The North is poised to play an integral role in the burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) revolution thanks to a new coalition of organizations aimed at bringing important critical minerals and EV-related technologies to market.
Last December, the province announced Northern Ontario would host a new Regional Technology Development Site (RTDS) — one of seven across the province — as part of its Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN).
With global demand for electric and autonomous vehicles growing, Ontario wants to become a key supplier of both the critical minerals required to produce related new technologies — such as the batteries to power electric vehicles — and the EV technologies themselves.
“Ontario is a global leader in all that is the automotive industry, and we’ve been in that position for the past hundred years,” said Don Duval, CEO at NORCAT, the Sudbury-based regional innovation centre that’s leading the coalition.
“There was a realization, from the province’s perspective, that the automotive industry and the mobility industry is evolving, and in order to maintain our competitive position, we need to invest and figure out what can we do to protect and enhance, concurrently, our competitiveness on the global stage as an automotive centre," he said.
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When the province put out a call for proposals for the Northern Ontario site, the coalition was successful in submitting a winning proposition outlining the North’s unique offerings, with input from industry partners.
Coalition members include NORCAT, which has locations in Sudbury and Thunder Bay; the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre; the Timmins Economic Development Corporation; the City of Temiskaming Shores; and Innovation Initiatives Ontario North in North Bay.
Duval said their goal will be threefold.
First, the coalition wants to support technologies and startups that can get the critical minerals mined in Northern Ontario into the supply chain faster.
“There’s an array of technology companies, be they big or small, domestic or international, that have an ability to enhance our ability to do exploration, extraction and subsequent downstream processing,” Duval said.
“If we can do that cheaper, better, faster, and safer, then that enhances our ability to more effectively compete in this electrification transformation in the automotive industry.”
In the same vein, the coalition wants to get EV battery technologies to market faster.
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So, eligible startups, SMEs (small, medium-sized enterprises), and other stakeholders will be able to use the assets in each of the participating communities — whether it’s applied research resources, specialized development equipment, or hands-on testing and demonstration facilities — to further develop their technologies, Duval said.
Finally, coalition members will provide eligible startups and SMEs with access to incubation space, mentorship and technical advisory services, talent, angel investment and venture capital, and government partners — “anything that we can do to accelerate the growth and support these tech ventures in Northern Ontario that are building products and services that can contribute to enhancing the battery electric vehicle or autonomous vehicle supply chain in the province of Ontario,” Duval said.
Each of the coalition members will receive an allotment of funding from OVIN for eligible projects, and that will be supplemented by in-kind support and matching funds from industry partners.
Duval said work done through the Regional Technology Development Site should get underway shortly, and there will eventually be a website outlining the site’s objectives and how companies can get involved.
Excited about Northern Ontario’s potential, Duval believes this marks a crucial opportunity for regional stakeholders to make a real, lasting mark on the automotive industry as it moves into a new era.
“This is a real, strong and dedicated signal that the province of Ontario sees a meaningful contribution of Northern Ontario and, more specifically, the opportunity to get our critical minerals into the automotive supply chain in a meaningful way to contribute to a pan-provincial automotive industry,” Duval said.
“I think that’s really inspiring and really important.
“So whatever we can do to support the technologies to help in that mining supply chain is going to be paramount to our province’s long-term sustainability as a leader in the automotive sector.”