Lithium mines: green light for another big project

Lithium mines: green light for another big project

Critical Elements Lithium Corporation has just received its certificate of authorization from the Quebec Ministry of the Environment and is seeking $480 million to start its mining project in James Bay.

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Jean-Sebastien Lavallée

Photo courtesy of Critical Elements Lithium Corporation

The Montreal-based company had obtained its certification from the federal government in 2021. Now it has to obtain the mining lease and the land use lease, which is considered a formality. For the financing, the company is discussing with several potential partners.

“You can imagine that we have discussions with the various government actors,” replies the CEO, Jean-Sébastien Lavallée.

“We work with all financial players, it can be a combination of government agencies, a financial institution and strategic players in the industry. »

Among these strategic players in the industry, we could consider automobile manufacturers, manufacturers of lithium batteries, cathodes or anodes, in particular.

The mine’s production, estimated at 4,600 tons of ore per day for 17 years of extraction, has not yet been reserved for any company.

“Production remains available to be able to negotiate the best financing conditions for the project”, specifies Mr. Lavallée, who has been working on this project since the discovery of the deposit in 2009.

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Québec shareholders

Like most of the other members of the Management Committee, he is one of the shareholders of Critical Elements Lithium Corporation, a company of which approximately 30% has interests in Quebec. Partners in Germany, Ontario and Japan are linked to the operations and governance of the company.

“Lithium is new to us in Quebec, so seeking key expertise is essential,” says Mr. Lavallée. It is also a global market and this must be taken into account. But we want to keep the Quebec partnership and have North American or European partners. »

“Having been involved with the project since its discovery, I am proud to be part of such a strong team to develop and maintain it in Quebec,” adds Mr. Lavallée, a geologist by training.

The Rose Lithium-Tantalum project is much smaller than the Nemaska ​​project at Whabouchi and Sayona Quebec at La Corne in Abitibi, which have expected operating lives of 33 and 27 years respectively. However, it is arousing a lot of interest due to the very high demand for this mineral used in the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. It is predicted that by 2035, 70% of the vehicles on the planet will be electric. From $400 a ton four years ago, the value of lithium has risen 12 times to $5,000.

A cautious approach

Critical Elements expects to break ground on its mine site and primary processing plant in June 2023, with production to begin in 2025.

At the moment, the company is not considering embarking on a secondary processing plant.

“Building a mine, a concentrator and a processing plant at the same time would require very large investments, great financial risks and great execution risk. We want to start with the mine. For the rest, it will depend on the partner interested in the production”, says Mr. Lavallée, cautious.

Quebec, Canadian Champion

On a Canadian scale, Quebec occupies the first position in the development of lithium mines: six of the ten largest projects in the country are in Quebec territory.

The reserves of these six projects add up to 1.6 million tons of ore. According to the Quebec Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, this corresponds to a large part of the reserves at the Canadian level and around 7% of the world reserves.

The main players in this market are currently in Australia and South America, but Quebec would represent a strategically interesting location on the world stage.

“We are one of the best places in the world for our clean and renewable energy. Having hydroelectricity is a huge advantage,” Investissement Québec CEO Guy LeBlanc said in an interview.

“Political stability and the entire social side are also important, because we work a lot with indigenous communities. Car manufacturers want to ensure that battery material meets social and ethical standards. It puts Quebec at the top of the scale,” adds Jean-Sébastien Lavallée, CEO of Critical Elements Lithium Corporation, about the regulatory framework.

over a hundred in all

Of the 103 lithium projects under exploration in Quebec, five are in the development stage and another is a mine under maintenance that should be relaunched in spring 2023 at La Corne in Abitibi, by Sayona Quebec. If all goes as desired, the company could operate the only lithium concentrator in North America and possibly carry out secondary processing.

This is also the wish of Nemaska ​​​​Lithium, which hopes to start construction of such a plant in Bécancour at the beginning of 2023, to produce in 2025. Investissement Québec owns half of the shares of this company, the rest being owned by from Livent, a supplier to Tesla and BMW. Nemaska ​​is also completing the feasibility study for its mining project at Whabouchi, 300 km from James Bay. Its two projects total $1.5 billion in investments.

The other advanced projects are those of Critical Elements and Allkem in James Bay. Sayona is also studying the feasibility of a mine near Val-d’Or (Authier) and another northwest of Chibougamau (Moblan).

– With Francis Halin

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