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The Drift: Conference aims to strengthen connection between critical minerals miners and electric vehicle makers

BEV In-Depth: Mines to Mobility will take place May 25-26 at Science North in Sudbury
MacLean Engineering manufactures a series of battery electric vehicles designed for use underground, including the Mine-Mate boom lift.

Could Sudbury become a crucial hub for battery electric vehicle (BEV) manufacturing expertise in Ontario?

A group of Sudbury partners believes so, and they'll start to examine the possibilities later this month during the inaugural BEV In-Depth: Mines to Mobility conference, hosted by the city’s economic development department and slated to take place May 25-26 at Science North.

Over two days, stakeholders from across industries will gather to talk about emerging BEV technologies and the robust supply chain that will need to be in place to help the province usher in widespread EV adoption.

Many of the critical minerals required to make the batteries that power electric vehicles are mined in Sudbury and across the North. But much of the manufacturing — of the batteries, the auto parts, and the vehicles — takes place in southern Ontario.

Steven Gravel, manager for the Centre for Smart Mining at Cambrian College, said the conference will aim to connect all those important players along the supply chain, a key step in the process that’s been missing until now.

“There's not a whole lot of formalized connective tissue between the Northern Ontario critical minerals sector and the automakers in the south, and of these ancillary supply chain [players]…,” said Gravel, chair of the conference's organizing committee.

“So we started thinking, ‘Shouldn't it be in Sudbury where we start talking about this and start building those relationships?’”

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The conference will open on May 25 with a welcoming dinner featuring remarks by Toronto-Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

The next day, participants will hear from a number of key BEV experts, including Brian Kingston, president and CEO of the Automobile Manufacturers Association of Canada, and David Adams, president of the Global Automakers Association of Canada.

Simultaneously, delegates will have an opportunity throughout the conference to tour a showcase of BEV vehicles with various capabilities — underground mining vehicles, personal vehicles, utility vehicles, and electric boats among them.

Out-of-town visitors can also sign up for tours of local facilities, including the NORCAT Underground Centre, a development, testing and demonstration site for new, innovative technologies, and local BEV stakeholders, including companies, applied research facilities, and innovation centres. A list of participating organizations is expected to be finalized shortly.

Devin Arthur, president of the Electric Vehicle Society – Greater Sudbury, said as BEV activity ramps up across the province, now is the time to raise awareness around the work that needs to be done in order to meet fast-approaching industry targets.

“I don’t think a lot of people outside the auto industry really know how far EVs in the consumer space have come, and especially not in the mining industry,” he said.

“Most manufacturers have said by 2030, they won’t be manufacturing gas vehicles anymore, and not a lot of people understand that this is going to come fast, and I don’t think consumers are going to be ready.

“So to bust these industry bubbles, we’re trying to get them all together in one spot so that they can understand these are the targets. And if you’re in mining, you need to be investing now to be able to take advantage of this manufacturing capacity that they need to build in order to even provide minerals to the manufacturers to build those batteries.”

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Hosting an event that promotes EV use also falls in line with the city’s Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP), which was approved in 2020 and outlines actions the city plans to take in order to become a net-zero community by 2050.

According to the document, some of the top emitters in Sudbury are vehicles, industrial operations, and buildings, noted Jennifer Babin-Fenske, Sudbury’s climate change coordinator.

Her role is to encourage people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and lower their carbon footprint, and promoting the use of electric vehicles is a start.

It’s one thing for the average citizen to purchase an EV for their personal use, but it’s another for local mining companies to shift to EV technology underground, she noted.

“It’s really encouraging to see that not only are they helping mine for these minerals, but they’re also reducing their emissions by switching over to the battery electric underground vehicles,” she said.

“It’s really exciting to see these large vehicles that people don’t think of when they think of electric vehicles.”

Scott Rennie, a business development officer with Sudbury’s economic development office, is hopeful the conference will present new business opportunities both for local Indigenous communities and for the well-established network of mining supply and service companies operating in the area.

Currently numbering around 300, those companies are serving the mining industry locally and around the globe, he noted.

“They have incredible capabilities, these companies, and they’re kind of a secret outside of Sudbury; people don’t see them,” Rennie said.

“There’s an incredible opportunity to link these suppliers with this broader battery supply chain… but at the same time, have the people from southern Ontario come up here and say, ‘I didn’t know you had all these really cool companies that were doing these things.’ And I think that’s just incredible.”

Registration for the conference is now open. Space is limited to about 200 people, and those interested are encouraged to secure their spot for the two-day event.