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Avalon lithium plant slated for Ontario

India-based Essar backs plans for C$500M processing facility Metal Tech News – April 6, 2022

Adding to the rapidly expanding network of companies building a robust lithium battery materials supply in Ontario, Canada-based Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. and India-based Essar Group Company have forged a partnership to develop a mine and processing plant that will produce lithium that will be needed by electric vehicle and battery manufacturers in Ontario and beyond.

Under the agreement, the two companies would co-own Avalon Lithium Inc., a private Avalon subsidiary that would develop and operate a facility near the city of Thunder Bay on the north shores of Lake Superior that would process lithium mineral concentrates from Avalon's Separation Rapids project and other aspiring producers of lithium from the abundant pegmatite deposits in northwestern Ontario.

A road-accessible project about 45 miles (70 kilometers) north of Kenora, Ontario, Separation Rapids is considered to host one of the largest complex-type lithium-cesium-tantalum pegmatite deposits in the world. This deposit has two types of lithium mineralization – petalite, which is preferred for certain specialty glass-ceramic products and offers the potential to produce a relatively low cost for battery applications; and lepidolite, which is being demanded for conversion to the lithium carbonate used in rechargeable batteries.

A 2018 preliminary economic assessment outlined plans for a mine at Separation Rapids that would produce 71,500 metric tons of petalite and 11,800 metric tons of lepidolite per year for nearly two decades.

With a definitive agreement in place, the first order of business for the new strategic partners is to finalize initial commercial terms and complete the final feasibility studies for both the refinery and an operation at Separation Rapids that will provide the initial feed for the refinery.

This will also include finalizing the exact location for the refinery in Thunder Bay and proceeding with initial site preparations at Separation Rapids and Thunder Bay.

Avalon says that a refinery capable of producing 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate would be supported by the currently indicated lithium battery demand in Ontario, which recently introduced a mines-to-market critical minerals strategy that leverages the province's rich mineral endowment, established manufacturing sector, and affordable low-carbon energy.

"The Critical Minerals Strategy is our government's blueprint to connect industries, resources and workers in our province's north to the future of manufacturing in the south as we build up home-grown supply chains," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Essar – a multi-billion-dollar enterprise involved in the energy, logistics, mining, and technology sectors – believes the Avalon Lithium partnership will play a pivotal role in Ontario's strategy to establish a world-class EV battery materials supply chain within the province.

"We truly believe that green energy is 'the future.' This initiative of setting up a lithium refinery is a core part of Essar's global strategy of investments in the energy transition towards decarbonisation with a prime focus on Green Hydrogen and Storage," said Essar Power CEO Kush Singh. "Lithium is a foundational critical mineral for the battery supply chain and with the Ontario government's stellar vision through its Critical Mineral Strategy, we are confident that this is the right location and time for our strategic partnership with Avalon and other stakeholders."

The partners estimate that it will cost around C$500 million (US$400 million) to establish a 20,000-metric-ton lithium refinery, which would be co-funded by the partners, along with potential provincial and federal government contributions.

Avalon says this facility will create new economic development opportunities for First Nations to take advantage of lithium resources in their traditional territories and will likely spur other critical mineral production in Ontario's North.

"While EV manufacturing and lithium battery materials production can be the initial catalyst for starting critical minerals supply chains in the North, it is just the beginning where innovation of new products and new efficient processing technologies for other critical minerals such as tantalum, cesium, and rare earths, can inspire future growth into other areas of advanced manufacturing including aerospace technology," said Avalon Advanced Materials President Don Bubar.

With construction planned to begin this year, the Thunder Bay lithium refinery could be in operation by 2025.

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Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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