"Graphite is key to any battery supply chain as it represents almost 50% by weight of the materials needs, no matter what the chemistry of the battery."
What are the main projects of Northern Graphite for the years to come?
In Ontario, Bissett Creek is a very nice project, which we are developing, but we also now have Lac des Iles, which is the only operating graphite mine in North America, located in Québec, and the Okanjande mine located in Namibia, where we anticipate to be back in operation next year. Through these acquisitions, we will become the third largest producer of graphite outside of China. In addition to the 30,000 t/y mine in Namibia that we are restarting, we also have a very large development project there that is fully permitted and ready to go. The intention is to develop the capacity all the way to 300,000 t/y.
Why is Northern Graphite‘s Lac des Iles mine the only producing graphite mine in North America today?
There is a scarcity of mines, but there is not a scarcity of deposits in North America. Canada is actually very rich in graphite. There are more than 25 deposits that have been identified, and companies have been trying to develop those deposits, including Northern Graphite at Bissett Creek, for decades. The issue is that, until now, the volume of demand for graphite in its traditional industrial markets was relatively small. Because China had most of the production, whenever they had a surplus of graphite capacity, they would sell that capacity into North America and into Europe at very low prices. This created a vicious cycle, where people trying to develop capital intensive graphite mines could never raise enough money to do it. Whenever the cycle was at the top, China would dump graphite onto the market, and suddenly prices would crash and North American business models would no longer make sense. The situation has completely changed with lithium-ion batteries.
Why do you believe speed to market is so important?
My strategy for Northern Graphite is all about speed to meet the demand from North American and European Battery producers and OEMs, which is coming fast. We do not pretend to be able to develop battery anode material technology by ourselves. We are willing to partner in order to get to production faster. That will give us the cash that we need in order to grow our portfolio of deposits.
How do you envision graphite’s role in a North American battery material supply chain?
Graphite is key to any battery supply chain as it represents almost 50% by weight of the materials needs, no matter what the chemistry of the battery. The volumes are significant, and its cost is critical to compete with Chinese batteries and Chinese cars. This means the proximity and efficiency is key. In addition, all OEM’s are focused on sourcing materials that are sustainable and meet their ESG standards, which are high. Furthermore, the recently introduced IRA subsidies in the US, as well as the geo-political situation in the world, is driving a North American supply of all the critical minerals including graphite.
We have the graphite, but we do not pretend to be able to develop Battery Anode Material (BAM) technology by ourselves. That’s why in December 2022 we announced a letter of intent with Graphex Technologies to produce natural graphite anode material. This partnership will combine Northern’s raw material supply capabilities with Graphex’s downstream processing expertise. Together we can build plants that will provide an end-to-end Northern American supply chain from the graphite mine to the battery. We are seeking an appropriate site in Baie-Comeau, Quebec to build North America’s largest battery anode material (BAM) plant and Graphex is participating in the site selection.
By partnering with other companies, we can very quickly build the capacity that is required to supply the gigafactories being built in North America and in Europe. Ultimately, we want to be an enabler of the industry but, the capex that is required, to transform the graphite into an anode material is significant. This is where the support of the Government and battery makers/OEMs is critical to ensure the success of the battery industry.