Reading the headlines, one could think energy and the environment are fighting a hard battle. What if Quebec could help make these two concepts allies rather than opponents?
More than forty years after their discovery, lithium-ion batteries–celebrated by the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry–are revolutionizing our daily lives by electrifying transportation, powering our technological devices and storing energy for peak periods. As applications multiply, manufacturers are hungry for the minerals required to produce them.
Lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel are the main minerals used in these batteries of the future. While the energy they generate is emission-free, their extraction and processing are generally not as green. Producing countries, with China at the top of the list, have a questionable track record, to say the least, in terms of their operations’ environmental footprint and the respect they show communities and workers.
Whether it is for our access to clean and renewable energy or our advanced understanding of the environmental concepts surrounding responsible and sustainable mining operations, Quebec can make a difference on a global scale by playing an important role in this future mineral energy economy.
The World Bank predicts a dizzy increase in demand between now and 2050 for these strategic minerals: 383% for graphite, on which we are focusing our attention, and up to 965% for lithium!
The adoption of electric vehicles is no longer a marginal phenomenon; the number of electric cars has climbed 71% in Quebec according to the most recent CAA-Quebec data. Europe and Asia are showing an even greater appetite, due in part to the European Union’s new regulations on CO2 emissions for transportation.
To meet the demand, mega-battery factories are sprouting up everywhere: Benchmark Mineral Intelligence now lists 115 compared to 63 at this time last year. It is an interesting economic boom for energy technologies, but it represents a real headache in terms of supplying strategic minerals and cleaning up the value chain.
Reconciling energy and the environment
Market pressures, Quebec’s geopolitical situation and global awareness of the climate emergency create an unparalleled window of opportunity to propel the energy transition ethically and responsibly.
A geophysicist by trade, I ventured to explore new territories overlooked by the mining industry: a new world, Nouveau Monde, to be discovered with new technologies! Some 20,000 km2 of helicopter-borne exploration and ground follow-up led our destiny to Saint-Michel-des-Saints, in the Lanaudière region, where nature had left us a world-class graphite deposit a very long time ago.
Since this discovery in 2015, I have always taken this unique privilege of developing a non-renewable resource very seriously. With my team, the community and local stakeholders, we worked to re-imagine the traditional practices of our sector and come up with an innovative and bold project focused on sustainable development. As the first 100% electric open-pit mine, we intend to develop this strategic mineral to create social, environmental and economic value.
Québec’s natural resources are our collective wealth. While we pride ourselves on clean, renewable hydroelectricity, the minerals in our bedrock can generate the same sense of appreciation by offering an alternative to fossil fuels.
Beyond natural resources, Québec is also rich in talent, research and development platforms, world-renowned environmental standards, innovative SMBs that weave a dynamic economic framework and, lastly, leadership.
This week, the province’s attention will turn to Saint-Michel-des-Saints as the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement begins consultation on our mining project. Within this exceptional democratic participation structure, I invite Quebecers of all backgrounds and ages to reflect on the place we wish to occupy as a society in this energy transition.