A Quebec lithium mine poised to become the only Canadian site actively producing the key battery metal has received the final government permit required to start up operations, according to developer Sayona Mining Ltd.
The regulatory nod from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans clears the way for the open pit mine near Val-d’Or in northwestern Quebec to begin producing lithium-rich spodumene concentrate in the first half of 2023, the Australia-based miner said Dec. 13.
“With this major advance, Sayona will become the only producer of lithium concentrate in Quebec and in Canada. This is a very promising position for our region, which puts us at the forefront of the emerging energy transition,” Annie Blier, vice-president of environment at Sayona Québec, said in a release.
Sayona said its North American Lithium project has received more than 130 permits from provincial and federal regulators as the company steers the site back toward production. The mine was previously started up in 2018 under a different owner, before flagging lithium prices halted operations and pushed the previous owner into creditor protection the following year.
Sayona purchased the project in 2021 in conjunction with U.S.-based Piedmont Lithium Inc., bundling it into a joint venture dubbed Sayona Québec. Sayona controls 75 per cent of the joint venture, while Piedmont owns the remaining 25 per cent interest.
With lithium demand from the electric vehicle battery market booming, the two companies agreed this June to spend $98 million to restart and upgrade the mine, adding to roughly $400 million spent on development by the previous owners.
Much of the work is already complete or under way.
Piedmont CEO Keith Phillips said more than 100 staff and contractors are on-site and much of the critical equipment has been installed at the brownfield mine. The upgrades will help the project run more smoothly than it did under the previous operator, he said in an interview.
“We could have turned it on when we bought it a year ago, but it made sense to make real improvement. It’ll run more efficiently and have higher recoveries and be a more reliable operation.”
Along with holding a stake in the Quebec lithium project, Piedmont is set to become the mine’s largest customer.
An offtake agreement with Sayona will allow Piedmont to purchase at least 113,000 tonnes per year of spodumene concentrate from the mine, amounting to about 65 per cent of its production, Phillips said.
Piedmont is then lining up its own customers for the stream of concentrate. Phillips said the company is in talks with automakers and battery cell manufacturers and anticipates firming up purchase agreements by early next year.
Following those announcements, he expects the Sayona Québec joint venture to “worry about the remaining tonnage.”
‘LITHIUM IS IN SHORT SUPPLY’
“There are plenty of suitors. Lithium is in short supply.”
In fact, in North America’s nascent battery supply chain, Sayona Québec will be the sole supplier over the short-term.
“There’s nobody else with spodumene production coming in North America for at least two years after, so this is an important asset from the North American supply chain’s perspective,” Phillips said.
By mid-decade, several lithium mines currently in development could follow the Quebec site into production. In Canada, miners are advancing hard rock lithium projects in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, as well as lithium brine-focused developments in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
As it restarts operations in Val-d’Or, Sayona Québec is also making plans to process the lithium concentrate produced at the mine into a form of lithium that can be integrated into EV batteries.
Phillips said the joint venture is currently studying whether restarting an existing lithium carbonate plant at the mine site will be feasible, or if another part of the province will prove better-suited to the value-added processing step.