A rival for Sudbury? Mining company hopes to turn Timmins into the new nickel capital

·4 min read

The CEO and Chairman of Canada Nickel Company told a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce audience on Tuesday that it is coming for Sudbury’s Big Nickel.

The company is in the process of “aggressively advancing” its Crawford nickel-cobalt sulphide project about 40 kilometres north of Timmins, which it describes as the largest nickel sulphide discovery since the early 1970s.

As part of the ongoing project, Canada Nickel recently launched a subsidiary called NetZero Metals to begin research and development on a processing facility that could produce zero-carbon nickel, cobalt, and iron products.

“Nickel is poised for another supercycle driven by continued high growth in stainless steel with this overlay of strong demand coming from the electric vehicle (EV) sector,” said CEO and Chairman Mark Selby.

“The Crawford discovery is not only an important discovery for us, but it will also be an important nickel discovery for the province and for the country as a whole given the scale that we’re unlocking as we go.”

Sudbury’s chamber welcomed Selby for a virtual President’s Series address on Feb. 9 where he discussed Canada Nickel’s Crawford project and the role of nickel in an electric future.

Discovered in 2018, the 4,900-hectare Crawford site is adjacent to and underneath the highway just north of the Kidd Creek mine located in the prolific Timmins-Cochrane mining camp.

The area is being explored as the site of a potential large-scale open put mine capable of producing roughly 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes per day.

A mineral resource estimate published last month identified 280.2 million tonnes of nickel material grading at 0.32 per cent in the main zone of the Crawford site.

“We still have only explored a fraction of the property, and then five other properties that we have in the region, and we believe it can be the largest nickel sulphide deposit – ever,” he said.

Canada Nickel is on track to complete a feasibility study to examine the potential operational lifespan of the mine by the end of 2021.

The company recently signed a non-binding agreement with Glencore Canada to consider using the Kidd concentrator and metallurgical site in Timmins to process and treat material mined from the Crawford site.

A detailed study on the potential for upgrading excess capacity or using the existing infrastructure in place will be complete by the end of March.

“One thing that’s important to note about the nickel industry is that during the last supercycle in 2005 through to 2007, the project pipeline was basically emptied outside of Indonesia. We’ve had very little exploration and development since that last cycle,” said Selby.

“That’s why the Crawford discovery is such an important new resource of nickel to meet demand in the coming decade.”

Selby said that the last high-grade nickel discovery was Voisey’s Bay, a nickel mine in Labrador, which was discovered in 1992.

He estimated that Tesla, which set itself a target of 20 million EVs by 2030, would require 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes of nickel per year.

“The entire Voisey’s Bay resource that was discovered would be two to three years worth of Tesla’s nickel consumption,” he said.

“That is about 15 to 20 times what’s currently being produced in Sudbury by Vale and Glencore combined. That’s the scale of the amount of nickel we’re going to need by the end of this decade. Remember, we’re not moving in mining time here, we’re moving in Elon Musk time.”

The Crawford site has the potential not only to help meet the demand for nickel in the near future, but to be a part of a larger green energy revolution.

“The rock that hosts these deposits spontaneously absorbs carbon dioxide when it is exposed to air. In today’s low-carbon environment, that’s a valuable property,” he said.

“The combination of that and its location in Northern Ontario, where it’s all hydroelectric in the region, will allow us, we believe, to be able to produce a net-zero carbon nickel-cobalt product and a net-zero carbon iron product.”

He hopes that the mining sector in Northern Ontario, as well as all levels of government, are prepared to act quickly enough to jump on this opportunity.

“Northern Ontario is in a great position to play a huge role in the shift to EVs. Hopefully, by the time we’re done there, we’re going to turn Timmins into the new nickel capital.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

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Twitter: @SudburyStar

Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star