Tourmaline in pegmatitic granite. Credit: James St. John
New technology in batteries is sparking renewed interest in once overlooked mineral deposits in Canada.
As demand for batteries rises and the technology improves, there has been a huge upsurge in demand for resources such as cobalt, lithium and nickel, which are used to power everything from electric cars to phones.
Canada possesses many of these battery minerals, although it remains to be seen whether there are any deposits large enough to warrant commercial mining.
In the past deposits of these minerals were overlooked or seen as secondary to resources such as gold and silver. In Cobalt, ON, miners once dug past huge veins of cobalt in search of more precious silver. Now new prospecting may revitalize these dormant mines and the local economy.
But the need for new sources of these battery metals is pressing, and not just for economic reasons.
Currently, most of the world’s cobalt supply comes the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, where child labour is often used and reports of human rights abuses are rife.
The result is that prospecting for these metals in Canada has increased significantly, with a rash of new start-up companies drilling for test samples and raising finance. A report by industry consultant PwC, for instance, says the number of small Canadian mining firms invested in lithium has risen from just one in 2015 to 10 last year.
It may all come to little effect. The price of both lithium and cobalt peaked last year, and only one lithium mine has resulted so far.
But although it may be years if ever before any new mines open in Canada, the possibility offers the chance for a more socially-conscious source of battery material.
Regardless of whether these prospecting efforts bear fruit, it is a reminder that new technologies not only change the daily life of users, they also shift multi-billion-dollar supply chains.
By: Kevin Martine
My name is Kevin Martine. I’m a fourth year journalism student at Carleton University. In the past I have written for both CIM Magazine and CapitalCurrent.ca. I’m excited about science journalism because I love reading about new technological achievements. I know that so many of the scientific discoveries and advancements made in the last few decades would have seemed impossible when my parents were growing up. I hope the future has many more such advancements in store for me to report on. I’m also minoring in economics, and I’m interested in how scientific learning can be applied to improve real world human welfare. I also love to read and I’m an avid follower of science fiction. Growing up, I was always curious and full of questions about the world around me. I like science journalism because I hope to answer the questions of people like me.