Canada could become a global centre for electric vehicle (EV) batteries under a US government strategy to counter Chinese competitors.
The US Department of Commerce held a closed-door virtual meeting with miners and battery manufacturers to discuss ways to boost Canadian production of materials needed in EV production such as cobalt, lithium and graphite, Reuters reported on March 18.
US officials stressed an urgent need to create a US-Canada EV supply chain. Last month, US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to building an EV supply chain between the two countries.
Canadian firms are also able to apply for US government grants under Washington’s Defense Production Act and other funding programmes. There are no US tariffs on Canadian EV and battery metals or parts.
The motivation is China’s dominance of reserves, production and exports of many strategic products needed for EVs. As a result, Canada has emerged as a hotbed of EV research and development as well as manufacture.
Fortune Minerals, which is developing a cobalt mine in the Northwest Territories, has held funding talks with the US Export/Import Bank. Cobalt is used to make battery cathodes.
Nouveau Monde Graphite is building a graphite mine and battery anode plant in Quebec funded in part by UK-based Pallinghurst, which bought the Nemaska lithium project, also in Quebec, in partnership with US lithium miner Livent.
Canada’s First Cobalt is building the continent’s only cobalt refinery, part of an effort to wean the EV industry off supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where child labour has been used.
Last week, privately-held USA Rare Earth invested in Search Minerals’ rare earths project in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Other countries are training their sights on Canadian assets. This month, UK-based Anglo Pacific Group acquired a 70% interest in the Voisey’s Bay cobalt mine, also in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“You’re beginning to see Canada become an important part of the North American EV supply chain,” said Keith Phillips, chief executive of Australia’s Piedmont Lithium, which in January bought 20% of Sayona Mining, the developer of yet another Quebec lithium project.
Canada’s EV ecosystem is more than just minerals. Ballard Power Systems, which develops and manufactures proton exchange membrane fuel-cell products, has seen its share price rise 50% in the past six months.
On March 15, Trudeau helped open a battery factory for heavy EV maker Lion Électrique in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec.
“This factory will allow Lion to integrate a fundamental element to the supply chain of our electric vehicles,” chief executive and founder Marc Bédard said. Batteries were previously imported.
In a separate development, US-based Lordstown Motors shares plunged nearly 12% on March 18 after the electric utility truck company disclosed a regulatory inquiry over a short seller’s report.
Hindenburg claimed the company, which went public through a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, was fraudulently inflating its orders to raise capital.
The drop was the latest sign of a recent retreat in the once high-flying EV sector, whose ranks have been swollen by the recent boom in SPACs.
Shares in Lordstown and Nikola, another electric-truck startup attacked by Hindenburg, are both down 50% from their highs this year.
• George Russell with Reuters
This report was updated on Jan 11, 2022 for style purposes.