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Lithium carbonate is an essential mineral for the electrification of transport and the energy transition.

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An industrial project in the battery sector chose the port of Bécancour, just outside Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, to establish itself there. The region ranked second, due to the presence of the Port of Saguenay, while the Australian company Lithium Universe had sites evaluated in more than 20 municipalities for its lithium refinery project.

Lithium Universe wishes to establish a factory in the province with an annual production of 16,000 tonnes, which would be dedicated to the lithium-iron-phosphate battery industry.

In its latest quarterly report, the Australian company presents the conclusions of a location study commissioned from the engineering consulting firm Hatch, for its lithium carbonate refinery project.

Several sites have been evaluated in more than 20 municipalities. Four major potential sectors were selected and analyzed, including the Saguenay-Alma industrial zone, we can read in the document.

The sector stood out in particular because of the logistical advantages linked to the presence of port infrastructure, with the Port of Saguenay. The sites included in the Montreal-Quebec corridor, including the port of Bécancour in Centre-du-Québec, also stood out for the same reason.

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The Port of Saguenay is considered an asset for attracting large projects.

Lithium Universe then chose Bécancour. According to the analysis grid published by the company, issues linked to the constructability of the site and the consideration of interests defended by the First Nations in the territory made the difference between the region and Bécancour. Remember that Innu communities, including Mashteuiatsh, were opposed to the GNL Québec project.

It was not possible to find out more on the reasons which influenced this choice. The company did not provide answers to Radio-Canada's questions.

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No official announcement has been made for this project, but Lithium Universe indicates in the report published at the end of January that discussions have been initiated with the Bécancour Industrial and Port Park Company, whose industrial site belongs to Quebec and which hosts several investments in the battery sector.

Without commenting on this particular project, the municipal councilor and president of the Saguenay Finance Commission, Michel Potvin, indicates that the geographical location is one of the negative points raised by companies when they consider the Port of Saguenay site.

I think the main element is geography. We are still not in the Toronto-Montreal-Quebec axis circuit. So, it is certain that if the Quebec government gives the same subsidy to settle in Saguenay as to settle in Quebec or Bécancour, but it is certain that the business will tend to settle in Bécancour.

A quote from Michel Potvin, president of the Saguenay Finance Commission

For the projects of Northvolt, which had demonstrated an interest in Saguenay, and Volkswagen , which needed a large pool of workers, it was rather labor issues that had been raised in connection with the region in the last year.

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Municipal councilor Michel Potvin is president of the Saguenay Finance Commission.

This issue always comes up in comments from companies, adds Mr. Potvin. The City also wishes to facilitate the construction of housing for entrepreneurs, to be able to accommodate more workers and also respond to the housing crisis.

We should announce something soon on housing to facilitate housing in the city, he mentioned, without wanting to say more.

Michel Potvin, however, does not lose hope of seeing a large-scale industrial project installed at the Port of Saguenay, while investments of more than $300 million supported by Quebec and Ottawa are underway at the Port of Saguenay.

There have still been around fifteen visits in the last six months from companies who want to set up in Saguenay and the rest of us, we put really every effort to make it happen, he said.

An announcement is hoped for in the spring, he added, without wanting to go further.

The CAQ deputy for Dubuc, François Tremblay, affirmed at the end of January that his government had the obligation after two mandates to deliver a major project at the port.

According to our information, Lithium Universe is not, however, one of the companies that have visited the Port of Saguenay in recent months.

Lithium Universe, which opened an office in Montreal in December, also indicates in its report that it met in Dubai with the Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, and the president of Investissement Québec International, Hubert Bolduc, on the sidelines of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), which took place from November 30 to December 12.

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The Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, met representatives of Lithium Universe in Dubai.

Investissement Québec and the Port of Saguenay did not want to comment on the matter. Investissement Québec specifies that it will continue to promote and highlight the potential of Saguenay to foreign companies and their subsidiaries.

Projects linked to the battery sector in the region could take a form similar to the project that Lithium Universe is pursuing in Quebec, estimates the director of the Regional Mining Consultation Table, Benoit Lafrance.

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Benoit Lafrance is the director of the Regional Mining Consultation Table.

The Australian company wishes to first open its refinery, while continuing mining exploration in mining claims in the James Bay sector, to secure future supply.

What we see, visitors to the region, so much for material manufacturers for the batteries or the batteries themselves, it is that they want to have precisely these substances quickly and then they are perhaps not ready to wait for the development of a mine which takes several years .

A quote from Benoit Lafrance, director of the Regional Mining Consultation Table

Companies are therefore ready to source their supplies differently, while waiting to exploit them -even a mine.

This is a trend that we are rightly seeing in all things critical and strategic minerals. Often, in these substances, you must already have potential customers, therefore a certain anticipated production already sold before opening a mine, he mentioned.

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