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Jose Edwards
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Developing A Canadian Battery Metals Supply Cha...

In identifying the key steps needed to move the Canadian battery metal sector forward, the report suggested that Canada emphasize R&D and financial incentives, and prioritize certain segments of the supply chain to build the chain in a phased approach.

Developing a Canadian battery metals supply cha...

While Canada has the opportunity to be a leader in the battery metals market, BMAC notes that it faces a number of challenges, including stiff competition from other advanced markets. According to the report, to successfully build a new supply chain, Canada will need to develop a national battery metals industrial framework that recognizes the specified challenges and includes initiatives to address them. According to BMAC, Canada has a tremendous opportunity; if it can implement a successful framework, it has the opportunity to be a key supplier of battery minerals and provide each region of the country with some portion of the supply chain.

As the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) accelerates, the need to secure a battery metal supply chain is essential. Canada should secure its place as a global supplier of battery metals, as it has the necessary resources and infrastructure to produce metals vital to EV batteries.

To achieve this, the country must facilitate collaborative partnerships between mining companies, mining suppliers, manufacturers, recyclers, and end-users. The battery metals ecosystem in Canada must champion flexibility and adaptability, ensuring that all sectors are involved. Canada has all the necessary components needed to develop a global battery metals supply chain, and with further collaboration between various fields, the country will secure its place as a key global supplier.

One significant constraint is the size of the deposits. Many ore deposits for battery metals are too small or too low grade to justify the sizeable investment needed to develop a deposit into a mine, resulting in a major obstacle to the growth of the upstream part of the supply chain. A related constraint is location. Mine development needs expensive infrastructure such as roads, water, and power for mine operations that are not always available in remote areas, especially because deposits are widely dispersed across the country. In addition to the high capital cost of developing a small ore deposit, there is considerable risk and uncertainty commensurate with geological targets of any size.

Once the ore is mined and processed into a concentrate, it needs to be further processed or refined into battery-grade materials. However, the lack of refining and chemical processing capacity in Canada often results in the export of concentrates to locations where such facilities exist. Canada urgently needs domestic refining for copper, lithium, nickel, and graphite. Supply agreements, such as those recently arranged with Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz can promote the development of this downstream end of the supply chain.

These constraints always arise in discussions about the future of battery metals in Canada and have historically resulted in an impasse. This suggests that the current mining and mineral processing paradigm, and the associated organisational structure of the mining industry itself, should be examined carefully and perhaps modified to apply to battery metal supply. What might such an evolution look like?

For example, tailings produced by mining operations often contain significant amounts of metal due to incomplete mineral recovery, especially in the case of older operations. Wastewater from mining or other industrial operations can also contain metals of interest. Steelmaking slag is another potential source of battery metals, such as manganese and phosphorous. Lithium ions are present in the brines of old oil and gas reservoirs and can be extracted using a variety of highly selective methods that leverage existing infrastructure.

Lithium-ion batteries are an obvious alternative source of lithium, nickel, and cobalt. Recycling of spent batteries begins with mechanical processes that reduce the size of the batteries and isolate the parts containing the metals of interest. The resulting product is then sent to a facility where hydrometallurgical processing produces lithium, cobalt, and nickel chemicals required for batteries. Electronic waste also contains battery metals and similar mechanical, and hydro- or bio-metallurgical processes can be used to extract the metals of interest.

A problem with these alternative sources is that they are widely dispersed and require processing near their location of disposal to produce a high-value product that is worth transporting to a processing plant to produce metals or battery-grade materials. Batteries are a particular challenge because they are considered a dangerous good and subject to restrictions on their transportation across provincial borders. However, the barriers can be overcome using different technologies and different organisational models.

Discussion about any aspect of the mineral resources industry must assume that methods of metal extraction and processing, as well as the amount and kinds of metals used in manufacturing, will change due to advancing technology. New technologies can improve efficiency and make it feasible to obtain battery metals from a variety of sources. What is more interesting is how they can make new organisational models possible.

There are well-established physical, chemical, and biological methods for the separation of minerals in the ore and for the extraction of metals from these minerals. Minerals containing battery metals have physical properties, such as density, colour, and electrical conductivity, that can be measured and used to distinguish and separate them from other minerals in crushed ore. The result of the separation processes is a mineral concentrate. The selectivity and low cost of some methods of metal separation and extraction could enable the extraction of battery metals from a number of alternative sources, including waste materials.

What kind of company would invest in the available technologies to extract minerals from relatively small mines or produce battery metals and materials from alternative sources? Can these technologies be effective and efficient using the current mining industry business paradigm? There are several barriers as described above and different kinds of organisational and business models are needed to break the impasse.

Large resource companies could seize the opportunities provided by a network and the servitisation organisational model of battery metal supply, but it is equally likely that entrepreneurs could form new businesses or partnerships to fill the gaps. The resulting disruption will have many benefits for the battery metal industry in Canada.

Government policies are needed to encourage the formation and development of battery metal supply networks. But research and education in mineral resources are equally, if not more, important to these networks. Mineral resources is a very broad, multi-faceted topic that includes many fields, such as science and engineering, economics, finance, public policy, law, and community relations.

Research is needed to advance the development of networks and technologies for efficient, low footprint extraction, and processing of metals. Education at all levels is needed to increase awareness and reveal opportunities for more public and industry engagement in battery metal supply. Canada has all the components to do these things, but some purposeful assembly is required if it wants to be a global participant in battery metal supply and a supplier of choice.

Based on a virtual workshop held in late March that brought together leaders from all segments of the battery metals supply chain, the report examines current and potential markets in mining, chemical production, battery components, battery cell manufacturing, end-use applications, and recycling. It also presents views from workshop participants on the barriers to growing each segment of the supply chain, along with potential solution pathways to overcome these barriers.

Demand for production from all segments of the supply chain is expected to grow exponentially, according to the World Economic Forum. Raw material demand for critical metals is expected to grow by a factor of 6-24 by 2030 depending on the metal. Demand for refining and processing is expected to grow 14-fold in the same period. The battery components market is expected to expand 15- fold, with cell production growing 19-fold. Recycling capacities will increase by a factor of more than 25.

The country is already a leader in refined nickel production and is working to increase its capacity for cobalt, graphite, lithium, and other rare earth element processing with plants in the planning stage. These facilities will be able to directly supply cathode and anode manufacturers as the next value-added stage of the battery supply chain.

Building on this technology base across the supply chain is going to require lots of expertise, says Jim Parsons, VP of Business Development for Spartan Controls, a sponsor of the BMAC workshop and report. Spartan has a long history as a supplier of technology solutions to the oil and gas industry. Parsons says it can play a similar role in helping move the battery metals sector forward.

Caralyn Bennett, executive vice-president and chief strategy officer of GLJ Ltd., shares this perspective. GLJ Ltd. provides a variety of technical information and consulting services to help the oil and gas and mining sectors identify and evaluate opportunities, improve business strategies, and attract sustained investment. Bennett says GLJ plans on working with the battery metals sector to speed its development and ensure it competitiveness.

BMAC will build upon workshop results to help amplify and connect voices across the Canadian supply chain and to advance a vision for the battery metals industry, from mining to end use and recycling.

The Battery Metals Association of Canada (BMAC) is a trade organization of entrepreneurs, explorers, developers and producers of battery metals and materials, who have joined together to support a rapidly changing energy landscape. 041b061a72




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