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Lithium mine developer selects a Thunder Bay processing site

Avalon Advanced Materials to repurpose former forestry property to become lithium hydroxide refinery.
Thunder Bay waterfront (File photo)

The former Smurfit Stone mill property in Thunder Bay is the chosen site of a proposed lithium conversion chemical plant, possibly the first of its type in Canada.

Avalon Advanced Materials, owner of a lithium deposit near Kenora, announced that 965 Strathcona Ave. is the property the Toronto company has acquired for the refinery, first proposed in 2020.

Located off Shipyard Road in the city’s north end, the site has existing road, rail and deep-water port access as well as all the utilities needed to support a lithium hydroxide processing plant, the company said in a June 19 news release.

Avalon plans to mine lithium from its Separation Rapids Project, north of Kenora, and transport the material to the northwestern Ontario city for conversion into a battery-grade material for the North American electric vehicle battery manufacturing sector.

The company said late last month that a Thunder Bay refinery operation would begin operation in late 2027.

As a vertically integrated miner and processor, Avalon said it will create a combined 500 jobs in Thunder Bay and Kenora.

Last week, Avalon signed a $63-million joint venture arrangement with SCR-Sibelco of Belgium to come aboard as a development partner. The Belgium-based global manufacturer advanced some financing to assist with the property acquisition. Mostly likely the provincial government will come aboard as a funder given the Ford government’s economic priority on creating a domestic supply chain to feed the EV battery plants in southern Ontario.

If they are successful in constructing the plant, they might be the first mid-stream processor of lithium in Ontario and possibly Canada. 

"In addition to accelerating onshore EV production capacity,” said Avalon, president, Zeehan Syed, “our plan will help achieve a geo-strategic priority for Canada and other G7 nations to establish stable, secure access to refined raw material.

"While there is more work to do with our government and community partnerships, we are confident we will help close the gap between increasing demand and domestic supply of this key resource and help fortify North American energy security."

"Thunder Bay has long served as a strategic port for Canadian industry, facilitating trade between Ontario's north and the rest of North America," Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff in a statement.

"We're thrilled to be partnering with Avalon to continue that tradition, while bringing jobs and new economic opportunities to the region."

The company said it plans to deepen its relations with First Nations, as well as with the city and government, to ensure everyone benefits from this development with an emphasis on environmental stewardship.

“First Nations communities are valued partners, and the company looks forward to an ongoing dialogue of mutual respect and seeking innovative partnerships in the new green economy.”

Avalon said it’s in discussions with other interested parties to join the project. The company anticipates that the groundbreaking for this plant will encourage the development of other lithium assets in northwestern Ontario, potentially making this plant a regional lithium processing hub for other mining companies in the area. 

Besides tangible benefits for First Nation communities, Avalon said a plant offers research and development opportunities with local postsecondary institutions.