Canada aspires to become a world power of critical minerals

Bringing the world to net zero emissions by 2050 will require production of critical minerals and metals to grow six-fold over the next 30 years, the International Energy Agency stated in a report earlier this year, finding that the current pace growth is not. not even close.

As electric cars, wind turbines, and solar panels increase in popularity, so does the demand for the minerals that power them. Some are familiar, like nickel, lithium, and cobalt, and others are only known to those who memorized the periodic table in high school, like tellurium, bismuth, and molybdenum.

Canada, having promised that all the electricity it generates and the new cars sold in the country will be zero emissions by 2035, is among the countries driving demand.

As one of the world’s largest producers of raw metals and minerals, Canada also wants to meet that demand as a key link in the rechargeable battery supply chain.

But even as the federal government pushes for a new critical minerals strategy and forges partnerships with allies to develop supply chains that seek to curb China’s dominance in the field, Canada’s position on the world stage is already slipping.

“We are starting to do what we need to do, but a lot of pieces are missing,” said Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada.

A year ago, BloombergNEF listed Canada as the fourth largest player in the world’s lithium-ion battery supply chain, based on an analysis of raw material production, manufacturing and processing, environmental protections, regulatory regimes and demand. internal.

This fall, the second version of that report saw Canada drop to fifth place, losing ground in all categories.

“We have been viewed as a global leader in the past,” Gratton said. “However, we have lost ground.”

Canada’s ranking was downgraded due to raw materials and environmental stewardship, the latter a key point in every sales pitch Canada makes on the world stage.

# Mining of the Future: Canada’s High Hopes to Become a Critical Global Mineral Power. #CDNPoli #CriticalMinerals #NetZero

The problem is that meeting those higher standards comes at a cost, Gratton said. Canada also has to convince buyers that the premium is worth it.

“If you care about the climate and the environment, and if you care about how people are treated, including indigenous people, then shopping in Canada is the right thing to do.”

China is the most important player in the field of battery supply chain, both in raw materials and in value-added production. Many of the alliances Canada is part of with the United States and Europe are designed in large part to gradually reduce China’s dominance.

Canada, second in the world for nickel production in 2008, ranked sixth in 2020. It is also sixth for cobalt and 10th for graphite. Production from all three declined last year.

Those elements, along with lithium and manganese, which Canada could produce but does not currently produce, are the five main components of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars.

More than 70 percent of Canada’s nickel is sold to make stainless steel. The nickel that makes batteries is nickel sulfate. Canada can’t make it, Gratton said, but it needs him to be part of the drum set.

He said it is being debated among nickel producers and has been said to be a potential project for financing Ottawa’s strategic infrastructure.

But Sarah Petrevan, Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, said Canada “needs to have a strategic focus on where we can win.”

“We have limited resources, so you want to make sure you put those limited resources where they can have the most impact.”

Quebec, Petrevan said, has done some of that strategic work of evaluating its own supply chains, trying to match what Quebec is doing with new manufacturing that meets demand. At least two battery production plants are now underway in that province.

Canada, however, has yet to conduct a similar assessment.

Last March, Canada identified the 31 critical minerals it can produce that at least one of its allies wants, but little has been done with that list since.

Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has been giving general clues about a major new investment in the battery chain coming to Canada, although Petrevan said the dispute with the United States over incentives for electric vehicles and trade barriers may be holding that back.

Last spring’s federal budget promised $ 9.6 million over three years for a battery minerals center of excellence within the Department of Natural Resources, but nothing has happened yet. Nearly $ 37 million was also pledged for federal investigation into advancing the processing and refining of critical battery minerals.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is expected to make both a priority early in the new year.

For his part, Gratton said Canada should also encourage higher production overall. Liberals made an electoral promise to double the mineral exploration tax credit and hope to see it in the next budget.

“We not only need to redirect existing production to battery metals, we also need more production,” he said. “And you will only achieve that through a new discovery.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 16, 2021.

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