As the world becomes more and more digital, and manufacturing becomes greener, there will be increasing demand for critical metals, minerals and rare earths. And Canada can play a key role in supplying them.
The World Bank sees future demand like this: “Over 3 billion tons of metals and minerals will be needed by 2050 to scale up wind, solar and geothermal power and energy storage to reach a below-2°C future.”
The bank adds: “We know that aluminum, copper and nickel are ‘critical’ minerals that will play a strong role in the transition to a low-carbon future, as they will be needed for a wide variety of technologies.
“Graphite and lithium are also ‘critical’, but their outlook depends on the extent to which battery storage is deployed between now and 2050.”
But there‘s much more to future demand than just those few items. Canada’s strategic list includes these:
- Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.
Canada is already the world’s No. 1 producer of potash, No. 2 of uranium and niobium, No. 3 for palladium and titanium, No. 4 for aluminum, indium and platinum, and No. 5 for graphite and nickel.
And Ottawa has been saying: “Critical minerals are in increased global demand and needed to support important manufacturing sectors such as communication technology, aerospace and national security, and low-carbon and digital technology.”
The US, for one, notes that of the 35 mineral commodities deemed critical by the Department of the Interior, the US was 100-percent reliant on foreign sources for 13 in 2019.
Now China has a new export-control law that it could use to restrict overseas purchases of key minerals and rare earths. So the US, Canada and Australia have made an agreement to coordinate critical-mineral mapping and research efforts. And to share information “to help ensure a safe and secure supply of the materials needed for each country’s economy and security.”
The federal government and the Mining Association of Canada noted that an Abacus poll in May found 88% of respondents wanted to see Canada increase its role in producing critical minerals for world markets.
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan pointed to that finding: “Canadians support growing our market share as a preferred global supplier of critical minerals, products and technologies that are essential to building a net-zero economy.
“As we work to emerge from the challenges and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, Canada's critical mineral resources will lead us to a more competitive and prosperous industry."
And as pressure grows on mining industries to become greener and more sustainable as they produce these commodities, Canada has a special plus to offer: the Mining Association’s commitment to responsible mining through the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program.
That’s a set of tools and indicators to ensure that key mining risks are managed responsibly. It has been adopted by six other mining associations around the world, including Brazil and Norway.
Then there are Canada’s rare earths. As Natural Resources Canada notes: “Rare-earth elements are found in just about every type of high-tech device from smart phones to electric vehicles.”
And Canada has some of the largest known reserves and resources of rare earths in the world, estimated at over 15 million tonnes of rare earth oxides. But we’re a long way behind China and others in actual production. From there, there’s one way to go: up.
- In 2018, Canada produced over 60 minerals and metals worth nearly $47 billion. Metals represented over 50% of total production
- Canada's domestic exports of mineral and metal products reached $105 billion in 2018, accounting for 19% of total merchandise exports