Canada is poised to become a major supplier of lithium in North America as the auto industry transitions from fossil fuel to electric vehicles over the next few years, and a mine in northern Manitoba is ready to take advantage.
Last week, both Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz signed material agreements with Canada for lithium to use in the lithium-ion batteries needed for their electric cars. It means more business for Phillip Gross, CEO and chairman of Snow Lake Lithium, who says the world has come around on the once-maligned metal.
“Lithium was pretty much a very unloved commodity up until the past three or four years, it was hardly even mentioned at all,” said Gross.
Now, he says they can’t mine it fast enough.
“The demand for lithium far outstrips the actual supply that’s available in the world today,” he said. “And most lithium in the world today – at least 85 per cent of it – is controlled by China.”
Gross says the deal with Volkswagen and Mercedes will likely be the first of many, as the world moves away from fossil fuels into a fully electric vehicle (EV) world. “It’s not just EVs. Ultimately, if this technology improves, it’s going to be aviation, it’s going to be marine, and it’s going to be energy storage.”
Manitoba is the perfect place to mine lithium, according to Gross.
“We are blessed and fortunate to find ourselves in the province of Manitoba … powered by Manitoba Hydro, which gives us a 98 per cent renewable energy source,” he said.
Gross plans to use that power to run a fully electric mining operation, including all on-site vehicles and equipment. He says the mine can produce up to 160,000 pounds of lithium a year, enough to supply half a million EV batteries.
He says that is about how many electric vehicles were sold in Canada last year, but by 2025-26, EV sales will be in the millions.
“This is very, very much consumer-driven at the moment. This is a desirable item that people want to acquire … and that’s putting pressure on the system,” said Gross.
He says running an environmentally sustainable mine is important.
“If you’re going to be in the supply chain that is manufacturing electric vehicles, we believe strongly that your philosophy has to be congruent with that, you need to be really cognizant of your carbon impact, because that’s something consumers are demanding today.”
Gross believes that in the future, EVs will have a carbon impact number on display, kind of like calories listed on a chocolate bar.
He believes Canada is poised to not only become a major supplier of lithium, but also a manufacturing centre for EVs.
Gross says he had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the signing of the deal with Volkswagen and Mercedes.
“He was quick to respond to exactly this point – Canada has the opportunity now during this creative destruction that we’re going to see on the industry … to leverage it into an entire industry that is focused on Canada.”