Fluorspar Production in Newfoundland
Push For Critical Minerals Brings Jobs Back to St.Lawrence
Although much of the hype about the revitalization of Newfoundland’s mining sector is centered around exciting early stage gold discoveries, the province already has 12 producing mines, with six metal and nine non-metal commodities present. Included in this list is Canada Fluorspar Inc.’s (CFI) St.Lawrence Fluorspar project, which was shut down for nearly 40 years until Golden Gate Capital provided the funding to bring the mine back into production in 2018. With ships now returning to the St. Lawrence harbor to load up with fluorspar to take to markets in the US, it is both a boon for the local economy and for chemical companies looking to de-risk their supply chain away from China. CFI president and CEO Bill Dobbs noted: “We are the newest producer of acid grade fluorspar in the world and our open pit mine is one of the top four fluorspar mines globally. CFI has shipped to customers all over the world, so we are not a junior mining company or a project - we are an operating business with some of the largest chemical companies in the world as our customers.”
“Being able to open up a new operating mine in Newfoundland allows us to be able to offer jobs to people and families who do not have other opportunities or have to work away to have a good opportunity. As one employee mentioned, it is the dream of every Newfoundlander to be able to work at home.”
Bill Dobbs, President and CEO, Canada Fluorspar Inc.
The thesis behind Golden Gate Captal’s 2014 purchase of CFI from its previous owners was that the underlying fundamentals for fluorspar were beginning to fundamentally shift as the global economy embraces renewable energy and everything from automobiles to mining equipment become increasingly reliant on lithium-ion batteries. While fluorspar is an industrial mineral used in the production of many things used every day from refrigerants, aluminum, steel and many of the high-end polymers found in automobiles, home insulation, medical devices, and Gore-Tex fabric, there was also a realization that it would play an important role as a next-generation material found in solar panels, wind turbines and in the latest battery chemistries. These batteries utilize the LiPF6 molecule, where the Li is lithium, and the F6 represents six fluorine atoms, which is what comes from the fluorspar. The other positive market dynamic was that since the 1980s, when the Chinese came in, prices have recovered substantially, and while the majority of the world's fluorspar is still produced in China, China went from producing a lot of fluorspar and exporting it to now being one of the world's biggest consumers. “The dynamics there are that the Chinese are consuming a lot of fluorspar with their economy. Secondly, they have mined a large portion of their fluorspar deposits and certainly most of the high grade, high quality deposits,” Dobbs pointed out. Most of the mines in China are underground and byproducts of other types of mining like coal and tin mining, and their environmental and safety standards are unacceptable to anyone in the Western world. In this regard CFI feels it has a distinct advantage in that it operates with strict safety and environmental controls, and monitors the carbon output of its operations. These advantages were in place for some time, but the current confluence of factors makes Newfoundland a desirable destination for top tier fluorspar producers like CFI to ramp up their current operations and invest with a long term view.
Image courtesy of Matador Mining