High-purity iron’s addition to critical minerals list potential boon for Nunavut: mining experts

By Jorge Antunes, Nunatsiaq News - June 20, 2024
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine may get a financial boost after the high-purity iron the mine produces was added to Canada’s critical minerals list last week. (File photo)

Federal government adds high-purity iron like that produced by Baffinland to its list of critical minerals.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. and other advocates for Nunavut’s mining sector are applauding the federal government’s inclusion of high-purity iron on Canada’s critical minerals list.

“The addition of high-purity iron ore to the critical minerals list will open up additional investment sources for Baffinland, both from the public and private sector,” said Peter Akman, a spokesperson for the Oakville, Ont.-based mining company.

The company runs the Mary River iron mine on Baffin Island.

Mining accounts for about one-quarter of Nunavut’s economic activity.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the addition of high-purity iron, as well as phosphorus and silicon metal, to Canada’s 34-mineral list on June 10.

Traditionally, critical minerals have been considered to be metals like lithium, copper and zinc that are used in the generation of electricity. As the world turns to electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, those minerals are becoming increasingly important in that transition.

They are used in electric batteries, wind turbines and other green energy sources.

The government added high-purity iron to the list because it can be used to make steel with less impact on the environment. Traditionally, steel production has used large quantities of coal.

Baffinland’s high-purity iron is about 67 per cent pure, Akman said, meaning it requires less burning of coal to turn it into steel.

“The announcement confirms what we have always said — Nunavut’s high-grade iron ore is a critical ingredient in the global green economic and energy transition. It is also critical to the future production of low-carbon green steel,” Akman said.

Dennis Patterson, a retired senator who represented Nunavut, said the inclusion of high-purity iron on the government’s list should benefit the territory.

“I think this is great news for the Inuit, who own the resource, and great news for Nunavut,” he said.

Baffinland’s Mary River Mine is on Inuit-owned land and is leased to the company.

As nations move toward their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “green steel has become prized and sought after in Europe,” Patterson said, noting Baffinland has inked three agreements with European steel manufacturers to help produce green steel.

Canada’s critical minerals list was first published in 2021 as part of the federal government’s critical minerals strategy. The government reviews the list every three years to determine whether minerals should be added or removed.

Karen Costello, executive director of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said her organization was “happy” to see the government consider input from various parties as part of its recent review.

The critical minerals are also considered a priority from a geo-political standpoint. Canada, the U.S. and other western nations believe critical minerals to be of strategic importance.

Nations such as China and Russia, which are increasingly seen as hostile toward the west, control and produce large quantities of critical minerals.

Western nations are seeking to develop supply chains independent of potential future hostile actors.

“As the world’s economies shift toward low-carbon energy, China controls much of the critical mineral supply chain needed to power that shift,” Tom Hoefer, a former executive director of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said in a news story last year.

Located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, Nunatsiaq News is dedicated to covering affairs in Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec since 1973. It has been a partner to ArcticToday and its predecessors since 2016.