Critical and Strategic Minerals: A Rock-Solid Plan for Québec
The Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals 2020-2025
Rapid changes in technology have led to a clear increase in the demand for critical and strategic minerals (CSMs), for telecommunications, the medical field, renewable energy production, and transportation electrification. In the current context of economic upheaval exacerbated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are now seeking to secure their CSM supplies.
According to a World Bank report published in 2020 (1), the energy transition towards a low carbon economy will significantly increase the demand for minerals such as nickel, vanadium, indium, cobalt, lithium, and graphite. Figure 1 (below) shows the anticipated growth in demand, in the period 2018 to 2050, for some of the minerals required in low greenhouse gas-emitting technologies.
Like many other States, Québec has begun its transition to a greener economy. To meet its needs, it has chosen to focus on renewable energies and new technologies that will address issues such as wealth creation, quality of life, and greenhouse gas emissions. This focus is reflected in the Government’s various plans and policies, including the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy, the 2020-2023 Northern Action Plan and the Québec Strategy for the Development of the Battery Sector.
The Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals 2020‑2025 (the Québec Plan) is part of this shift.
Our Assets and Strengths
Québec’s mining investment business environment is one of the best in the world. Québec offers various forms of support for mining projects, including a competitive mining taxation system and tax measures created specifically for mineral and metal production and exploration companies. This competitive, predictable business climate is also supported by the actions of institutional investors, a legal framework that facilitates mining development, and the proposed Coordination of Rights Bureau, which will shorten the time needed to obtain rights and permits without reducing the regulatory and environmental requirements. An additional significant asset for Québec is the availability of low-cost electricity for companies connected to Hydro-Québec’s network.
In Québec, social acceptability is one of the most important aspects in the development and implementation of natural resource development projects. Promoters that that wish to are able to obtain additional Government assistance to develop CSM sectors in collaboration with local and Aboriginal communities. The Québec Government has signed two modern treaties and several agreements with the First Nations and Inuit of Québec, including the Grande Alliance signed in 2020 with the Cree Nation.
As one of Canada’s major mine producers, Québec has a wide variety of mineral resources, especially in northern areas. For some of these resources, including nickel, lithium, graphite, cobalt, platinum group elements, rare earth elements, niobium, titanium, vanadium, and zinc, mines are already in operation, development projects have been launched, and deposits have been discovered, as shown on the map of mining projects. Although Québec does not dominate global production, it nevertheless provides an interesting complementary solution to the major CSM-producing countries.
Lastly, mining in Québec is based on the optimization and development of new metallurgical processes and the expertise of numerous applied research centres and research networks composed of experienced experts.
The Québec Plan
Québec’s Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals 2020-2025 was launched by the Québec Government on October 29, 2020. Its goal is to foster the development and sustainability of CSM value chains using Québec’s competitive advantages and expertise, while contributing to the Government’s energy and technology transition orientations. This will be done with the aim of achieving sustainable development, social acceptability, and wealth creation for the regions, including local and Aboriginal communities.
As part of its vision, Québec wants to be acknowledged as a reliable, ethical and sustainable partner that contributes actively to global green energy and technology transitions and to wealth creation in a greener economy through the production, processing and recycling of good quality CSMs.
Below is a brief review of the Plan’s main orientations.
Orientation 1: Increase Knowledge and Expertise on CSMs
The need to develop knowledge and expertise at different stages in the development of CSM value chains has emerged as one of the key issues for the development of CSM sectors in Québec.
Figure 2 below presents the current status of geoscientific knowledge relating to Québec’s territory. This level of territorial knowledge is generally insufficient (blue areas of the map) and that it must be strengthened if CSMs are to be developed. It is for this reason that we will carry out geoscientific surveys to map CSM potential and speed up the investment process. In addition, the latest data processing and artificial intelligence innovations will be used to process the data needed to develop mineral potential.
We will also improve knowledge of CSMs by promoting synergy in innovation and in research and development. As a first step, the MERN has asked PRIMA Québec to map current research on CSMs, from exploration to recycling. The study will help to understand where Québec is positioned in comparison to the other provinces and States. Based on this information, Québec can then create a network to galvanize research and promote it internationally. This new knowledge, along with the additional environmental and social expertise that is acquired, will be used to develop management tools for CSM projects.
Orientation 2: Deploy or Optimize Integrated Sectors in Partnership with the CSM Producing Regions
A typical mineral value chain is complex. It is divided into several phases, from exploration to recycling of the resource, and includes mining, processing, and use. This type of sector, like the lithium-ion battery sector, can only be deployed in Québec once the winning conditions have been assembled – in other words, resource availability, market proximity, competitive mining costs, an ecosystem of innovative companies, a growing global market, and a stimulating framework. Orientation 2 addresses various economic development issues with a view to providing these winning conditions.
The first objective is to foster sustainable CSM exploration and development, among other things by protecting the resource, improving basic support for the deployment of good quality CSM projects, and analyzing market trends in order to anticipate and seize business opportunities. The second objective is to support the processing and creation of value-added products in CSM sectors. The third objective is to improve multi-user infrastructure and access corridors to CSM resources. This will be done among other things by preparing an integrated vision for the implementation of transportation, renewable energy. and telecommunications networks in northern areas. The fourth and final objective is to stimulate the implementation of structural artificial intelligence initiatives in mining companies for a transition to Mining 4.0.
Orientation 3: Contribute to the Transition to a Sustainable Economy
On a global scale, less than nine per cent of extracted resources are re-circulated in the economy (2) after use, even though the availability of many of these resources, including CSMs, is increasingly limited. The circular economy is one of the solutions available to mitigate the possibility of resource shortages and secure supplies. The circular system aims to keep resources in the consumption cycle and serves as a strategy to diversify the activities of stakeholders in the CSM value chain. In addition, it is an additional argument to attract foreign investments.
It is for this reason that the Québec Plan proposes to build circular economy principles into CSM value chains (Figure 3). This will be done first by supporting the creation of a business environment conducive to circular economy projects, and second, by innovating to develop mine tailings.
The creation of a CSM recycling industry will also be encouraged. The development of mining by-products and recycling of metals will be supported as complements to traditional ore mining. The scope of extended producer responsibility (EPR) may also be broadened to include new products from recycling.
Lastly, initiatives designed to reduce the environmental impacts of CSM extraction and development projects will be encouraged, among other things, by supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy supplies.
Orientation 4: Raise Awareness, Guide, and Promote
The development of CSM sectors is an emerging phenomenon in the global economy, and requires the implementation of awareness, guidance, and promotional actions aimed at the general public, entrepreneurs, and the sector’s international stakeholders.
A communication strategy will be prepared and deployed to raise awareness of the issues, impacts and spin-offs from CSM development for Québec and its regions among the general public, local stakeholders, and Aboriginal communities.
A coordinated government approach will be applied to prepare an investment promotion, prospecting, and attraction strategy to promote CSM sectors. The aim of the strategy will be to evaluate the possibilities for and means of assisting Québec companies with their CSM exploration, development, extraction, processing, and recycling projects.
Lastly, a pilot project under the authority of Propulsion Québec will be carried out to set up a traceability system for the minerals needed in battery manufacturing in order to attract more investments by demonstrating that the principles of ethics, governance, and social and environmental responsibility are applied in Québec.
An Excellence Plan for a Green and Prosperous Economy
The Québec Plan has the ambitious aim of fostering the emergence of sectors that will be profitable for Québec’s economy. By implementing the vision proposed in the Plan, Québec will be able to take full advantage of its mineral resources and expertise. This will allow it to foster the development of CSM value chains that will support the creation of added value and sustainable economic development in the regions, for the benefit of local and Aboriginal populations and Québec as a whole.
The MERN’s role is to manage Québec’s land and resources. Public land, which accounts for 92 per cent of Québec’s total territory, makes a significant contribution to the province’s socio-economic development through its broad range of resources. The development of all these natural resources creates tens of thousands of jobs in a variety of economic sectors, and benefits all the regions.
Circular economy: A production, trade and consumption system intended to optimize resource use at every stage of the lifecycle of goods or services, while reducing their environmental footprint and contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities.
Critical minerals: Mineral substances that are of economic importance to key sectors of the economy, for which there is a high supply risk, and for which substitutes are not commercially available.
Strategic minerals: Substances required in order to implement Québec’s policies; for example the Plan for a Green Economy.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR): An approach designed to transfer responsibility for salvaging and developing waste materials generated by the consumption of various products to the companies that marketed those products.
- WORLD BANK GROUP, CLIMATE SMART MINING FACILITY, Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition (Consulted on June 15, 2020).
- CIRCLE ECONOMY, Circularity Gap Report 2020 (Consulted on June 15, 2020).