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Nipigon lithium miner chooses Red Rock for a refinery site

BMI Group partners with Rock Tech Lithium to establish multimodal port facility
The Township of Red Rock, the harbour and former mill site (BMI Group photo)

There appears to be a race among lithium companies in northwestern Ontario to start the first lithium refinery in the province.

Rock Tech Lithium, a mine developer in the Lake Nipigon area with Canadian and Germany investment ties, is partnering with BMI Group, an Ontario-wide land developer, to establish a lithium conversion plant in Red Rock on the north shore of Lake Superior, 110 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

The announcement was made on the opening day of the PDAC mining show in Toronto where BMI officials said they’re meeting with industry partners to discuss their commercial port plans and what a lithium refinery may offer to other exploration players in the region.

The former Norampac mill site on Red Rock Bay, owned by BMI and the Red Rock Indian Band, is the chosen site, situated about 60 kilometres south of Rock Tech’s advanced Georgia Lake lithium deposit.

Rock Tech operates the advanced Georgia Lake lithium mine project, a 5,700-hectare piece of ground, 17 kilometres south of Beardmore and 145 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

There, the company has outlined a 14.8-million-ounce lithium resource with an initial mine life of nine years for an open pit and underground operation. Rock Tech previously said Georgia Lake could move to a mine construction phase this year, but that start date is dependent on its refinery plans. 

Rock Tech and BMI are signing a binding cooperation agreement regarding an unspecified long-term lease for a 20-hectare (50-acre) space on the brownfield to place the refinery.

No construction or project timelines were provided, but the two parties said in a release that the final terms and conditions of the lease and investment agreements will be negotiated in the weeks to come. There’s also due diligence that must be performed.

Rock Tech hinted late last year in a media event that Red Rock was a leading contender in its site search to establish a processing plant that converts lithium concentrate into a battery-grade material used in the electric vehicle industry.

The company is building another lithium conversion plant in Germany to supply the European market.

Rock Tech is one of four major lithium players in the northwest. Two of them — Avalon Advanced Materials and Green Tech Metals — have already acquired brownfield properties in Thunder Bay.

In a joint Rock Tech-BMI news release, the companies said they settled on Red Rock due to BMI’s plans for create a multimodal logistics hub at the former mill site and access to the hydroelectric grid. They also have garnered support from the township and the Red Rock Indian Band, the latter being a partner in the mill site redevelopment and proposed commercial port.

BMI Group bills itself a “real estate development and revitalization” firm, specializing in refitting former industrial and commercial properties. They have other brownfield sites in Fort Frances, Iroquois Falls, Sault Ste. Marie and Thorold.

Led by the well-known Veldman brothers, BMI wants to develop a multimodal facilities with road, rail and marine access to create a revived commercial harbour on Lake Superior.

The two companies said the lithium conversion plant would process the lithium from Georgia Lake and material from other “third-party” mine projects.

"This is a fundamental milestone for our North American Lithium refinery plans," said Kerstin Wedemann, Rock Tech chief legal and operations officer, in a statement.

"Lithium converters are large value-added production facilities. Substantial infrastructure and several supporting factors are required to enable such projects. Our site selection process evaluated more than 150 different criteria and determined that Red Rock is the best location for this important project."

Rock Tech's CEO, Dirk Harbecke, said he’s a believer in partnerships with Indigenous partners that will bring community benefits to those in the northwest.

“The Red Rock community is eager to see a large industrial project return. BMI shares this vision of realizing sustainable economic development in Northern Ontario, demonstrated by their asset-level investment into the Red Rock Lithium Converter Project."

Paul Veldman, CEO of BMI, said they’re working to make Red Rock “industry ready.”

"Today, that work has secured a pivotal partnership with Rock Tech and a new future for the Red Rock community. Together, we're working to fortify Ontario's Critical Mineral Corridor from the North to Niagara to establish a robust, made-in-Ontario lithium supply chain crucial for meeting the province's burgeoning automotive and battery manufacturing potential.”