Canada produces negligible quantities today. But as the auto sector builds an end-to-end battery supply chain, and as legislators in the United States freeze out many overseas suppliers, mining experts say Canada has the lithium reserves and regulatory climate to meet at least part of North America’s burgeoning demand.
Canada is the only jurisdiction in North America with the mining know-how to get much-needed projects online quickly enough, said Phil Gross, CEO of Toronto-headquartered Snow Lake Lithium Ltd.
“Canada has the resources. Canada, most importantly, has the comprehension, which the United States just doesn’t have. Even the projects that we’re seeing in the United States, they’re getting stuck on the drawing board.”
New mines and processing plants cannot come online soon enough, he said. If governments and industry cannot come together to build an integrated supply chain for lithium, “there’s an existential threat to the entire North American automobile industry,” Gross said.
But pitfalls in permitting, limited investment capital and risks tied to scaling up vital new technologies persist.
Establishing a self-sustaining lithium industry in North America will be an uphill climb, said Kwasi Ampofo, a mining and metals analyst at BloombergNEF.
Even if the United States “turned the ship” on permitting today, production remains years away, Ampofo said.
But the slow process in the United States “presents an opportunity” for Canada, Ampofo said, as Canadian lithium bundled into batteries would help vehicles qualify for the updated US $7,500 EV tax credit recently enacted by the U.S. government.
Capital for lithium projects in North America has been hard to come by so far, he said. But the new U.S. legislation should “guarantee” investors that metal from local mines will find buyers, encouraging them to move ahead with development.
Lofty prices are another factor. According to Bloomberg, the price of lithium carbonate — one popular form used for lithium-ion batteries — reached a new high in November, having more than doubled since the beginning of the year.
‘WE COULD BE IN PRODUCTION IN 2035’