Canadian critical minerals leaders reveal priorities for supply chain ecosystem
Share Article
Read More
Feb 16, 2024
Mehanaz Yakub

At Electric Autonomy’s EV Innovation & Technology Conference, critical minerals sector leaders discussed key steps each is taking to develop Canada’s EV and battery supply chain ecosystem

A panel session entitled, “New Materials Supply: Critical Minerals Sourcing Integration” at Electric Autonomy’s EV Innovation & Technology Conference. Photo: Electric Autonomy

At Electric Autonomy‘s EV Innovation & Technology Conference, critical minerals sector leaders discussed key steps each is taking to develop Canada’s EV and battery supply chain ecosystem

Canada’s transition towards an electrified future hinges on converting the potential of the upstream portion of the electric vehicle and battery supply chain into a successful and productive real-world ecosystem.

This process involves not just securing new supplies of the raw materials and critical minerals needed to manufacture automotive batteries, but also refining them and establishing robust downstream partnerships to provide financing and sales.

While hurdles remain, the good news is that Canada is well-suited for developing mining projects, says Eric Desaulniers, CEO of Quebec-based Nouveau Monde Graphite.

Desaulniers made his remarks during a panel session entitled, “New Materials Supply: Critical Minerals Sourcing Integration” at Electric Autonomy’s EV Innovation & Technology Conference.

He was joined by others in project development and materials processing, First Nations representation and sector analysis who discussed what the Canadian EV ecosystem has going for and against it in the race to supply the gigafactories now planned and under construction in the country.

Advantages and challenges

In the category of what Canada has going in its favour: natural resources and expertise in identifying critical mineral deposits; infrastructure for mining and refining minerals using hydroelectricity; government support, workforce and research institutions backing the sector; and customers in North America.

“We have four very important ingredients to make a great project on paper, but what we need…is a healthy capital market for critical metals,” says Desaulniers, whose company owns two graphite deposits (one nearing full-scale construction), plans to build processing plants to refine the output, and just announced its first customers for that product.

It was an opinion echoed by other panelists.

“We’ve seen a lot of money — especially government money — flowing to the downstream…But we haven’t seen as much money in the upstream,” says Johnna Muinonen, president of Dumont Nickel, a large nickel project in development in Quebec.

Muinonen says it is a challenge for mining to integrate into the automotive supply chain.

“It’s not just new mines, it’s [developing] new processing…new pathways for the products of the mine to get into products in the car. How do we think about integrating ourselves into a supply chain that potentially needs less volatility than what we’ve historically looked at on the mining side?”

Simon Thibault, EV critical materials leader at General Motors, works closely with Ultium CAM, the joint venture between GM and Posco of South Korea that will produce cathode active materials at a plant in Bécancour, Que. He added that Canada needs conversion capacity to turn raw materials into chemicals.

“The EV industry is a chemical business,” says Thibault, and it is only when companies transform the raw material into a chemical solution that it makes it useful for an EV.

“Those connecting enablers are, in my opinion, what’s really missing.”

Indigenous engagement, participation essential

First Nation and Indigenous participation must be an early and central point of discussion regarding the supply chain and development of critical minerals, agreed all the panelists.

“Indigenous consent is…part of the formula to make a project successful,” says Saga Williams, senior advisor for external relations at First Nations Major Projects Coalition, which works with and represents an array of First Nations currently engaged in critical minerals development projects across Canada.

Beyond conventional impact benefit agreements, there is “a largely untapped opportunity” to integrate Indigenous peoples into the supply chain, establish partnerships and foster collaboration, says Williams.

“It’s really not necessarily about bringing people along in this conversation, it’s talking about concrete steps to involve First Nations partnerships and starting to implement agreements and starting to build the capacity of First Nations to take up this sector,” pointed out Williams.

“Those are the conversations that are happening now, and those are the opportunities that we’re looking to identify and working with our member community.”

Alla Kolesnikova, head of data and analytics at Adamas Intelligence, a research and consulting firm that tracks the industry, emphasized that all projects should benefit everyone in communities and the country, and that an understanding of the need for and nature of consent is fundamental.

“We will also need to find a way to grow together and acknowledge that ‘no’ is also an answer. Not each and every project needs to go through,” says Kolesnikova.

New partnerships, long-term commitments

Kolesnikova also noted how the changing dynamics of the mining industry are creating a need for new partnerships.

“Generally…people who were not talking before, are talking together now. So we have downstream and upstream talking to each other about potential investing and looking for opportunities,” says Kolesnikova.

Beyond those different conversations, Desaulniers highlighted a transformative dynamic that mining is having with its customer relationships.

“Our customers need to understand that we’re building a generational project,” says Desaulniers, emphasizing the importance of customer commitment to long-term project specifications from mine construction to production and funding and even accumulating debt.

Desaulniers added that he recognizes the allure customers may have with going with competitors, for instance in China where the mineral products are already available and cheaper.

However, he underscored the strategic imperative of supporting Canadian suppliers.

“[Customers have to] understand what’s the strategy and what’s the fundamentals to build a full supply chain,” says Desaulniers, noting that he is seeing positive commitments from customers to support long-term projects.

“It is happening.”

View Comments
You May Also Like