Québec’s subsoil hides a variety of minerals for the future, such as copper, graphite, niobium, zinc, cobalt, nickel, titanium and lithium. Also known as strategic and critical minerals, they are indispensable to support Québec’s energy and technology transition. They also contribute to the decarbonization of the economy.
Use of minerals for the future
Many of our essential everyday items contain minerals for the future:
- cell phones, tablets and laptops;
- lawnmowers and power tools;
- rechargeable batteries;
- sports items such as hockey sticks, tennis rackets, golf clubs, etc.
These minerals are also critical to the technologies that help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which makes them true allies in the fight against climate change. They are notably used to produce wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles. Minerals for the future are essential for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries that are part of electric vehicles.
In the health sector, they are used to manufacture medical equipment, drugs, dental devices or cosmetics. These minerals are also sought after and used in innovation and artificial intelligence. For example, they can be used to design exoskeletons with electrical stimulation. These devices facilitate physical rehabilitation or lifting of heavy loads.
Where are the minerals for the future in Québec
The minerals for the future are found in several regions, as shown on the map.
The Mineral Substances Portal presents the inventory of minerals and substances in Québec. Québec mining projects are listed on the interactive map of the Système d’information géominière du Québec (SIGÉOM – Geomining Information System) .
Recycling and upcycling of the minerals for the future
The use of the minerals for the future will accelerate as demand grows, so reserves need to be managed carefully. Ensuring their reuse and recycling is also paramount. Québec’s approach in this area is distinguished by the importance placed on integrating the circular economy into the mining development value chain. For example, minerals can be recovered and recycled from objects already in circulation. This limits the need to extract new resources from the subsoil. Québec also relies on upcycling, that is, adding value to minerals already extracted or residues produced by resource development. Upcycling occurs in both mining and industrial projects.
Concrete examples promising for the future
Many innovative projects have been launched in Québec:
- Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium’s Element North mill produces 99.99% pure scandium oxide from titanium dioxide by-products without the need for further ore extraction. Scandium oxide can be used to manufacture fuel cells (solid oxide) or in an alloy with aluminum used in sports equipment, for instance.
- The Eco2magnesia project is producing the world’s first environmentally friendly magnesium oxide, created with old asbestos-bonded mine tailings.
- Geomega built the world’s first sustainable and clean rare earth recycling facility to meet the growing global demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy sources.
- Lithion Recycling has developed an efficient process for recycling lithium-ion batteries, the most widely used battery in the electric car market. The project, called Lion, is funded by the Gouvernement du Québec. It recovers up to 95% of the constituents and purifies them for recovery by battery manufacturers. This is a great example of recycling that allows reusing the resource as much as possible!
By investing in research and innovation, the government is putting in place initiatives to encourage businesses to follow suit to foster a greener, more circular economy. Government programs are available to support these initiatives, as well as those for mining by-product upcycling and recycling projects, for companies in the sector of minerals for the future.
Promising research and innovation
Québec must promote promising research and innovation by using the most advanced technologies, in order to stand out on the world stage and remain at the forefront of the best practices in responsible mining development.
A great example is the creation of a scientific research network specific to critical and strategic minerals in February 2023. This network pools the expertise of organizations and businesses to support research and innovation in the most structuring mineral sectors for Québec. Ultimately, it will help make Québec a world leader in this area.
Grants to support mineral exploration (in French) are also available. They help mining proponents to develop strategic and critical mineral exploration projects by assessing the quality of mineralizations.
Funding for battery research and the creation of new digital and technological tools for the mass processing of geoscience data are also some of the innovative projects put forward in Québec.
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, mining operations will increasingly be managed from the surface, from control centres. For example, the Gouvernement du Québec supports the implementation of the pilot project from the MISA Group (Mission Mines Autonomes 2030 (Stand-alone Mines 2030 Mission)) (in French) that aims to experiment with the digital transition of mining organizations and operations. These innovations will make mines safer and more competitive and will improve the industry’s energy balance.
Job creation in the mining sector
Training a skilled workforce to fill all positions in this sector is also a condition for success in developing the minerals for the future in Québec.
Several programs exist to support skills development in the mining sector. For example, a financial support of $2M has been put in place to train employees who want to specialize in drilling techniques for ore extraction. Unemployed individuals can receive financial assistance to train for jobs in the mining sector.
The acquisition of new knowledge related to the exploration, extraction, processing, valorization and recycling of minerals will be used to create quality jobs and support the economic vitality of regions.
Best practices in sustainable development
As an essential player in the mining sector, Québec wants to be a leader in responsible development in the world. The government framework (in French) is based on a number of laws and regulations governing mining so that it respects the environment and promotes the social acceptability of local and Indigenous communities.
Québec mines emit fewer greenhouse gases than elsewhere in the world thanks to stringent regulations, the use of 99% renewable energy (hydroelectricity), optimal energy consumption and the best environmental standards and practices. High standards for the protection of water, air, wildlife and flora are in place. The same is true for protecting the health and safety of workers.
Since 2013, the government has required mining companies to obtain approval of a rehabilitation and restoration plan before receiving a mining lease. Companies must also provide a financial guarantee for the restoration of the entire site. Companies must return the sites to satisfactory condition at their own expense once the mining activity is completed.
Québec is also contributing to the energy transition and the fight against climate change by implementing a number of policies such as a battery sector development strategy (in French), the Politique de mobilité durable — 2030 (in French) and the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy.
Mining activities in partnership with communities
Québec has created various tools for businesses as well as local and Indigenous communities to promote the social acceptability of mining projects. One example is the early consultation process for projects. As such, proponents are encouraged to foster development conditions that respect the environment and the mining project host communities.
Harmonious development of mining activities
In keeping with its commitments to the responsible development of its natural resources, the Gouvernement du Québec is implementing a broad participatory process on the harmonious development of mining activities in the spring of 2023.
Learn more about this participatory process . (in French)