Sudbury, Ont. mayor wants city to be 'critical' part of electric vehicle business

The growing market for electric vehicles and their batteries presents new opportunities for northern Ontario cities like Sudbury, says the city’s new mayor.

Mining company Vale to supply enough nickel for General motors to build 350,000 EVs per year

A smiling man in a suit standing in front of a mural.
Sudbury's new mayor, Paul Lefebvre, believes a growing market for electric vehicles could mean more jobs and opportunities for the mining city. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

The growing market for electric vehicles and their batteries presents new opportunities for northern Ontario cities like Sudbury, says the city's new mayor.

In his inaugural speech as mayor, Paul Lefebvre said the city, which has had active mines for more than 100 years, can play a critical role in the electrification of the global economy.

Lefebvre told CBC News the market for the large batteries that power electric vehicles has the potential to create thousands of new jobs that would take raw materials like nickel and process it into nickel sulphate, which is an important compound used in battery cathodes. 

"It's certainly, for me, something that we need to promote and talk about," Lefebvre said.

"That industry is certainly very nascent. It's just starting, and so in North America they're looking for places to set up. And so that's why it's important for the City of Greater Sudbury to talk about this potential and that this is a destination where that type of economic activity can happen."

Mining deals with automakers

On Nov. 17 Vale Canada Limited, which operates mines in Sudbury, Thompson, Man., and Voisey's Bay, N.L., announced it has signed an agreement to supply nickel to General Motors.

Starting in 2026, Vale said it will provide 25,000 tonnes of battery grade nickel sulphate to the automaker each year. That is enough nickel to produce about 350,000 electric vehicles per year.

"The proposed nickel sulphate project would utilize high purity, low-carbon nickel from our Canadian refineries and is a natural extension for the business, offering diversified sales and a fast entry and anchor point into the North American electric vehicle market," said Deshnee Naidoo, Vale's executive vice-president of base metals, in a news release.

In an email to CBC News, Vale spokesperson Jeffrey Lewis confirmed the nickel will come from the company's Canadian mining operations. 

As part of the agreement, Vale has proposed it build a new plant to produce nickel sulphate in Bécancour, Que.

The 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV RST is shown in Detroit in this January 2022 file photo. Vale Canada Limited will supply General Motors with enough nickel to build 350,000 electric vehicles, like the Silverado EV, per year. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

In May, Vale also announced it had an agreement with electric automaker Tesla, to supply them with Canadian nickel for their batteries. The nickel will be shipped to battery manufacturing facilities in the United States. 

While both deals will use nickel from Sudbury, Lefebvre said the city has the potential for added value along the battery supply chain.

He said the city's existing mining workforce, along with two rail lines to transport ore and materials, and access to land for new facilities, are all advantages in Sudbury's favour.

"The infrastructure is all there to make it happen," Lefebvre said.

"So to me it's a natural evolution for the city from the extractive piece to the processing piece, that we've been doing for the last almost 100 years now, and now to the next piece which is the value added."

To maintain the city's infrastructure, Lefebvre has said the city's population will need to grow from about 165,000 people today, to 200,000 people.

More jobs tied to the electric vehicle market would play a big part in reaching that goal, and increasing the city's tax base, he said.