Part 1: Lithium on the prairies – the latest boom for Snow Lake?

The small mining town of Snow Lake in northern Manitoba, about 200 km east of Flin Flon, has had its share of booms and busts. Lithium is the newest resource promising to put the town back on the proverbial map.

The small mining town of Snow Lake in northern Manitoba, about 200 km east of Flin Flon, has had its share of booms and busts. Lithium is the newest resource promising to put the town back on the proverbial map.

As the world transitions to electric vehicles (EVs), the demand for lithium, a key component in EVs’ lithium-ion batteries, will increase sixfold to 500 kilotons by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency, in its “Global Supply Chains of EV Batteries” report.

About 50 new mines are required to meet this demand, and one could be in Snow Lake, operated by Snow Lake Resources Ltd., also known as Snow Lake Lithium.

An aerial view of Snow Lake, Manitoba.
Snow Lake, Manitoba.

The possibility of a lithium mine is welcome news to Snow Lake mayor Peter Roberts.

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“We’re cautiously optimistic that this will get off the ground,” Roberts told The Flatlander.

Over the past several years, mining companies had promised to set up shop near the town, only never to appear. 

“We’ll try and help them if we can in any way. Like, we’re trying to locate a storage area for their (lithium) ore right now,” Roberts said.

Snow Lake Lithium’s proposed mine is unique because it will be almost 100 per cent electric. Powered mainly through hydroelectricity, it will be a first of its kind. 

Quebec company Meglab will supply the electric mining equipment. 

“Why go diesel if you can go electric?” Snow Lake Lithium CEO Philip Gross said during an interview from his home in London, England.

Currently, Snow Lake Lithium is conducting feasibility studies for its proposed mine. 

Lithium in Canada

Canada has 2.9 million tons of known and accessible lithium deposits, according to the 2021 version of the United States Geological Survey, which keeps a tally of known resource amounts from around the world. 

The amount of lithium in Canada compared to other countries is significant.

Other countries with large amounts of lithium include:

  • Bolivia, with 21 million tons; 
  • Argentina, with 19.3 million tons; 
  • Chile, with 9.6 million tons; 
  • Australia, with 6.4 million tons; 
  • China, with 5.1 million tons; and 
  • Congo (Kinshasa), with 3 million tons of known and accessible lithium deposits.

What is lithium?

Lithium is a light, highly reactive element. 

Its origins likely go back to the beginning of the known universe 13.8 million years ago with the Big Bang, when many lighter elements formed along with the universe. 

While the element is getting a lot of attention because of the EV boom, lithium has played a vital role in our lives for decades, said Dr. Tania Martins, a Precambrian geologist with the Manitoba Geological Survey and an expert on lithium.

In addition to lithium-ion batteries, lithium’s other uses include ceramics, glass, and medication.

In nature, lithium can be found in salt brines and encased in hard rocks. Because of its highly reactive nature, Martins explained, it cannot exist on its own. 

“Lithium always has to form a compound,” she said.

Lithium must combine with at least one other element to form a mineral. The most common mineral that contains lithium is spodumene. 

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