Ontario, Thunder Bay could be a globally known hub for clean tech metals processing

When John Mason worked as a provincial government geologist on the north shore of Lake Superior, Ontario, Canada, there’s wasn’t much grassroots exploration or talk about lithium. “On and off,” said the mining services project manager with the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC). “Very minimal.”

The Ontario Geological Survey documented plenty of occurrences in the Kenora District and the Georgia Lake area close to Beardmore, where Rock Tech Lithium has a very advanced exploration property, but the market to actually mine the commodity hadn’t materialized, Sudburyminingsolutions.com reports.

“In the 1950s, it was used as a lubricant,” said Mason. “The battery world wasn’t there.”

Today, lithium, graphite, magnesium, cobalt, aluminum and rare earth elements are among the integral components in the clean tech and digital economy, used for lithium-ion batteries in the automotive sector and various applications in aerospace, defence, clean energy and electronics.

Two up-and-coming lithium mining companies in the northwest are working together to propose a lithium processing plant for Thunder Bay. The two junior miners signed a letter of intent earlier this month.

Mason and his colleagues at the Thunder Bay CEDC staff are assisting Advanced Avalon Materials, and Rock Tech Lithium is helping them get situated in the city.

The development basically amounts to a chemical plant. Lithium concentrate from Avalon’s Separation Rapids deposit, north of Kenora, and Rock Tech’s Georgia Lake project, near Beardmore, would be shipped to Thunder Bay for upgrading into battery-grade material – lithium sulphate – used by electric vehicle manufacturers. It would be the first processor of its kind in North America.

The companies would need a 25- to 30-acre brownfield parcel of land with railway and Seaway access, natural gas hookup, and a power supply of 10 megawatts; not a problem at all, according to Mason.

The plant would create 400 to 500 construction jobs and employ 85 to 100.

“You’re looking at a two- to four-year window before they’re ready to go (on construction),” said Mason.

But the project timelines are good, said Mason, since there’s an abundance of lithium supply on the global market right now.

“I think that’s going to simmer down over the next few years. Two to three years out is probably a good thing in producing for the market.”

There are plenty of new and growing projects on every continent, from brine production in South America to hard rock mining in Western Australia. Tesla’s Elon Musk secured his own ethical supply in October in a mining deal with Piedmont Lithium in North Carolina.

Mason expects to see the same trend happen in the northwest.

“We can compete. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of that.”

When Mason factors in other leading properties like Frontier Lithium’s PAK, north of Red Lake, and Ardiden’s Seymour Lake project, at the top end of Lake Nipigon, he estimates there’s probably about 40 million tonnes of the resource in the ground with promising grades over 1 per cent lithium oxide.

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