Temiskaming Battery Metals Fleet Expected to Fill the Missing Link in the Supply Chain

Electra Battery Materials Integrated Metal Processing Complex Could Create 200-300 Jobs

Trent Mell and Electra Battery Materials are poised to occupy a critical middle position in the growing North American electric vehicle industry.

The Toronto-based company is renovating a once-closed refinery outside the town of Cobalt, 12 months from the start of production to transform cobalt hydroxide from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into cobalt sulfate, one of the essential materials needed in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for automobile manufacturers.

But they don’t stop there.

The cobalt processing plant will only be the first of a proposed four-phase expansion project at the Temiskaming site that will include nickel processing, battery recycling and a next step to blend cobalt and nickel in a battery precursor material.

Concrete pouring for the foundations of the new buildings begins in March. If everything goes according to the company’s deadlines, a fully integrated factory complex is expected to be built by 2026, creating between 200 and 300 direct jobs, according to Mell, president and CEO of Electra.

The restart of the old Yukon refinery has thrilled many in the Temiskaming District.

“We don’t have to look for too many people,” Mell said of the local welcome they received. “They call us, they love history.

“My biggest surprise is probably the quality of the workforce we were able to attract, even though we are a small business and not yet producing.

More importantly, the refinery could play a vital role in establishing a secure national supply chain of battery-grade metals and helping the Canadian and US governments meet their commitments to achieve zero-emission savings by the 2030s.

According to Mell, in the global battery supply chain, China dominates, processing 80% of the global cobalt used in electric vehicle batteries, 90% of the nickel and 100% of the manganese, all crucial elements in the NCM type. batteries for use in future cars we drive.

Electra is preparing a dossier to bring everything home, to extract critical metals in North America, process them in Témiscamingue and create the cathode material used by battery makers that power electric vehicle assembly plants.

“You save on the carbon footprint; you save on costs, on logistics, ”said Mell.

Electra’s concept for Temiskaming – dubbed a battery metal fleet – will be modeled on facilities in China and Finland.

While some in the mining industry – especially at the federal lobbying level – believe Canada has slipped a notch to become a dominant global player in the essential minerals supply chain, Mell and Electra were at Queen’s Park last month to update Premier Doug Ford on their ambitious plans.

Just before last Christmas, the federal and provincial governments backed the company’s cobalt processing plan with a combined $ 10 million that turned out to be a much needed boost in raising the remaining funds for their project. .

To build its battery bank complex over the next five years, Mell estimates the cost will be between $ 400 million and $ 500 million.

The early stages of the expansion would be funded by processing revenue, but Electra is eventually interested in securing a joint venture manufacturing partner to manufacture the blended precursor material, which will be co-located on the Temiskaming property.

The precursor material involves mixing cobalt, nickel and manganese in the right concentrations and the right particle size to make the active cathode material used by lithium-ion battery manufacturers.

An associated battery recycling operation brings a new element to the supply chain ecosystem.

Up to 25 percent of raw materials are wasted during battery production, Mell said.

“A real price for us is partnering with a battery company and whatever battery waste and disposal partner they have, we’re going to return it and put it back in the supply chain,” Mell said. .

But they will also recover precious metals, called “dark mass”, from used lithium batteries from electronic and digital consumer products.

Electra plans to announce power contracts with battery makers and automakers in early 2022.

The decision to go big in Temiskaming and create an industry cluster, Mell said, came at the behest of major automakers.

Mere processing of cobalt was not enough. They had to pursue other necessary steps to fill this intermediate gap in the image of the battery supply chain.

“We had to take the next step.” Mell said. “This is a huge opportunity. No one has a site like ours, a licensed hydrometallurgical site.”

Strategic changes are nothing new for Electra.

The company, formerly known as First Cobalt, arrived in the Témiscamingue region as a junior mining company in 2017, on the trail of discarded cobalt left behind by the silver rush at the turn of the last century. .

While seeking to amalgamate two competing companies and consolidate 50 historic mines in Camp Cobalt, Electra acquired the former Yukon refinery as a complement to the transaction.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to,” Mell said, thinking of the environmental responsibilities associated with the facility.

But it took the company in a “whole different direction,” from an exploration venture to a potentially critical metals processor.

The refinery, which Mell described as a “rough diamond,” is located on 120 acres three miles from the town of Cobalt.

Relatively new and already licensed, it was built in 1996 and operated intermittently by another company, producing a product of cobalt carbonate and other materials refined from nickel and silver. The facility was put on hold in 2015 when its Swiss owners ran out of money.

It is now the cornerstone of Electra’s plans.

Electra has sold and optioned its exploration properties in Temiskaming, but still retains a cobalt property in Idaho, which it hopes to bring into production and eventually feed its refinery.

Currently at the refinery site, Electra is doing basic environmental work to update its permit requirements, retrofit existing equipment, while performing detailed engineering for the expansion and placing orders for equipment.

Metso Outotec has been selected to design and manufacture equipment for a new solvent extraction plant, but Mell said there would be plenty of spinoff opportunities next year for businesses in the North. Ontario. A New Liskeard consulting firm, EXP, organizes all of their sourcing activities.

Electra has focused on using local businesses to provide equipment and services wherever they can.

It should be noted that a foundation contract for a new building on the site was recently awarded to a New Liskeard company. A local engineering company is currently engaged with Electra to provide a significant portion of the engineering services for the project.

Mell said one of the many advantages of the refinery’s location is the proximity of mining engineering expertise to Sudbury, a two-hour drive away.

“Where we need it, Sudbury will be on the processing side once we get the equipment up and running and the plant up and running.

As skilled workers, the company said it would need skilled tradespeople to build and operate the facility. They are looking for Millwrights, Electricians and Instrument Technicians, as well as people to operate heavy equipment and drive forklifts.

Mell seemed confident that Electra would be able to muster a talented local workforce without having to recruit remotely.

When he worked for AuRico Gold, the former owners of the Young-Davidson mine in nearby Matachewan, workers commuted regularly from one hour from New Liskeard, Kirkland Lake and Timmins.

“Having a site like ours eight minutes out of town (Temiskaming Shores) has been a big draw,” Mell said, especially for experienced older workers who want a slower pace.

Logistically, with tens of thousands of tonnes arriving from Africa and disembarking at the port of Montreal, there will be opportunities for truckers and railway workers.

Mell admits he would love to see the Ontario government and the Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) help build a branch line connecting the refinery site from the ONR mainline a few miles away. .

Electra has contracts with Glencore and China Molybdenum to source cobalt hydroxide from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for five years.

But, at the end of the day, Mell said, their long-term ambitious goal is to source raw cobalt and nickel in Ontario and their cobalt property in Idaho.

Mell believes that the electrification of North American vehicles will create extreme demand-side pressure that will bring the currently unprofitable nickel deposits in the Sudbury Basin into production.

On the pitch at Temiskaming, Mell said, it’s about managing expectations.

“The town has already been disappointed on the mining side of revitalizing the old Cobalt camp, so I’m trying to take a slow and steady approach.

“I don’t make too many promises and I pay attention to local stakeholders, reminding them that it takes time. But the community has been nothing but fantastic. I have only good things to say.”

The Drift features profiles of people, businesses and institutions that make significant contributions to Greater Sudbury’s mining sector. From exploration, mining and remediation to research and innovation, this series covers the breadth of mining-related expertise that arose out of one of the most successful mining camps. wealthier in the world and is now exported all over the world.

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