By Josh Rubin, Toronto Star, September 29, 2023
For most Canadians, the image of Nevada begins and ends with the Las Vegas strip.
For the economic health of his state, Gov. Joe Lombardo is hoping to broaden that impression to include the mining of lithium, a rare-earth mineral vital to the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
In an interview with the Star, Lombardo said lithium mining is at the heart of an economic development and trade promotion deal signed with Ontario premier Doug Ford this week.
“Part of my platform when I ran for governor was diversification of that economic base,” said Lombardo.
While the state will always have a significant chunk of its economy coming from the gambling industry, it’s no longer the unique attraction it once was, Lombardo said.
“We’re seeing the proliferation of gaming across the world,” he said “with governments using gaming as a means to balance their budgets, so we’ve had to reinvent ourselves continually.”
Nevada is the only U.S. state with active lithium mine
While the state has historically had a strong gold and silver mining industry, lithium is a rising star.
“Just about everything we do in our life uses rare earth minerals, especially lithium,” said Lombardo, who also met this week with Canadian mining companies, some of which already have operations in Nevada.
Nevada is already the only U.S. state with an active lithium mine, and within months, is set to see the opening of operations at one of the world’s largest lithium deposits at Thacker Pass.
While there’s been significant opposition from environmentalists and First Nations groups, as well as messy litigation that has put an investment in the deposit by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan on hold, Lombardo is optimistic the mine will be open by the time 2024 rolls around.
“I’d like to see shovels in the ground by Jan. 1,” said Lombardo, a Republican and former Clark County Sheriff who took office this year. “In the U.S., it’s an average of seven years before that shovel goes into the ground. And they’re at the last two per cent of that.”
The Thacker Pass deposit contains 13.7 million tonnes of lithium ore, and once in full production, could supply enough lithium to produce a million electric vehicle batteries a year.
The trade deal — officially called a memorandum of understanding — should benefit Ontario’s automotive sector by helping secure a reliable source of lithium as the electric vehicle wave grows, argued Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association of Canada.
‘This is a really good agreement’
“This potentially bridges us until we can produce our own supply of lithium here, or if we want an alternative to China, which we do,” said Volpe. “This is a really good agreement.”
Lombardo said the supply chain chaos unleashed by the global COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear to companies around the world that finding supplies closer to home is vital.
“It’s no secret that’s been a key discussion on both sides of the border, us and Canada,” said Lombardo. “It’s less political and more economic.”
International trade and business analyst Andreas Schotter said the deal makes sense, even though Ontario has some lithium deposits, including an 8.4 million-tonne deposit north of Kenora.
“If we don’t get it out of the ground in Ontario, or Canada, then this could be an opportunity for the EV manufacturers here to access resources, which is a good thing,” said Schotter, who’s nonetheless not convinced how much substance there is to the agreement.
“What’s actually behind the memorandum? Is it just ‘we love each other,’ give a hug and say ‘we’ll do more together in the future.?,” said Schotter. “A collaboration agreement is always better than a Brexit, but I’m not holding my breath here that there will be a lot of substance.”