Haig is the CEO and founder of Oakville-based FORGE Hydrocarbon Technologies and brings over 25 years of experience as a pioneer in the field of renewable energy, most recently in the biofuels sector.
"We welcome Mr. Haig's extensive knowledge and firsthand experience in bringing complex, innovative processes into production, something he has done multiple times in the fields of renewable and low-carbon fuel technologies," Scott Monteith, CEO of Avalon, said in the Oct. 25 announcement of the appointment.
"He's a visionary in clean energy development, with a reputation for uncompromising integrity."
Avalon, headquartered in Toronto, is developing Ontario's first lithium processing facility – set to become operational in 2028 – near Thunder Bay. It will establish a 383-acre industrial park that will also be the site for a technology & innovation centre and a lithium battery recycling facility.
Haig expects to play a vital advisory role on behalf of Avalon as the company will need to work closely with all levels of government to bring its lithium supply chain project to fruition.
"I happen to be an engineer. I understand the science. But what I've learned over the last 25 years or so is that you need public and private partnership on this kind of a venture," Haig said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.
"I believe I can lend Avalon some assistance in how to navigate the sometimes difficult corridors of politics . . . This is going to be a very heavy lift for Avalon and I see my role as being able to intercede in the public policy side because we're going to need government cooperation while as Canadians we need to get behind these kinds of projects."
Bridging Ontario's EV lithium supply chain gap
Avalon's lithium processing plant is expected to fill a major gap in Ontario's burgeoning lithium sector, providing a critical component to the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs).
Volkswagen has announced it will invest $7 billion toward the construction of its first overseas EV battery manufacturing plant in St. Thomas, Ont. In addition, Stellantis and LG have resumed construction on their NextStar Energy EV battery plant in Windsor after receiving $15 billion in tax breaks from the federal and Ontario governments.
These plants will require massive amounts of processed lithium to produce the millions of EV batteries needed to supply the fast approaching new era in zero-carbon public and private transportation.
To this end, Avalon is pushing forward with its core strategic objective of building a mid-stream lithium processing facility connecting lithium deposits in northwestern Ontario to EV battery manufacturing plants in the province's southwest.
Jim Jaques, Avalon's new chief administrative officer, believes Avalon is poised to become a major player in the lithium supply landscape.
"We own the lithium in the ground. We have the capital to get that supply out of the ground. We have the land where we will be building the processing plant. And we're the only company with a clear plan and vision to build the vital lithium processing plant that can complete an Ontario-based supply chain," Jaques said.
"We will be filling a vital role in delivering lithium downstream to the kind of enormous EV battery plants being built by Volkswagen and Stellantis."
Haig believes Canada needs to change its industrial course
Canada has traditionally occupied a far greater role as a producer of raw materials for export than as a country which manufactures end products.
Haig believes Avalon has the management in place to reclaim the kind of added value the economy has often farmed out to other countries.
"Canada has been poor at this," Haig said. "When you're a very resource-rich country, you can be a bit lazy. It's a lot easier to cut down a tree and earn money from selling it to manufacturers, than to actually make the table yourself.
"If you look at the history of Canada, we've been pretty good at extracting resources, but we tend to send them away to get them turned into something and then we buy the final product back which is not great for our own economy,
"That's one of the areas where Avalon is showing leadership in trying to escape that thinking. I wasn't part of developing their lithium supply strategy, but I love the fact that they're doing it . . . Let's not just be a drawer of water and a hewer of wood. Let's upgrade our industrial thinking and create the wealth within Canada."
A pioneering figure in renewable energy
Avalon will count on Haig's extensive background in the renewables sector to advance its lithium ambitions. A graduate of Canada's Royal Military College where he earned a degree in industrial engineering, Haig served overseas with the Canadian Special Forces.
Later he served with the British Army on the Rhine and spent several years stationed in Germany. He then left military service to earn his MBA at London City College in England, after which he went to work for several Canadian engineering firms.
"One of those companies was an early developer of wind farms and that experience awakened my interest in renewable energy. I'm a bit of a chemistry geek and at one point I started to realize that there are several ways of making renewable electrons from garbage incinerators powered by solar energy.
"This was 30-something years ago, and now there's a lot more ways of making renewable electrons. But there's not a lot of ways to make renewable hydrocarbons and that's when I decided to get involved in biodiesel.
"Biodiesel is to diesel what ethanol is to gasoline. It's a proxy for the molecule but it's not the same molecule. So I ended up buying a laboratory patent from the University of Toronto with Scott Monteith, who is now the CEO of Avalon.
"Scott and I then scaled up and founded a company called BIOX, which evolved into a pretty successful small biodiesel company."
FORGE-ing ahead with biofuels for the aviation industry
After BIOX merged with another renewables fuel producer in 2017, Haig launched a new renewable biofuels company, FORGE Hydrocarbon Corp., in 2019.
FORGE was set in motion after Haig and other investors acquired the patent for a lipid-to-hydrocarbon (LTH) technology that transforms lipids into renewable diesel.
Today, FORGE is leading the way in the production of a cost-effective, "drop-in" (i.e. they require no specialized blending infrastructure) renewable diesel fuel. FORGE’s renewable diesel and jet fuels are 90 per cent less carbon intensive than fossil-based diesel.
In July, FORGE announced it is partnering with Edmonton International Airport with the ultimate goal to build a sustainable aviation fuels facility in Alberta.
"This endeavour represents our commitment to sustainability, the environment and the future of clean fuels," Haig said when announcing the collaboration.
This venture represents a step forward for FORGE as it seeks to become a major player in the four-billion-gallon mandated North American market for renewable diesel and jet fuels.
FORGE plans to build advanced new biofuels plant in Sarnia
In effect, FORGE is replicating the earth's geological process that saw the formation of oil deposits from lipids. But by means of its LTH technology, Haig's company can produce oil from untapped lipid feedstocks "in a matter of hours rather than taking millions of years."
"We're about to build a plant in Sarnia (Ont.). This plant should be able to deliver renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel with the lowest carbon footprint in the industry and the lowest cost of production. It is important to remember we are not selling just molecules, we are selling carbon reduction which is what is required by the industry.
"With the help of key shareholders Shell and Chevron and our partnership with World Energy this plant should be online in 24 months . . . We have a Canadian technology coming to market at a time that the world really needs some important changes in Aviation.
"We've built facilities using new technologies before and this is the third or fourth one where we've scaled up from a test tube to reality and they've all been in the renewable space . . . We've done it before and we can do it now."