Québec’s graphite potential begins to shine

When it comes to battery manufacturing, few resources are as vital as graphite. Lithium-ion batteries use graphite anodes because they cope well with the flow of lithium ions during charging and discharging. Historically, China has supplied upwards of 70% of global production. However, the Chinese market has now moved from being a low-cost exporter to the rest of the world to supplying its own domestic value added market. As a result, more flake graphite than before is staying within China, which is also starting to require more material from outside its borders. The rest of the world will no longer be able to solely rely on China and there must be a push to diversify with more mines developed beyond its borders.

When it comes to automakers, industry players and experts say being competitive on price is critical for the sector to develop in North America. Nouveau Monde Graphite's founder and CEO, Eric Deasaulniers, explained that it is important to be resilient against the Chinese producers, but that is not deterring him from pressing forward with his two pillar plan to produce at its Matawinie mine in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, and shape, purify and coat the material at its nearby Bécancour facility. “By the end of 2023, we want to produce 100,000 tonnes of high-purity flake graphite at the Matawinie mine. Then, 40% will be sold directly as flake and 60% will be sent to Bécancour to be further processed into mainly lithium-ion anode material,” Desaulniers explained.

In addition to developing a fully integrated product that can supply the North American market, Nouveau Monde has also been lauded for its commitment to building an all-electric mine. The company’s chairman Arne Frandsen detailed: “We are presenting something which is 100% green, 100% carbon neutral. If you want to have decarbonization and electric vehicles, it does not work if we as miners are polluting the planet as we extract the minerals.”

Desaulniers reiterated Frandsen’s enthusiasm for the cause, highlighting the challenges and early skepticism it had to overcome to get this far: “We are proving to our customers that we can build a carbon neutral product at cost parity with the Chinese in large quantities, all based in Canada.”

Not far from Matawinie geographically is Lomiko Metals, whose recently released preliminary economic assessment (PEA) for its 100%-owned La Loutre graphite project envisions an open-pit mine with an average annual production of 97,400 tonnes of graphite concentrate over a 14.7-year mine life for a total life-of-mine output of 1.4 million tonnes of graphite concentrate. The all-in sustaining costs are expected to average C$406 per tonne of graphite concentrate over the mine’s life, and initial capital costs were estimated at C$236.1 million, with C$37.7 million budgeted for sustaining capital over the mine life.

A. Paul Gill, CEO of Lomiko Metals, explained that La Loutre lies within the Grenville Trend, a mineralized area where most of Quebec’s graphite is confined. The trend hosts a number of different projects such as Northern Graphite, Imerys Graphite & Carbon, Lomiko, Nouveau Monde, and Mason Graphite. “In the area Lomiko is located, you have a nice Goldilocks zone where you get the higher grades and you get significant flake size, but you do not get as much sulfur turning up in the project,” said Gill. “Our ultimate goal is to produce something that is at least a 10 year mine producing 10 million tonnes or more at 10% grade.”

La Loutre and Matawinie, are just the beginning for companies like Lomiko and Nouveau Monde, who are looking to make up for the dearth of graphite mines in North America. Gill concluded: “There are 200 mega factories being built worldwide today, which means that there will be demand, and whatever amount of graphite is being produced now will be soaked up by all of the lithium ion battery companies. The estimate is that you need at least one mine per mega factory. Worldwide there are currently 25 to 30 operating graphite mines. Therefore, there is a need to build many more mines to meet demand.”

Image courtesy of Nouveau Monde Graphite