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Mining the Northwest: Australian lithium player eyes former Thunder Bay paper plant site for chemical refinery

Green Technology Metals on the fast track to become Ontario’s first lithium miner and refiner

Brownfield space in Thunder Bay’s north end is becoming a hot spot for the lithium industry.

Green Technology Metals said the former Cascades paper plant is its leading property to place a lithium hydroxide conversion facility, potentially the second such facility slated for the city. 

In posting its “mine-to-chemical” strategy for northwestern Ontario this week, the company said it has a letter of intent for a 25-hectare industrial port site at 550 Shipyard Drive, the location of the former Cascades Fine Papers mill, also known as Superior Fine Papers, which was demolished in 2015.

It’s not far from where another regional lithium miner, Avalon Advanced Materials, wants to build its own lithium chemical refinery.

A lithium hydroxide conversion facility is a refinery that takes lithium concentrate, processed at the mine site, and converts it into a battery-grade material that the electric vehicle manufacturers are after.

Green Tech calls the Thunder Bay mill site a “contender,” along with a few other select sites that they’re eyeballing around the city, pending a thorough evaluation of the property from an environmental, permitting and community acceptance standpoint. 

The company said they evaluated 56 brownfield sites in northwestern Ontario, focusing on heavy industrial zoned sites, before settling on this one.

Headquartered in Perth, the company has two main lithium deposits in northwestern Ontario that it’s eager to bring into production within this decade. 

The Seymour Project, situated on the top end of Lake Nipigon, is the most advanced and is being touted as the company’s “Eastern Hub,” while its Root Project, northeast of Sioux Lookout, is dubbed the “Western Hub.”

Both deposits will provide feed for the Thunder Bay processing hub. 

The company’s ‘timeline to production’ is to start mining at Seymour in 2025. Lithium processing is Thunder Bay is slated for 2028. Root tentatively could start production in 2029.

Both properties are actively being drilled off and explored to expand the lithium resources there and generate more feed for Thunder Bay.

Investors and stakeholders will have a better picture of what the mine and processing plant could like when Green Tech posts a preliminary economic assessment very shortly. 

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A more in-depth feasibility study of what a vertically integrated mine and processing operation will look like is due out in the fourth quarter of 2024. 

Since arriving on the scene in 2021, Green Tech has moved at a quickened pace in drilling off Seymour and Root, producing lithium mineral estimates for both, and rounding up strategic investors to move the projects toward production. 

Green Tech insists it will be Ontario’s first lithium miner and refiner.

In a news release, the company said for the last 20 months, a “significant amount of work has been completed to investigate, assess, and advance GT1’s integrated supply chain strategy.” Their vision is to have “multiple mine” and concentrator facilities all feeding a “central lithium conversion facility” in Thunder Bay.

To finance their ambitions, Green Tech has been rounding up strategic partners, including an off-take agreement with LG Energy Solution, one of the world’s leading battery manufacturers for the automotive industry.

The South Korean battery-maker is looking to snag 25 per cent of the lithium spodumene concentrate production over a five-year period from the Seymour Project, a 9.9 million-tonne deposit.

Green Tech has cut other investing arrangements with Lithium Americas, AMCI Group and Primero Group. 

And Green Tech said it’s “actively engaged” with other companies seeking off-take (lithium supply) agreements and trading houses wanting to secure near-term lithium supply, “highlighting the growing interest and confidence in GT1’s projects.”

Aside from their private partners, the company said it’s looking to Canadian and foreign government funding agencies to come to the table to finance the concentrators at Seymour and Root and help with the Thunder Bay plant. 

Green Tech would like to tap into a $1.5-billion Canadian government funding pool, under the Strategic Innovation Funding Initiative, that’s available for processing of minerals used in electric vehicle battery manufacturing. Green Tech said they’ve filed a funding application and that application is being reviewed by Ottawa.  

If it all comes together, construction of the lithium plate could begin in late 2025 or early 2026.

Site preparation at Seymour begins in early 2024 with the start of mine and concentrator production in the latter half of next year, pending necessary approvals like government permitting and Green Tech making a final investment decision in the third quarter of 2024.

“Throughout this journey,” said Green Tech CEO Luke Cox in a statement, “we remain focused in our commitment to investing in exploration and development, all while engaging closely with Indigenous communities, an essential aspect of our progress forward.”

With 56,000 hectares of ground at its disposal, Green Tech said it’s out to expand its resource base through exploration of its existing projects and probing other promising areas near Seymour and Root. The company recently acquired the Junior Project, located 20 kilometres east of Seymour, an emerging property with good lithium potential. 

Up the north shore of Lake Superior, in the Lake Nipigon area, Rock Tech Lithium is contemplating where to place a lithium refinery to handle the concentrate coming from its Georgia Lake deposit in the Beardmore area. The Canadian-German company said it’s scoping out locations in Ontario and the northern U.S. to place a lithium processing plant.