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Joint venture company to run Kenora lithium project

Belgium's Sibelco finalizes joint venture deal with Avalon to operate Separation Rapids lithium project
Avalon's Separation Rapids lithium project in 2017 (Company photo)

A Belgian mining and processing company should have majority control of a lithium deposit near Kenora by the end of next week. 

Avalon Advanced Materials of Toronto said it’s finalizing the joint venture agreement announced last June with SCR-Sibelco NV. The deal involves the transfer Avalon’s Separation Rapids lithium project to Sibelco as part of a 60-40 joint venture arrangement.

The name of the joint venture company will be Separation Rapids Ltd. (SRL). Sibelco will run the future open-pit mine located 70 kilometres north of Kenora.

The joint venture also involves Avalon’s Lilypad Project, a lithium-cesium project near Eabametoong First Nation (Fort Hope). 

The transaction is expected to close Nov. 9, subject to signing a shareholders joint venture agreement.

Antwerp-headquartered Sibelco, considered a global leader in mining and processing specialty industrial minerals like silica and feldspar, has committed $51 million to the joint venture company.

With an estimated 20-year mine life, Separation Rapids is a pegmatite deposit enriched in the lithium minerals of petalite and lepidolite. Petalite is a type of lithium that’s in demand by the high strength glass and specialty ceramic companies. 

Avalon has had ambitious plans for the last few years to develop a lithium refinery in Thunder Bay. The company recently purchased a vacant industrial site on the city’s waterfront with the goal to make lithium hydroxide for the battery manufacturers tied to the electric vehicle plants in southern Ontario. 

The mined material from Separation Rapids would feed the production plant in Thunder Bay. Avalon said earlier this year that mining at Separation Rapids would start in late 2025 or early 2026, if government permits and approvals come through in a timely fashion. The Thunder Bay plant was projected to start operations in the fourth quarter of 2027.

“We are very pleased with the dynamic working relationship that exists between Avalon and Sibelco as we continue to advance this exciting joint venture towards completion,” said Avalon CEO Scott Monteith in a news release.

“This partnership will unlock tremendous value for Avalon shareholders and accelerate our vision to build Ontario’s first vertically integrated lithium supply chain, he said.