Aerial view of Rio Tinto mine at Lac Tio
Critical minerals investments made through the SIF so far include $27 million to Calgary-based E3 Lithium Ltd. and $222 million to Rio Tinto Fer et Titane in Sorel-Tracy, Que. Photo: Rio Tinto

Last fall, the government said it would use $1.5 billion from the Strategic Innovation Fund to accelerate investment in critical minerals projects. Last week, it unveiled its criteria for eligibility

The federal government has revealed what types of projects are eligible for the $1.5 billion from the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) earmarked in the 2022 federal budget to accelerate investments in critical minerals projects.

To qualify, projects must focus on critical minerals processing, manufacturing, and recycling. The government says it will also consider mining projects that exhibit “exceptional innovation benefits and strong vertical integration” to grow domestic value chains.

“Critical minerals are a generational economic opportunity for Canada,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of natural resources, in a press release last week announcing the criteria. “Through SIF, Canada is making smart, targeted investments in the most promising projects, helping to ensure we are the global supplier of choice for critical minerals and the technologies they enable.”

Sustainable economy

Publication of the criteria is an important step in the government’s implementation of its Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy, unveiled last December.

According to the release, to be eligible for SIF funding, projects must be related to the development of Canada’s 31 critical minerals, with priority given to six key minerals: copper, nickel, lithium, graphite, cobalt, and rare earth elements (REE).

The government says its selection process will focus on ensuring that the chosen projects contribute to a more sustainable and competitive Canadian economy.

As such, priority will be given to projects that concentrate on areas such as clean technologies, renewable energy sources, information and communications technology, and inputs to advanced manufacturing.

Additionally, advanced-stage projects capable of demonstrating significant financial and technical readiness will receive special consideration.

Qualified projects so far

Canada unveiled its $3.8-billion critical minerals strategy last December to help advance domestic production of critical resources that are integral to developing a more competitive, lower-carbon, digital economy.

Its coordination is led by the Critical Minerals Centre of Excellence at Natural Resources Canada. Federal departments and agencies, provincial and territorial partners, Indigenous communities, industry stakeholders, and others are all involved in the implementation.

“Canada has everything it takes to be a leading force in critical minerals processing, manufacturing and recycling,” said François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry, in the same release.

“We already have a growing assortment of key innovative projects that are being developed right here in Canada that will allow us to build a stronger domestic critical minerals ecosystem.”

Investments made through the SIF so far include $27 million to Calgary-based E3 Lithium Ltd. and $222 million to Rio Tinto Fer et Titane in Sorel-Tracy, Que. Those funds were to enable E3 Lithium to build a demonstration plant specializing in lithium production and Rio Tinto Fer et Titane to produce critical minerals, such as titanium and scandium, using innovative smelting technology to decarbonize operations.

“Through strategic investments, our government is ensuring that Canada can be a leader in this growing global industry, which will create well-paying jobs across the country, especially in rural, remote and Indigenous communities,” added Champagne.