Late last year, a Reuters report laid out the difficulty U.S. leadership and industry is having balancing the demands of more eco-conscious consumers with the resource requirements to satisfy those demands. The report pointed to Earth elements like lithium, nickel and copper, that need to be mined for their role in batteries and equipment. But mines are a hot topic, drawing ire for everything from their land use to their carbon emissions, so, per the Reuters piece, "President Joe Biden signaled earlier this year he prefers to rely on allies for EV metals, part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists. That means U.S. automakers will find themselves competing with international rivals for supply amid the global rush to electrification." The Snow Lake lithium mine now setting up for operations in Manitoba, Canada wants to change that. Snow Lake execs want to open the first mine in the world with carbon-neutral mining operations and a North American resource for an essential ingredient for EV batteries.
Said CEO Philip Gross, "Our ambition is to become the first fully integrated, carbon-neutral lithium hydroxide provider to the North American electric vehicle industry. We are developing the world’s first all-electric lithium mine, operated by renewable power, and are currently looking for a joint venture partner to create a lithium hydroxide processing plant in the region." Once operations are going, Gross said, "We can be from our project to Detroit in a day and a half."
Of course there will still be carbon released from digging up the Earth, but the equipment will run on renewable energy. Authorities in Manitoba say 98% of the entire province's power comes from hydroelectric stations and wind farms. The area's entire population is about 1.3 million inhabitants, but there is a lot of industry there, including mining. Gross said 98% of the lithium mine's power will come from hydroelectric, with the source of the final 2% is being filled in. Snow Lake is working with Quebec company Meglab on pure-electric mining infrastructure, vehicles and processes.
As for how much lithium might be there, initial surveys of a fraction of the 55,000-acre site suggest the mine can produce 160,000 tons of 6% lithium spodumene ore per year for ten years. For comparison, earlier this month Tesla signed a deal with Core Lithium to get 110,000 dry metric tons of 6% spodumene per year for four years, starting later this year. Snow Lake still has a lot more of its property to examine, so its tonnage number could rise.
Key to this, however, is building a processing plant to turn the ore into the lithium battery makers need. That usually means sending ore to Asia, China especially, which BloombergNEF credits with controlling 77% of the global market in processing raw mining products. Gross, at Snow Lake, doesn't want to offset the mine's massively reduced carbon footprint by shipping ore overseas, then back to U.S. carmakers in batteries. Snow Lake is looking for an OEM partner for a joint venture to build a hydroxide processing plant in southern Manitoba that would also run on renewable energy. Gross told Newsweek, "[It's] not the solution to the problem, but it's an actual alternative where the North American automobile industry can secure their supply chain, at least to an extent or a percentage thereof."
The mine has a few hurdles to clear before it can stick a shovel in the Earth, after which there will be the usual ramp-up of about seven years to reach full production. Execs are hoping the feasibility study and environmental impact assessments will be complete in the next two years or so, and the mine can open in 2025 at the latest.