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Just a couple of hours north of Ottawa, put on a hard hat and an eye-catching orange vest, and you’re diving headfirst into the action in the race to power the new, eco-friendly era. When you think of the move towards a greener, lower emissions world, mining probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your head. But tucked away in electric vehicles, solar panels, and hydrogen fuel storage are metals and minerals sourced from places like the Lac-des-Îles mine in Quebec. Owned by Northern Graphite, this graphite mine is just one of many ventures aiming to unearth what’s now officially known as “critical minerals” – stuff that’s super crucial for the economic and strategic future of nations. Lac-des-Îles is North America’s go-to spot for graphite mining, and it’s Canada’s contribution to an industry that’s mainly dominated by China. Experts and industry enthusiasts reckon Canada has all the right cards to become a major player in the critical minerals game. But here’s the catch – it needs a bit of a makeover when it comes to investment and regulations to make that happen. For companies like Northern Graphite, the short-term solution is a big pile of cash. Hugues Jacquemin, the CEO of Northern Graphite, spilled the beans during a tour of their Quebec facility. They’re itching to open a mine in Bissett Creek, Ontario, to churn out graphite for EV batteries. The hiccup? They need a whopping $150 million to kick things off. Jacquemin explained, “No one’s willing to take on 100% of the risk. We need someone to step in alongside investors and share some of that risk. Right now, there’s no demand for battery materials in Canada or the U.S., so we need a push to get the supply chain rolling and be ready when the market comes knocking three or four years from now.” They’re counting on some big-time financial help from the federal government, although nothing’s set in stone yet. Speaking of the feds, they say they’re all in when it comes to building a critical minerals industry in Canada. They’ve even dished out their official strategy for it. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spilled the beans, saying, “We need these critical minerals to navigate the energy transition and battle climate change. We’re game to work with companies, but we can’t be the only money tree.” The government’s got a few aces up its sleeve, like the Canada Growth Fund, fresh tax breaks for green investments, and some pocket change for infrastructure that’ll make these projects a breeze. But here’s the plot twist – the long wait times to get a mining project up and running in Canada have some critics groaning. For instance, Northern Graphite has held onto Bissett Creek since 2012, and it’s still not in business. Wilkinson admitted that while a typical mining project takes around 12 to 15 years, it’s still too long. They’re aiming for something closer to five or six years. Ian London, the executive director of the Canadian Critical Minerals and Materials Alliance, said Canada’s got the pieces of the puzzle, but there’s more work to be done. He added that “prospective customers want operating facilities, not aspirations.” The rocky road to mining also comes with some environmental and Indigenous community speed bumps. On the green front, groups like Environmental Defence worry that mining projects could spell disaster for the environment. They say it’s crucial to strike a balance between unlocking emissions-cutting tech like EVs and preserving the environment. The role of Indigenous communities in these projects is another tricky bit. Some communities, like the Neskantaga First Nation, say they weren’t properly consulted and have protested certain projects. Mark Podlasly, from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, said Indigenous voices should be included from day one in decisions about projects. Lastly, mining’s reputation isn’t exactly sparkling. Canadian companies often face criticism for their overseas operations. Kirsty Liddicoat, COO of Northern Graphite, noted that the industry needs a bit of a makeover when it comes to social acceptance and attracting talent. She said, “Mining as an industry is poorly understood and doesn’t have the best reputation. We need to attract the brightest minds to help tackle the world’s biggest problems and make this shift.” So, while the journey to secure critical minerals is filled with twists and turns, one thing’s for sure – it’s one heck of a ride! 🚀🌍

Lora Helmin

Lora Helmin

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