Skip to content

The Drift: ‘Landmark’ project to boost Vale’s nickel production by 10,000 tonnes annually

South Mine expansion called key link in supply of critical minerals for EV production

Vale’s $945-million expansion of its South Mine near Sudbury will be a key driver in the production of critical metals for the province’s battery electric vehicle (BEV) industry and ensure continued local operations for years to come.

That was the word from Deshnee Naidoo, Vale’s executive vice-president of base metals, who was on hand at the company’s Copper Cliff Complex on Oct. 13 to officially mark the opening of the mine expansion.

Naidoo was joined by Premier Doug Ford, Mines Minister George Pirie, along with federal and provincial officials, union representatives, and employees to cut the ribbon on the project, which has been five years in the making.

Over a 14-year lifespan, South Mine is expected to produce 10 million tonnes of ore, which will result in an increase in annual nickel production of 10,000 tonnes and in copper production of 13,000 tonnes.

“With the nickel that we produce out of this mine, and many of our other mines in Sudbury, it goes straight into nickel sulfate and into the EVs produced in Ontario and greater Canada,” Naidoo said.

“We are uniquely positioned in Ontario, Canada, and the globe to deliver these critical minerals, because it is in the ground for us.”

The south shaft was first sunk in the 1960s and remained part of Vale’s operation until 2009 when it was put on care and maintenance.

By 2017, as economic conditions improved, the company took a second look at the operation and embarked on plans to reopen it.

Project manager Luiz Andrade said it took four years, pumping water 24 hours a day, just to dewater the shaft and ramp systems, ultimately removing a volume equivalent to that of 1,750 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

New construction included 12 kilometres of underground drifts, as well as the repair and expansion of underground ore and waste handling systems.

"A key focus of the project was rebuilding the south shaft,” Andrade said. “It took five years to be completed and included the installation of 2,600 tonnes of steel, which is about the same as all of the steel required for the liner of our 380-metre-high Superstack.”

On surface, the company constructed new loadout facilities, and updated and expanded existing ventilation systems, which were designed to minimize noise disruption to the local community.

At peak construction, 700 people were working on site; 270 new permanent jobs have been created for ongoing operations.

"By uniting the south headframe with the north headframe, we are creating one of the largest underground mine complexes in North America," Andrade said.

Ford called Vale’s nearly $1-billion investment in its Sudbury operations “a big win” for the people of Sudbury and Ontario, because it will strengthen the mineral-to-manufacturing supply chain between the northern and southern parts of the province.

"The technology that will power our future depends on better minerals like nickel and copper, the critical minerals that will be mined right here at Copper Cliff in Sudbury," he said.

“Businesses all around the world are searching for the materials needed to support green technology and they are looking to source a reliable source, a responsible source, and a sustainable source, and that's what they're giving them.”

Referencing the launch of the province’s Critical Minerals Strategy in March, Ford said Ontario will become a “world leader” in battery technology and electric vehicles.

“It all starts right here in the mines.”

In an impassioned address to the crowd, Pirie lauded the efforts of Vale’s production crew in completing the expansion safely.

Over the course of the project, the company reported operating for 2.3 million man hours with no lost-time injuries.

In a dangerous industry where the culture of safety is paramount, Pirie said, that statistic was significant.

"There is no success unless you are operating safely,” said the former mining executive.

“You guys have done a fantastic job.”

Pirie also highlighted the industry’s inclusion of Indigenous communities in becoming economic partners in mining, and applauded Vale for its remediation and sustainability work over the last five decades.

"We've got a magnificent future; Sudbury's got a magnificent future,” he said.

“Folks, you've done a great job; I'm happy to be here. It's a magnificent and beautiful land that we live on and we're all committed to ensure it stays that way.”

Expansion of the South Mine is just the first phase of a larger project for Vale.

The company said additional expansion plans are currently under consideration, but details on future development were not provided at Thursday’s event.