Lithium: An additional card in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue mining game

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources estimates that lithium use in batteries is expected to account for 85% of consumption around 2025-2030. (Photo: 123RF)

MINING INDUSTRY. If the yellow metal continues to be popular in Quebec, lithium is also turning heads. Dubbed “white gold,” this essential part of the energy transition could also be an opportunity for economic diversification for a resource-rich region like Abitibi-Témiscamingue, suggests geologist Michel Jébrak.

Do you manufacture electric battery components in Quebec in the medium term? “On peut être certains d’avoir une filière lithium d’ici deux ou trois ans”, avance ce professeur émérite du Département des sciences de la Terre et de l’atmosphère de UQAM, here at publié automaton dernier l ‘ wise Lithium’s goal: successful energy transition (MultiMondes editions).

In the white gold rush, the market was until recently controlled by a small circle: China, Australia and South America, more precisely the triangle Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. But the pandemic, the shortages, the awareness of the fragility of the supply chains and the acceleration of electrification is changing the game.

Strategic withdrawal in the internal market

“People are approaching their territory; there is a significant decline in international trade ”, perceives Michel Jébrak, who compares the will to get out of China’s quasi-monopolistic situation to that observed at the beginning of the pandemic with regard to masks or basic drugs.

“The geopolitical issues [du lithium] they were very strong four or five years ago. They are getting smaller, analyzes the associate professor also at the University of Quebec at Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The Europeans found that they no longer produced aspirin. Similarly, we realized that all lithium was processed in China. According to him, “we have reached the extremes of globalization”, considering that “we are currently deglobalizing with a vengeance”.

For the director general of the Association de l’Exploration Minière du Québec, Valérie Fillion, if Quebec wants its battery sector development strategy to be successful, in addition to investing in companies that have businesses in Quebec, efforts to uncover new deposits must be accelerated.

“Lithium projects are interesting, it remains to be highlighted, he says. Do we want to be able to transform them here and develop our integrated sector into critical and strategic minerals? If so, get to work! Other jurisdictions are rolling, it’s not won! It refers to the complementary potential of other materials listed in Quebec, in particular graphite, in Saint-Michel-des-Saints.

Economic diversification in Abitibi

The new materials represent an “extraordinary opportunity” for Quebec, adds Michel Jébrak, who underlines in this sense the continuous commitment of governments in recent years, all alliances put together.

It is also an opportunity for Abitibi-Témiscamingue to exploit the added value of mining. “The ideal for Abitibi is to make the equivalent of the Horne foundry for lithium, in order to be able to offer the first transformations directly on site”, he anticipates, arguing that even while the electrochemical plants are currently settling on the banks of the San Lorenzo River – in particular in Bécancour, which wants to create an innovation zone in the energy transition, Abitibi enjoys a significant comparative advantage.

“Rouyn-Noranda produces sulfuric acid, the raw material for chemical processing,” he recalls. We could very well develop Abitibi in a more industrial way by exploiting this source. He believes “all the elements are in place” to develop and produce Quebec electric batteries. “The habitats will be one of the essential elements”, concludes the geologist.

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A look at Québec’s lithium mining and processing projects

Sayona Quebec

The Abitibi pole is organized around the North American lithium mine, located in La Corne and acquired together with the American Piemonte Litio. The concentrator is expected to return to service in early 2023 and is expected to process the mineral from the properties Authier Lithium (in La Motte) and Tansim (in Témiscamingue). However, the mining company faces opposition, particularly from the Esker committee, in La Motte, and from the Aboriginal community of Long Point First Nation (Winneway), in Témiscamingue.

Sayona also acquired the Moblan and Lac-Albert projects, in James Bay, in September 2021.

Nemaska ​​Lithium

Construction of a mineral processing plant in Bécancour, in the Center-du-Québec region, is expected to begin by the end of the year. They want to transform ore from the Whabouchi mine in James Bay into lithium hydroxide.

Last March, two cathode manufacturers also announced plans to establish themselves in Bécancour. According to Joëlle Noreau, senior economist at Desjardins, German chemical giant BASF “aims to build a cathode material and battery recycling plant” and “General Motors will come to build a cathode plant in the same region.”

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