"We are taking the lead in trying to get our mid-stream battery material processing facility established in Ontario."
Are there any key lessons that encouraged you to pursue a sustainable approach early in the life of the company?
One of the things I learned was that if you are going to produce materials for clean technology, the end users often audit their supply chains back to the source to make sure their materials are produced in sustainable ways. That is what inspired Avalon to start implementing basic principles of sustainability as part of our overall business model. We have been producing an annual GRI compliant sustainability report for over 10 years now.
Why has Avalon chosen to pursue development of a mid-stream processing facility in Thunder Bay?
We are taking the lead in trying to get our mid-stream battery material processing facility established in Ontario. We now have LGES as an interested party to commit to the offtake and potentially partner with us. That is what we need to be able to access the capital because it is by far the most expensive part of the lithium battery materials supply chain.
Our mineralogy at Separation Rapids is different from most of the lithium resources that are spodumene pegmatites, in that this pegmatite contains petalite and lepidolite, a lithium mica. We can recover lithium and produce lithium battery materials from either one. Thunder Bay is the perfect location for it because it is the transportation hub of the Northwest, and it has good proximity to all kinds of lithium pegmatites. If new producers find a resource that is not that big, then they can develop it as a small quarry, use new processing technologies like dense media separation or sensor-based ore sorting to concentrate it, sell it and make a lot of money while not doing any damage to the environment.
What are the implications for First Nations communities that may have pegmatites on their land?
If Avalon gets the processing capacity established, that should inspire more new producers of lithium concentrates. I am trying to encourage more First Nations to take advantage of this opportunity, because you do not have to try to scale production in the same way traditional mining does. There is not the same need to develop big and high-grade operations. You can develop a bunch of small quarries that do not create the same environmental impacts but can create a significant supply.
What more can government do to improve the chances of developing a viable battery material supply chain in Ontario?
This is quite a different business from traditional mining of exchange traded commodities in that it is more like a manufacturing business. It is all about how you process the material to meet the needs of the end users’ specifications. It is time for the regulations to get updated to recognize some of these fundamental differences. It is not about tons of grade, it is about designing a process and product, and then you scale your operation based on market demand, not the size of the resource.
I would also encourage policymakers to consider that mine wastes at closed mine sites now be looked at as an opportunity for companies to extract value from the waste while remediating the environmental liability. There are many examples of resources that were developed to mine one traditional commodity where the resource contained many other elements that had no value then but do today. You do not have to mine them, just re-process the waste and clean up the mess while you do it. It is taking a while to get the regulators educated on that, as they only see closed mine sites as no-go zones that are too risky to re-activate.
Why is petalite such an important material for manufacturers?
There is now a global shortage of petalite that many glass ceramic manufacturers want to secure supplies of. This is happening because China took control of the traditional sources of supply in Zimbabwe, and now Avalon’s resource is the only significant petalite resource in the world that China does not control. Consequently, we have all kinds of demand for the product from manufacturers.