Freighters have been transferring coal, iron and different uncooked supplies throughout the Great Lakes for hundreds of years, however because the battery provide chain takes root, Trevor Walker envisions a brand new form of cargo crisscrossing the continent’s storied inland transport lanes.
In 5 years’ time, the president of Frontier Lithium Inc. goals to be transport Ontario lithium, processed on the northwestern shore of Lake Superior, to the economic heartlands of Canada and the United States.
“The game plan is to produce enough chemicals to support roughly half a million electric vehicles a year,” Walker advised Automotive News Canada on the BEV In-Depth: Mines to Mobility convention, held May 31 to June 1 in Sudbury, Ont.
The mining firm is creating two adjoining lithium deposits about 100 kilometres north of Red Lake, a longtime gold-mining area about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont. Frontier seems to be to supply spodumene focus on-site earlier than transport the lithium-rich ore to the shores of Lake Superior, the place it can course of it into battery-grade lithium hydroxide.
“What’s critical is we have the anchor resource and the critical mass to support a plant,” Walker mentioned, pointing to the high-grade deposits Frontier is creating and the chance to broaden into elements of its property the place exploration continues to be beneath means.
GOOD TIMING FOR MINING
Capital has been arduous to return by within the mining sector for greater than a decade, Walker mentioned, however the battery-materials growth and demand from cell producers in Canada and the United States imply Frontier is coming to market on the proper time.
“The province and OEMs would love to see [lithium] chemicals from Ontario in 2027, worst case [in] 2028,” he mentioned. “That’s really the trajectory we’re working toward.”
Sudbury-based Frontier is in energetic discussions with automakers in addition to battery-cell and supplies corporations as it really works by means of the early allowing course of at its mine. The firm has had notably encouraging engagement with international corporations constructing crops in Ontario, Walker mentioned.
The hope is to maintain the provision chain quick, he mentioned, supporting downstream corporations energetic throughout the province and maintaining the wealth “as close to home as possible.”
Frontier hit its newest milestone May 31, releasing a pre-feasibility examine for its mine and processing plant, that are anticipated to be energetic for twenty-four years. The report expects the preliminary part of that undertaking will value $608 million to construct, with future enlargement bringing complete capital prices to just about $1.5 billion.
Along with financing, obstacles nonetheless stand within the firm’s path, together with allowing and accessibility. But Walker is pushing to have the mine and processing plant feeding North America’s rising demand for lithium no later than 2028.
Infrastructure is much less of an impediment for Frontier than at many potential mines in northern Ontario, nevertheless it stays a problem. Electrical infrastructure is a mere 4 kilometres away from the positioning, due to the $1.8-billion Wataynikaneyap Power undertaking at present beneath building. For materials shipments, an all-season street extends to simply north of Red Lake, and Walker has begun leaning on the province to increase the route the required 100 kilometres to hyperlink up with the proposed mine.
PILOT PROCESSING PLANT
As Frontier advances work within the discipline, it’s also fine-tuning plans for a lithium-hydroxide plant that may course of the mined materials right into a battery-grade product. It plans to open a demonstration-scale plant on the outskirts of Sudbury subsequent 12 months.
The pilot website shall be about one-five-hundredth the scale of its deliberate commercial-scale lithium-hydroxide plant, Walker mentioned. Proving out the method is “not a requirement,” as the corporate is counting on well-established manufacturing strategies, he mentioned. But Frontier desires to start coaching workers in a real-world atmosphere and make sure that no technological surprises come up.
“Ontario has never produced lithium chemicals, so we’ve got to get this right,” Walker mentioned.
While Frontier’s demo plant is booked for Nairn Centre, west of Sudbury, the corporate’s commercial-scale lithium processing plant shall be on the northwestern finish of Lake Superior. A website has not been chosen, Walker mentioned, however the firm is contemplating choices as far south as Duluth, Minn. Within Canada, Thunder Bay is “very high on the list for candidates,” he mentioned, being a port metropolis with a pulp and paper historical past. That means entry to a pool of employees with some transferable chemical-plant expertise.