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Lithium explorer trolling for new partner to build Thunder Bay processing plant

Avalon Advanced Materials "close" to introducing new development collaborator for chemical refinery
Thunder Bay-Port Arthur shot 4
(File shot)

Avalon Advanced Materials, the holder of a lithium deposit near Kenora, is scoping out a new development partner to build a Thunder Bay chemical processing plant.

More than a year after Avalon signed a letter of intent with Rock Tech Lithium, another junior exploration player in the region, to collaborate on establishing a refinery in the northwestern Ontario city, the companies now seem to be following divergent paths to production.

Rock Tech recently announced plans that it's going it alone — for now ― in raising US$31.5 million to build its own lithium processing plant in Europe, sending all of the material to be mined from its Georgia Lake project, near Beardmore, straight to Germany.

Lithium is in increasing global demand for lithium-ion battery manufacturing used in electric vehicles.

"Plans are still evolving for both Rock Tech and Avalon," said Avalon president-CEO Don Bubar, "and circumstances are changing.

"So, while we have not ruled out the possibility of partnering on a plant (in Thunder Bay), it seems less likely now given that we are now going down different paths in terms of scale, process flowsheet and types of products."

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Rock Tech maintains that since the European electric vehicle market is two to three years ahead of North America, it makes sense to place its first lithium conversion plant in Germany. During interviews last summer, executive chairman Dirk Harbecke didn't rule out placing another plant in Thunder Bay at some point.

Avalon's Separation Rapids Project, 70 kilometres north of Kenora, is a potential producer of lithium minerals used in ceramics and glass, and lithium chemicals for lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles. A preliminary economic assessment (PEA) from 2018 estimated a 20-year mine life.

"We are certainly still planning on establishing a lithium refinery in Thunder Bay and we now have interest from other potential partners so it could be that Thunder Bay ends up hosting more than one such facility," added Bubar.

"That would obviously be a good thing for the local economy. We are getting close to having some news on our plans, so stay tuned."

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A potential mining partner exists way to the north of Red Lake where Frontier Lithium, continues exploration on two high-grade lithium deposits at its PAK Project, near Sandy Lake First Nation.

In releasing its own PEA at the beginning of last year, proposing a 26-year mine life, the Sudbury junior miner floated the concept of a a US$685-million plan involving an open-pit mine complex and a downstream processing plant at a "Great Lakes port."

The company didn't name the port, nor divulged if they intended to seek a development partner.

Bubar said Avalon is not in any serious talks with Frontier.

"No, we are not in conversation, at least not yet. They are still at a relatively early stage."

If Avalon has a preferred spot for a plant in Thunder Bay, it's across the Kaministiquia River on a brownfield heavy industrial site at Fort William First Nation. The company and the band administration signed a letter of intent last March for the reserve to be a possible site for a refinery.