Snow Lake Resources Ltd. is developing what it states is the world’s first all-electric lithium mine in Manitoba, targeting 2025 for commercial production.
Lithium is a critical component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, used to transfer the charge. In 2021, the International Energy Agency predicted global lithium demand would multiply 42 times by 2040. Canada is well positioned to help meet that increase in demand, being ranked sixth globally in lithium reserves.
Snow Lake (LITM-Q), doing business as Snow Lake Lithium Ltd., has only explored one per cent of its 55,318-acre site, but expects to produce 160,000 tonnes of six per cent lithium spodumene per year over the next decade. That would be enough to help power 500,000 EVs each year.
Lithium spodumene can be processed into lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate, both of which contain cathode materials that can be used in EV batteries. There are eight kilograms of lithium on average in an electric vehicle.
Philip Gross, Snow Lake’s CEO and chairman, said the mine was discovered in the 1930s while prospecting for gold and other base metals. Instead, lithium was found, which at the time wasn’t useful “from an economic perspective.”
“What’s happened now is we have, this is not being dramatic, I think it’s the greatest disconnect between supply and demand in the history of commodities,” said Gross.
“Lithium exists, we know it exists in the Earth’s crust, but nobody’s ever bothered looking for it. So it’s one of those situations where . . . in the world of mining, it’s gonna take a long time to scale up to the point to be able to satisfy the demand.”
The Snow Lake mine
The mine was acquired in 2016 by the Australian company Nova Materials Ltd. and Snow Lake incorporated in 2018 in Winnipeg, with Nova remaining a majority shareholder. In January 2021, Gross came on board and the company went public on the NASDAQ in November, raising $36.5 million.
The area has a similarly named town of 900 people, located 685 kms north of Winnipeg.
The mine plans to achieve all-electric status in part by taking advantage of Manitoba Hydro; over 97 per cent of its energy is produced from hydroelectricity. It has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Val-D’Or, Que.-based Meglab, which developed the MegaCharge — a solution for underground and surface charging of between two and 18 battery electric vehicles.
“I’m absolutely confident that mining in the future, whether it’s three years (or) five years will be electric. That is the way to go,” Gross said. “All the big guys are working on this today.”
There is also railway access 65 km to the south.
Currently, it is in the midst of environmental, metallurgical, engineering and feasibility studies with the aim of completing a life cycle analysis as well. Since January, Snow Lake has drilled 20,000 metres.
The company is in discussions with automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and battery manufacturers to establish a lithium hydroxide processing plant in CentrePort Canada — North America’s largest trimodal inland port. While Gross would not reveal more, he calls this his No. 1 corporate priority.
“I’ve been working on that, literally, for at least the past year. Initially, in my discussions with the OEMs and the battery manufacturers, they (said), ‘Oh, this is too early,’ ” he said. “But now they’re suddenly coming to the realization that a) there’s gonna be a scramble for raw materials and b) is there’s no such thing as too early. 2025, 2026 is around the corner on this.”
Snow Lake aims to be the first lithium mine to achieve ‘B Corporation’ status — a business that meets verified standards of accountability, transparency and performance.
According to the company’s investor presentation, global lithium demand will reach 185 kilotonnes per year by 2030. That same year, EVs are expected to represent about 32 per cent of new car sales. Approximately 68 per cent of lithium mined globally is used in EV production.
Overall, EVs use six times as many mineral inputs as gas vehicles. A McKinsey forecast expects the global market for battery cells to reach $360 billion to $410 billion in the next decade.
With many EV production facilities planned in North America in the coming years, Gross said there is still a lack of the raw materials. The same investor presentation states China has over 70 per cent of the worldwide capacity for lithium-ion batteries. With Canada’s resource-rich land and the current landscape, Gross believes the country can step up in the supply chain.
“Today’s cars are a big, fat iPhone. That’s what they are, and there’s no reason why we cannot manufacture them entirely, or at least mostly in Canada,” he said. “I believe it’s Canada’s moment to really dominate.”
In 2021, Canada was also one of 15 countries to sign the global Drive to Zero memorandum last year, pledging to work toward 30 per cent zero-emission commercial vehicle sales by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040.
A recent report from Clean Energy Canada and the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing recommends Canada should meet at least 10 per cent of North American demand for battery materials, but “punch above its weight” in the case of lithium and cathode materials.
Volkswagen and Ford are aiming for EVs to represent half of all sales by 2030, while Toyota is aiming for annual EV sales of 3.5 million by the same year.
“I do believe that especially with the government support – and I’m not a big fan of government intervention in that sense – but I do think that there are times in history, inflection points where governments have to step in and make those unrealistic goals realistic,” Gross said.
“So I always use the example of the Hoover Dam, or things that are huge-scale crazy, but over the course of 50 years or a century they suddenly realized that was actually genius.”