Canadian nickel miners claim carbon-neutral mining for EV battery metal

The Big Nickel (L), a nine-meter high replica of a Canadian five cent coin, is framed with the Vale Inco Superstack (R), a 380-meter high chimney at the Copper Cliff Smelter Complex, in Sudbury, Ontario

TORONTO — Mineral-rich Canada has potential to become a preferred supplier of cleaner nickel to power electric vehicles (EV), miners say, as automakers scour the globe for more environmentally friendly supplies of the metal.

Miners from industry giant Vale SA to junior explorers Canada Nickel Co Inc and FPX Nickel Corp are touting low-carbon nickel in hopes of wooing automakers who have stepped up scrutiny of mining practices for key metals used in batteries, from cobalt to copper and lithium.

“We think it’s a big plus for us,” said Mark Selby, Chief Executive of Canada Nickel, which is hoping to develop a “zero-carbon footprint” nickel-cobalt project in northern Ontario.

Canada Nickel’s planned Crawford project would tap hydropower and store carbon emissions in waste rock, although how much and at what rate requires further study, the company said. Construction of the $800 million to $1 billion mine and mill is slated for 2023 pending financing and permitting.

Miner FPX Nickel has similar plans for its early stage Baptiste project in the western province of British Columbia.

Such efforts are viewed by smaller companies as a competitive edge as automakers race to lock in supply and the world’s top miners replenish their project pipeline.

But plans hinge in part on partnerships with automobile companies and others in the burgeoning EV supply chain who remain reluctant to invest in mines, executives said.

Vale’s head of base metals Mark Travers said one of the big challenges in bringing the supply on is getting those mines built.

He said environmental, social and governance factors are “front and center” in talks with Tesla and others keen to source supply from its Canada operations.

Still, Vale is seeing some signs of progress.

“The speed of these discussions and the number of discussions has really accelerated in the past few months,” Travers told Reuters.

Nickel makes batteries energy-dense so cars can run further on a single charge. Demand is forecast to double from today’s levels by 2030, driven by use in EVs.

Much of the supply growth is expected to come from Indonesia, where production of finished nickel is 14 times more carbon-intensive than in Canada, according to London consultancy Skarn Associates.

Deposits in the South Asian country are “inherently dirtier” partly due to reliance on coal power for processing which could run afoul of demands for a cleaner supply chain, Selby said.

“When people are looking at projects, there’s now going to be a box in terms of, is this project going to help me or hurt me, in terms of my carbon footprint goals?” he said.

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