Canada’s lithium sector is finally showing some real life after nearly a decade exhibiting only faint signs of it.
On Aug. 2, North American Lithium’s mine near Val-d’Or, Que., sold its first shipment of lithium-rich spodumene concentrate, adding its name to an exceedingly short list of producers of the battery metal in North America.
A host of other lithium projects being developed across Canada are poised to follow, indicating that despite a slow start, Canada won’t miss out on its opportunity to become a major supplier of the material powering the electric-vehicle revolution. The momentum, led by miners in Quebec, should buoy Canada’s wider battery ecosystem as well as add a degree of confidence that recent efforts to keep the North American auto industry self-sufficient through the EV transition won’t whither for lack of materials.
As the North American Lithium project — co-owned by Sayona Mining Ltd. of Australia and Piedmont Lithium in the United States — continues to ramp up production, earlier-stage companies are finding assistance getting shovels in the ground.
Vancouver-based Patriot Battery Metals Inc., which is developing a lithium deposit in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region of northern Quebec, on July 31 landed a $109 million investment from the U.S. chemical company Albemarle Corp. Patriot plans to use the funds to accelerate development of the site, which it says could be in production by 2028.
For years, development capital has been hard to come by for aspiring lithium miners in Canada. But Albemarle’s commitment to Patriot is the latest indication that the investment climate is finally improving.
Nemaska Lithium Inc., a Quebec company co-owned by Investissement Québec (IQ) and U.S. chemical company Livent Corp., is also poised to reel in significant scale-up funding. On June 14, IQ pledged $250 million to Nemaska, with that money being combined with unspecified “contributions” from Livent to help bring Nemaska’s lithium mine and processing plant online by 2025 and 2026, respectively.
UPTICK ELSEWHERE, TOO
The uptick in activity isn’t limited to Quebec.
On June 19, Avalon Advanced Materials Inc., which is developing a mine north of Kenora, Ont., firmed up a $63 million investment with the Belgium-based miner and material processor SCR Sibelco NV. According to its most recent road map, Toronto-based Avalon aims to have the lithium mine operating as early as 2026 and a companion processing plant running by late 2027.
As of this spring, Natural Resources Canada said 17 conventional lithium mining projects were being developed in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, nine of which were at an advanced stage.
Farther west, unconventional mining companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan — without actual mines — are making progress on four lithium projects. One by E3 Lithium Ltd., based in Alberta, is now at an advanced stage.
E3 is scheduled to open a field pilot plant in August that will test the company’s technology for extracting the mineral from large stores of lithium-rich brine water trapped underground in central Alberta. If it performs as expected, E3 will be on track for commercial lithium production in 2026, joining the ranks of other Canadian mining companies working toward similar targets.
While it has been slow to materialize, Canada’s lithium sector seems to be gaining traction at the opportune moment to take advantage of lofty prices and seemingly inexhaustible short-term automotive demand.