Skip to content

Vale is ‘supplier of choice’ for automobile battery-grade nickel

Company spending billions to expand Sudbury nickel and base metal operations, keep up with battery electric vehicle demand

Alfredo Santana, Vale's chief operating officer for the company’s North Atlantic operations, told the Sudbury BEV In Depth conference last week that as his company has now become the nickel supplier of choice for the electric vehicle battery market, there will be an economic payoff with expansion of mining operations in Sudbury.

Santana was one of several speakers on the roster during the two-day conference held at Sudbury's Cambrian College from May 31 to June 1

As the electric vehicle market is on the verge of exploding, Greater Sudbury is working to find ways to improve the city's role in developing local industries — not only to serve the automotive battery-electric market, but also to promote and enhance the role of the mining industry for the large industrial BEV market. 

This marked the second year for the conference, which debuted in 2022, attracting hundreds of delegates from across several sectors — government, mining, automotive, battery development — to discuss battery-electric vehicles and their future in Ontario.

Sudbury, and other Northern Ontario mining jurisdictions, is positioning itself as a source of the raw materials — critical minerals like nickel, palladium, lithium, and others — to make the components needed to manufacture batteries that will keep these vehicles running.

The conference aims to strengthen the battery-electric supply chain, from mining the ore to developing the technology to manufacturing related equipment.

In his address, Santana gave a quick outline of how Vale Base Metals has become its own entity within the overall corporate structure of the iron ore mining giant known as Vale S.A. 

Santana said some of the key advantages for Vale Base Metals is that it is headquartered in Toronto, apart from the head office operation in Brazil.

Santana said the new branch of the company is majority owned by Vale, but still distinct from the parent company. Vale Base Metals is also self-funded and can attract investment capital at competitive rates, he added. 

Santana said Vale Base Metals has positioned itself as "the supplier of choice" for electric vehicle battery manufacturing. He said that combined with predicted year-over-year growth for EV sales (40 per cent plus) in 2023 and similar performance until at least 2030, "it is a very exciting time for us."

He said the company agreements with General Motors and Tesla have secured Vale's position as a key supplier of the highest-quality battery-grade nickel for the automobile EV industry.

"So this underscores our position as supplier of choice. Actually, our intent is to have 30 to 40 per cent off our Class-1 nickel going to the EV industry. That's the goal," said Santana. 

In order to meet the demand for such things as nickel, copper and cobalt, Santana said Vale is in the process of developing more base metal operations in Sudbury, as well as Manitoba and Newfoundland & Labrador.

Some projects are underway and some are in the feasibility process, he said. One of those is the $1-billion Copper Cliff South Mine project, which was officially kicked off last fall. 

"Another very exciting project that we have in feasibility studies right now is the expansion of Creighton Phase Five, our deepest mine in Sudbury. So this will be a $1.1-billion investment. We are preparing to have this completed by 2031. And it will take us from the 8,590 (-foot) level today to the 9,760 (-foot) level. This will double our production of nickel in that mine and also significantly increase our copper production from there as well," said Santana.