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Indigenous development groups kick off study for lithium processing plant

Minodahmun Development and Three Fires Group shoulder their way into the BEV supply chain
Lithium hydroxide (Frontier Lithium photo)

Two Indigenous economic developments groups – one in northwestern Ontario and one in southwestern Ontario – are teaming up to break into the battery electric and lithium supply chain in a big way.

Greenstone-based Minodahmun Development LP it is teaming up with the Three Fires Group of Kettle Point to form a “Mines to Battery” partnership that involves advancing the concept of a lithium refinery. The two entities posted a joint news release on the partnership, June 6.

Minodahmun is noted for its involvement in the training and development of an Indigenous workforce for the open-pit gold mine construction project underway south of Geraldton. 

Three Fires is joint venturing with Electra Battery Materials on a supply agreement to feed black mass material for its Temiskaming refinery’s recycling operation, now in its early stages of operation.

The headliner in this partnership is the news that the two groups have started a feasibility study revolving around a lithium processing facility – a location not  mentioned – to convert Northern Ontario-mined lithium into battery-grade lithium required by electric vehicle manufacturers in the south. 

The study will be out by year’s end. The two groups boldly say such a facility could be operational by 2027.

The release said “active discussions” are underway with both BEV manufacturers and recyclers in the south and lithium companies operating in Northern Ontario concerning supply agreements and specifications to refine their products. 

The groups said they're looking to support from government when it comes to creating spinoff opportunities on the procurement side of the battery supply chain involving Indigenous businesses. They mention the treaty areas of their collective communities cover plenty of ground in the province. 

For all the government and industry talk about the lithium potential in Northern Ontario, there currently is no mid-level processing capacity to refine lithium concentrate processed at a mine site and chemically convert it into lithium hydroxide, the upgraded material that is essential for making batteries for electric vehicles.

A number of lithium exploration players in northwestern Ontario are promoting the possibility of establishing lithium processing plants in places like Thunder Bay, but none have pulled the trigger on constructing one. 

In a statement, Reggie George, the executive director of special projects and partnership for Three Fires, said the focus is on “creating linkages” between the battery metals found in Northern Ontario and the BEV manufacturers in the south.

That means finding ways to optimize the flow of materials for electric vehicle production by “identifying potential bottlenecks, implementing innovative logistics solutions, and promoting regional collaboration with First Nations, mining companies, battery makers, research institutions, and government agencies."

George called it a “first step” in creating a “made in Ontario” supply chain that would involve significant First Nation participation and ensure Indigenous people would be “at the forefront of the transition to electric vehicles.”

"We believe that a lithium refinery is the missing piece to the puzzle for Ontario's BEV supply chain,” said CEO John Glover of Minodahmun Development in a statement.

“Minodahmun's First Nation shareholders are active in the emerging mining hub in Greenstone, which is home to world-class critical mineral deposits. Three Fires shareholders are within one of the fastest growing economies in Canada that includes the 'automotive alley' between Waterloo and Windsor."