported that in 2020, the direct contribution of Canada’s minerals and metals sector to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $70bn, which represented 3% of Canada’s total GDP. The indirect effects from the minerals and metals sector added a further $37bn to the GDP, for a total contribution of $107bn.


Battery Metals and Minerals


Battery metals and minerals are big business in Canada and with the energy transition well underway and the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) outpacing even the best predictions, these numbers are expected to rapidly increase further, along with related investments and other opportunities in the industry.


The Battery Metals Association of Canada (BMAC)


Seeing this growth, and recognizing the greater potential for the industry, in January 2022, the Battery Metals Association of Canada (BMAC) took steps to help align the industry and co-ordinate efforts. Starting by hosting a series of interactive stakeholder workshops, followed by conducting leading industry research, this work culminated in the development of the in-depth industry analysis and overview that would become the roadmap for harnessing the maximum value of these resources through each step along the value chain – from extraction, processing, end-use, and recycling of these resources.


Ontario’s Contribution


Ontario is a world-class producer of nickel, gold, copper, zinc and platinum group elements. There are 41 active mining operations in Ontario, most of which are located in Northern Ontario. Of the 41 active mines nine are base metal (nickel, copper, zinc) mines. One is a platinum-palladium mine.
Ontario currently has metal smelters and refineries that process several critical minerals, including nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group elements, uranium, tellurium and selenium.



Tags: Eastern Canada / Green Mining / Battery Metals / All Articles