The long-awaited Critical Minerals Infrastructure Fund (CMIF) launched on Monday, and several northern Ontario mining companies are hopeful their projects will be selected by Ottawa.
With $1.5 billion available over the next seven years, there is a lot of money at play. Up to $300 million is available in the first call for proposals, which ends in late February.
The program has two streams. One focuses on pre-construction and project development, and the other looks at infrastructure deployment.
It is a cornerstone of Canada’s critical minerals strategy, which aims to help the country become a major player in the global mining supply chain as the world tries to move towards a lower-carbon economy.
Selected companies could access up to $50 million in funding per project, a sum large enough to help “unlock” major deposits, according to Canada Nickel CEO Mark Selby.
Infrastructure is one of the main obstacles for companies looking to go into production
That company is advancing the Crawford nickel project near Timmins. It hopes Crawford could become the largest nickel sulfide operation outside of Russia and China.
Nickel sulfide is predominantly used in the production of stainless steel, which is a key ingredient in the batteries that drive electric vehicles.
Canada Nickel hopes to obtain its permits by mid-2025, and launch into production by the end of 2027.
But it needs several pieces of infrastructure to lift this project off the ground.
“We need to relocate the power lines, and relocate Hwy. 655 as it crosses the property,” explained Selby.
The company also needs to extend the Ontario Northland Railway by another 20 kilometers to transport the ore out of the project.
Money from the CMIF could eventually be used to build this missing infrastructure.
But if Canada Nickel isn’t selected, Selby is not worried. “We’ll be spending the next 20 years unlocking this. If we can get that help to make it happen faster, that’s great. If we don’t get this round, we’ll be back.”
Several northern Ontario critical mineral projects are “shovel ready”
Northern Graphite is in a similar situation. It is North America’s only producer of graphite, an ingredient that makes up almost half the materials found in lithium ion batteries.
It owns the Bissett Creek project some hundred kilometers east of North Bay.
CEO Hugues Jacquemin says the project could go into production as early as 2026 if the company raises the money it needs to get there.
The graphite deposit is located in an undeveloped area, meaning there are several infrastructure needs ranging from power lines to access roads.
More than twenty years have passed since graphite was discovered at Bissett Creek, and it’s been almost ten years since the company first released its feasibility study.
“It’s been in the making for quite a while,” said Jacquemin. “As a public company it’s difficult to raise the funding we need to advance our projects.”
If it is unsuccessful in its CMIF application, Northern Graphite’s production timeline goals will be pushed further out into the future. “It’s important for us to get this done as soon as possible,” said Jacquemin.
CMIF is a ‘huge opportunity’ for mining projects, says CEO
Another critical minerals company whose project is stalled due to lack of funding is Electra Battery Materials in Temiskaming Shores.
If it eventually manages to reach full production, that company will be the only cobalt refinery in North America. Cobalt is another important metal found in lithium-ion batteries.
CEO Trent Mell has been eyeing all government programs since the project ran out of funds earlier this summer.
Funding from CMIF would almost be enough to cover the missing $60 million US the company needs to complete the project.
“This program could get us into production in well under two years,” said Mell. “This would be a huge opportunity.”
Canada’s critical mineral list includes 31 minerals, with lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements considered a priority.
Source: CBC News