About 350 miles northwest of Montreal, amid a vast pine forest, is a deep mining pit with walls of mottled rock. The pit has changed hands repeatedly and been mired in bankruptcy, but now it could help determine the future of electric vehicles.
The mine contains lithium, an indispensable ingredient in electric car batteries that is in short supply. If it opens on schedule early next year, it will be the second North American source of that metal, offering hope that badly needed raw materials can be extracted and refined close to Canadian, U.S. and Mexican auto factories, in line with Biden administration policies that aim to break China’s dominance of the battery supply chain.
Having more mines will also help contain the price of lithium, which has soared fivefold since mid-2021, pushing the cost of electric vehicles so high that they are out of reach for many drivers. The average new electric car in the United States costs about $66,000, just a few thousand dollars short of the median household income last year.
Dozens of lithium mines are in various stages of development in Canada and the United States. Canada has made it a mission to become a major source of raw materials and components for electric vehicles. But most of these projects are years away from production. Even if they are able to raise the billions of dollars needed to get going, there is no guarantee they will yield enough lithium to meet the continent’s needs.
Mines tend to be in remote locations. By industry standards, Sayona’s mine, which is at the end of a 12-mile gravel road, is just around the corner. Many other projects are far more inaccessibl
The risk is reflected in the gyrations of Sayona shares traded on the Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney. They peaked at 36 Australian cents (24 U.S. cents) in April, plunged to 13 cents in June and have recently traded at around 28 cents.
“Those of us in the industry are quite confident that lithium will be in short supply for the next decade,” said Keith Phillips, chief executive of Piedmont Lithium, which owns 25 percent of the Sayona’s Quebec project. He added, “Others are taking a contrarian view.”