Times are tougher in the electricity sector after the barrage of announcements in recent years. All over the world, projects are being postponed or forced to pause. Nemaska Lithium, a flagship company in the Quebec ecosystem, will not star in this film, assures its co-owner.
“Our discussions with manufacturers remain positive,” says Sarah Maryssael, general manager for Canada and head of global strategy for Arcadium Lithium, in an interview with La Presse. Nothing indicates to us, in our exchanges, that there is no longer any interest [towards us]. »
This new global giant – whose market value hovers around US$7 billion – was officially created on January 4, following the formalization of the merger between Livent and Allkem. Quebec is affected by this marriage. The first company owned 50% of Nemaska Lithium – the other half belongs to the Quebec state – while the second is behind a 380 million lithium mine project located about a hundred kilometers east of the Bay -James and the Cree community of Eastmain.
Ms. Maryssael, a former Tesla executive who is perfectly bilingual and has been based in Montreal for around 18 months, finds herself involved in these two projects in a context of economic slowdown combined with a plummet in lithium prices after the peaks reached in the fall of 2022.
Projects announced with great fanfare are now facing slowdowns. In the United States, Ford notably announced the postponement of a battery factory with a South Korean partner. General Motors (GM) and Honda have ended their plans to build an affordable electric vehicle.
“I think there is confusion between what is happening today in the short term and the long-term vision,” says Ms. Maryssael. There is a surplus in the supply chain in China. We are a long-term oriented producer. There is nothing that would limit us in the advancement of this project [Nemaska Lithium]. »
A first client was announced last May: Ford, which will build cathodes in Bécancour. Other potential customers are lining up, assures Ms. Maryssael, without going so far as to mention names.
“We still have a lot of interest and we remain sure that we will find more as the project progresses,” she says. Original manufacturers tend to secure their supply of critical minerals from reputable producers. »
Nemaska Lithium aims to transform lithium extracted from the Whabouchi mine, about 300 kilometers from James Bay, to then produce lithium hydroxide – essential in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles – in the industrial park of Bécancour. The project cost of these two components is estimated at around 2 billion (US 1.6 billion). Construction of the factory has started. Start-up is planned for 2026.
So far, Quebec has committed to injecting up to 425 million into the second version of the company, which was sheltered from its creditors at the end of 2019, losing tens of millions dollars to taxpayers.
By announcing their merger, Livent and Allkem indicated that they had access to liquidity of US$1.4 billion in order to finance their ambitions. This project is part of a group with strong backing, underlines Ms. Maryssael.
“We are also integrated from the mine to the refinery,” she says. This means that we can experience cycle changes. And this is not the first time we have seen it. »
On the James Bay side, Arcadium has just obtained authorization from the Environmental Impact Studies Committee (COMEX) for its lithium mine project. This project would notably include an open pit, an ore concentrator and storage areas. It will be necessary to build a processing plant, but Ms. Maryssael did not want to say whether this will be done in Quebec or elsewhere.
One thing is certain, she would like to see governments financially support producers and refiners in the same way that they supported cathode, anode and battery cell factories.
“To continue to develop and invest in Quebec, we must benefit from similar aid. We are not asking for more money, just to be treated the same way. We must double or even triple the [refining] capacity in the years to come if we want to supply this local chain in Quebec. »