Mining is one of Canada’ most important economic sectors, and the proof is in the pudding. According to the Mining Association of Canada, our home and native land currently produces 60 minerals and metals at 200 mines and 6,500 sand, gravel and stone quarries across the country, accounting for a combined market capitalization of $520 billion.
The minerals and metals mined within Canada’s borders are used in numerous ways in the everyday lives of Canadians and billions of others around the world– the use of cobalt, for example, ranges from the production of hearing aids and microphones to the making of jet engines and gas turbine engines.
Cobalt is also one of the primary metals in lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from laptops to cell phones to battery electric vehicles (BEVs). As economies around the world eye a net-zero future, a shortage of cobalt – the byproduct of nickel and copper mining – would have severe repercussions on the transition to clean energy.
Cobalt is not the only mineral facing a significant increase in demand. The World Bank has theorized that in addition to cobalt, the production of minerals such as graphite and lithium – key battery metals essential for the production of BEVs – could increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies.
This statistic has provoked the Canadian government into action. Speaking at PDAC 2022, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson posited that this increase in demand also increases the risk that, without sufficient supply, critical minerals could become the bottleneck, rather than the enabler, in the energy transition, specifically stating "rapid development of these sources is urgently required." The Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy - set to be released in September 2022 – aims to do just that, allocating $3.8 billion of the federal budget over the next eight years to position Canada as the global leader in the responsible, inclusive and sustainable production of critical minerals and secure value chains from mines to manufacturing.
Today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister Responsible for FedNor, announced an investment of $1.3 million to enhance and expand the capabilities of the NORCAT Underground Centre with a series of initiatives in direct alignment with the federal government’s Critical Mineral Strategy. This includes, among others, the mandate to drive critical mineral research, innovation and exploration to boost the supply of critical minerals to grow domestic and global value chains for the green and digital economy.
During the announcement, Minister Hajdu explained that "the shift to green technology presents so many opportunities for Northern Ontario. With the ever increasing global demand for electric vehicles and our robust supply of resources and expertise, Northern Ontario is ready to deliver. This investment in NORCAT accelerates our emerging Battery Electric Vehicles market and supports a successful and sustainable tradition to a low-carbon economy."
Known worldwide as the global "one-stop shop" for all that is the future of mining technology and innovation, the NORCAT Underground Centre enables companies from around the world to develop, test, and demonstrate emerging technologies in an operating mine, creating a vibrant ecosystem that has become the destination to see and touch the future of the mining industry. Using this "active laboratory," NORCAT helps to connect and broker relationships between mining technology companies and global mining companies creating an economic development and technology commercialization engine like no other in the world.
Evidenced by the establishment of the Northern Ontario Regional Technology Development Site, announced in May 2022 by Ontario’s Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), NORCAT, and Northern Ontario more broadly, have been recognized as a leading ecosystem for the deployment of industrial BEVs. Speaking after the funding announcement, NORCAT CEO Don Duval explained that the $1.3 million investment from FedNor will allow NORCAT to procure and deploy a battery-electric load-haul dump (LHD) machine and implement corresponding supporting infrastructure, including underground charging stations, to meet this growing demand for technology development, testing and demonstration of industrial BEVs. Additionally, the funding will allow NORCAT to expand its outdoor "surface track" testing facilities to enable companies to develop, test and demonstrate emerging mobile and electric technologies in a "rugged surface mine" equivalent environment.
Pivoting from alignment with one pillar of the Critical Mineral Strategy to another – that of growing a diverse workforce and creating prosperous communities, Duval emphasized that BEVs are doing much more than just changing how miners mine – it’s also changing how people think about a career in mining.
"The NORCAT Underground Centre is also used as a platform for hands-on, experiential training for new and current mine workers, including students of our flagship Underground Hard Rock Miner Common Core program." advised Duval. "The opportunity for our students to learn how to operate a battery electric LHD in an operating mine that also serves as a place to support and engage with other emerging technologies, reshapes the national paradigm surrounding what a career in mining actually looks like."
Noting that the Mining Industry Human Resources Council forecasts that approximately 100,000 new workers will need to be hired before 2030, Duval reiterated that "expanding and enhancing the NORCAT Underground Centre to support the development and commercialization of emerging technologies will inspire, encourage, and educate the next generation of would-be mine workers about the exciting and diverse career opportunities in this new economy." Concluding the announcement, Duval reminded those in attendance that the NORCAT Underground Centre will open its doors to the mining industry in September 2022 for Mining Transformed, the world’s first tech exhibition in an underground operating mine. With close to 40 technology companies demonstrating, the Mining Transformed exhibitor list features a broad spectrum of companies that offer leading-edge, groundbreaking technologies that are poised to solve the many intractable challenges facing the industry, both today and in the future.
Mining Transformed is taking place from September 26-29th at the NORCAT Underground Centre in the City of Greater Sudbury. For more information, or to register, visit