Increasing Demand Prompts Action Plan
By Tormaigh and Jenelle Van Slyke
The Government of Alberta (GOA) is taking aim to become a major player in the mineral extraction game. Northwestern Alberta is well positioned to score big by having an experienced workforce and a huge resource potential of minerals such as lithium, vanadium and zinc.
The GOA has already gotten the ball rolling by teaming up with industry, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders to create a strategy and action plan and to assign a regulatory body. The intent is to encourage investment, ensure environmental stewardship, diversify the economy and create jobs.
Demand for Metals and Minerals
The worldwide demand for metals and minerals is largely due to their applications in the technology and energy sectors. According to law firm Bennett Jones, which wrote a document pertaining to new GOA legislation, the province is “helping to support a future low-carbon economy.”
The document goes on to state that some of the minerals in Alberta are “important in developing green energy, which the World Bank has predicted will drive a 500% increase in demand for production of minerals by 2050. Rare earth minerals like lithium are used in creating batteries, including for electric-powered vehicles, and vanadium can be used for battery storage.”
Strategy and Action Plan
From October 2020 to February 2021, the GOA sought feedback from stakeholders under their Minerals Strategy Stakeholder Engagement (MSSE) initiative. They used the feedback to develop a strategy and an action plan “to re-energize Alberta’s minerals sector.”
According to MSSE, “Worldwide demand for metals and critical minerals is rising due to technological advancements, growing populations and national security. Alberta needed a modernized strategy to reflect new global conditions, capitalize on our vast resource potential and get Albertans back to work.”
Based on the stakeholder engagement, in November 2021 the province released the strategy and action plan, called Renewing Alberta’s Mineral Future Strategy (RAMFS) Action Plan.
The RAMFS Action Plan was created in alignment with several previous action plans and input from First Nations, Métis and Indigenous stakeholders.
The RAMFS Action Plan was introduced in conjunction with the Mineral Resource Development Act, or Bill 82, which received royal assent on December 2, 2021.
Essentially, Bill 82 gives the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)—a body that has historically served to regulate all major energy development in the province—authority to regulate mineral extraction.
According to the GOA, Bill 82 “aligns the AER authority over minerals with its authority over other energy resources and helps enhance the fiscal and regulatory environment for metallic and industrial mineral development, supporting the second key area in [the RAMFS Action Plan].”
The AER defines minerals as “…solid, naturally occurring materials with economic value, excluding fossil fuels.”
Bill 82 outlines the intent to provide certainty for the mineral extraction industry and better position Alberta as a mineral producer and promote growth in the sector.
Mineral Extraction in Northwestern Alberta
In our neck of the woods, companies like NeoLithica and PRISM Diversified Ltd. are positioning themselves to become leaders in the local mineral industry.
The Calgary-headquartered lithium development company, NeoLithica, is developing its flagship “Peace River Lithium Project” in Northwestern Alberta. NeoLithica owns extensive mineral permits that overlie lithium brine aquifers stretching between Peace River and Grande Prairie.
According to their website, “NeoLithica owns a 100% undivided interest in 573,463 hectares (2,214 square miles) of Alberta Crown Metallic and Industrial Mineral permits in northwest Alberta of which 260,055 hectares (1,004 square miles) lie within the Peace River Lithium Project.”
Their website goes on to state, “The Peace River Lithium Project consists of a series of 30 contiguous Metallic and Industrial Minerals permits issued by Alberta Energy, a ministry of the Alberta Government. The permits extend a distance of over 165 km.”
NeoLithica has entered a joint venture agreement with LiEP Resources—a wholly-owned subsidiary of Conductive Energy—a company that has developed direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies and processes to rapidly extract, concentrate and refine lithium from geothermal brines.
According to NeoLithica, the LiEP system can scale to process large volumes of lithium brine to produce commercial battery-grade lithium products at 99.5% purity.
NeoLithica plans to combine its mineral tenure with LiEP’s innovative technologies and process expertise to produce 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent annually for battery-grade lithium products.
According to the GOA’s website, NeoLithica’s proposed Peace River Arch Lithium Project, located in Northern Sunrise County, is estimated to cost $400 million, and “The demonstration pilot will be operational in 2024.”
PRISM Diversified Ltd.
The Calgary-headquartered company, PRISM—an acronym for Peace Region Innovative & Sustainable Manufacturing—has extensive mineral permits in the “Peace River Arch” geologic feature in the Clear Hills area.
PRISM started development in 2007 and is positioning itself for “the long-term production of iron, vanadium, lithium and aggregate products to support the growing demand in the aerospace and automotive industries for high-purity iron powder products, and vanadium and lithium electric metals to meet the demands of renewable energy storage projects.”
A PRISM press release from 2018 states, “Based on historic oil and gas production and a host of regional studies on the Devonian reservoirs, lithium has been found to exist at relatively high concentrations, that may be extracted and refined into lithium carbonate.”
According to their website, PRISM had 776,322 hectares (2,997 square miles) of undivided permit holdings in the Peace Region. In November 2021, they acquired an additional 5,440 hectares of mineral permits in proximity to their Worsley Project Area for poly-metallics and potentially for lithium-bearing formation mines.
According to the Government of Alberta website, PRISM’s proposed $300 million Clear Hills Mining Project “…will support the demand for high-strength, low alloy steel and ferrovanadium products. It is estimated the mine could supply 557 million tonnes of iron and 2.45 billion of contained vanadium pentoxide.”