Canadian mining can supply the metals for a clean energy future

Zevenaar, The Netherlands - September 10, 2015: Black Tesla Model S electric car at a Tesla supercharger charging station. Superchargers are free connectors that charge Model S in minutes. Superchargers are used for long distance travel, located along the most popular routes in North America, Europe and Asia. Credit: Sjo/iStock.

If leadership on climate action and environmental best practices are worthwhile pursuits, then the Canadian mining sector is an industry that’s deserving of Canada’s – and the global market’s – full support.

And if a strong regulatory framework for environmental performance, growing Indigenous support and a superior record on human rights are equally important benchmarks, then our country’s mining sector is on the right track.

Beyond the metals that contribute to so much of our modern world, let’s focus for the moment on electric vehicles (EVs). They’re viewed by a growing number of consumers here and abroad as an important way to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve air quality in many developing cities.

Let’s also acknowledge that EVs also come with an embedded environmental footprint by virtue of the fact EV batteries require certain additional metals when compared with gas-powered vehicles. But that’s not to say EVs shouldn’t be produced. In fact, the opposite is true, and the production of these resources should be high-graded to suppliers like Canada who have the highest environmental standards.

First, lifecycle comparisons of EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles have shown EVs, when powered by batteries charged with clean electricity, will offset the battery’s environmental deficit within three years through its reduced GHG emissions. Obviously, conventional gas vehicles will always emit GHGs while the vehicle is in operation, and so a similar offset never comes.

Second, because of Canada’s environmental leadership in mining, I’d argue the additional footprint generated by manufacturing the EV’s battery simply means we should produce those batteries with Canadian minerals, metals and technology.

Third, and perhaps most important of all, Canada is blessed with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel, the minerals required to make next-generation electric batteries a reality.

Naturally, the argument goes well beyond passenger vehicles. Think of trains, trucks, buses and ships, and industrial applications like excavators and earth-movers.

And just less than a year ago, Vancouver’s Harbour Air, North America’s largest seaplane airline, along with magniX, the company powering the electric aviation revolution, completed the successful flight of the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft.

Sure, obstacles persist. Cold weather battery operation presents challenges, and work remains to resolve that issue. But in matters of global energy production, I normally turn to the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its views on current and future energy challenges and opportunities. Here’s what the IEA says about the potential growth of electric vehicles.

The IEA forecasts production of electric vehicles could reach 43 million units per year by 2030, with production valued at more than US$567 billion, and that by 2040 the international market for energy storage could attract US$662 billion in investments, with the lithium ion battery making up a key aspect of this development.

By the end of this year, Vale Canada, a subsidiary of Brazilian mining company Vale, recently announced it expects to have more than 20 battery-powered vehicles operating in five of its Ontario mines — some of which will be supplied by Canadian electric mining vehicle manufacturer Rokion. According to the company, EVs complement Vale Canada’s efforts in terms of greenhouse gas and carbon reduction, enabling operational benefits while reducing environmental impacts.

But it’s not simply Canada’s natural resources, skilled workers and commitments to innovation that will help us compete. At least as important is the growing interest among Canada’s Indigenous Peoples in both environmental stewardship and social and economic development on their lands and in their communities.

This comes after generations of systemic poverty, and a relationship in need of repair. Indigenous leaders are seeking a seat at the table in order to discuss benefits that can accrue to their communities over the long term. That explains in part why Indigenous partnerships with the mining industry have become prevalent today, and will only continue to grow in future.

What kinds of mining jobs exist for Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members? It runs the full gamut from geologists, metallurgists, mechanics and heavy equipment operators to carpenters, electricians, millwrights, pipefitters, boilermakers, HVAC apprentices, accountants, environmental technicians, supervisors, and power and water treatment plant operators.

They’re well-paid positions, and they’re located in rural areas often where Indigenous community members live.

Given the enormous strides Canadian mining has made in reducing its environmental impacts, the interest shown by Indigenous communities and mining companies in forming partnerships, and the wealth Canada has in terms of mineral and metals required for global battery technology, the future looks bright for the industry’s strong socially responsible participation in the battery supply chain.

And that’s good for Canada.

Cody Battershill is the founder/spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer-built organization that supports Canadian natural resource development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it.

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