Canada is fortunate to boast a varied and extensive geological landscape with substantial mining resources. From the Canadian Cordillera in the west to the Appalachian region of the east, “critical” minerals that play an essential role in modern technologies and products are found in nearly every corner of the country.
With reserves of lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper, and rare earth elements, Canada has the potential to emerge as a significant global player for these increasingly sought-after natural substances. The Canadian government has identified 31 critical minerals and metals essential for developing sustainable economies domestically and internationally, 21 of which are already produced in Canada and with significant opportunities for further resource development.
So then, which critical minerals are Canada found in Canada? Below, we explore where these resources are located, their uses, and more! Also see:
- 5 Reasons Why the World Needs More Canadian Minerals & Metals
- Mining in Canada: 30+ Facts & Statistics
- Mining in Ontario: 21 Facts, History & More!
- Global Reserves: sixth-largest, with 3.6% of global reserves in 2022
- Global Production: eighth-largest, with 0.4% of global production in 2022
Canada has the world's sixth-largest lithium reserves and was the eighth-largest producer in 2022. All of Canada’s lithium mines are located in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. While most current production is found in the eastern provinces, lithium brines in Alberta and Saskatchewan could increase Canada’s production as technology and processing are advanced to extract lithium compounds from oil and natural gas fields .
Lithium, an extremely light yet highly reactive alkali metal, plays a critical role in our technologically advanced world. Lithium batteries boast high energy density, offering extended power life and stability, essential in an increasingly mobile, digital world. The metal is a critical component of lithium-ion batteries which power an array of modern devices — from smartphones and laptops to electric vehicles. It also is used to manufacture high-performance alloys for the aerospace industry, where lightweight and durable materials are indispensable. Lithium is integral to grid storage systems in renewable technologies, helping regulate and store power generated from intermittent sources like wind and solar.
With global demand expected to skyrocket 42 times between 2020 and 2040, the development of its lithium resources presents a huge opportunity for Canada to help underpin essential low-emission modern technologies while bolstering the national economy for decades to come .
- Global Reserves: ninth-largest, with 1.7% of global reserves in 2021 
- Global Production: ninth-largest, with 0.7% of global production in 2021 
Canada was the ninth-largest graphite producer and was home to the ninth-largest reserves in 2021. While several graphite mines are under development in Quebec and Ontario, the Lac-des-iles Mine in Quebec and the Black Crystal Mine in British Columbia are the only two currently operating .
Graphite is strong and flexible but not elastic, has a high electrical and thermal conductivity, and is highly refractory and chemically inert . Its unique properties make it an ideal material in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors. It is one of five materials needed for electric vehicle batteries, as with storage batteries for wind and solar power applications.
Emerging technologies are expected to make global graphite demand soar; the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects graphite demand to increase by up to 25 times between 2020 and 2040, as green initiatives, particularly in developed nations, advance worldwide .
- Global Reserves: seventh-largest, with 2% of global reserves in 2021 
- Global Production: sixth-largest, with 4.8% of global production in 2021 
Canada was the sixth-largest nickel producer and home to the seventh-largest reserves in 2021. Today, the critical metal is produced in Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador, which accounted for 41.5%, 36.4% and 22.1% of Canada’s production in 2021, respectively .
Nickel is largely used to manufacture stainless steel, accounting for over two-thirds of total consumption. It is also an indispensable catalyst in a wide array of low-emission technologies such as geothermal power, hydrogen systems, and advanced battery storage . In other words, it has a role to play
Nickel’s critical role in modern technologies has led the IEA to believe consumption of the metal will also expand rapidly over the next few decades, with global demand projected to increase by up to 19 times between 2020 and 2040 .
- Global Reserves: seventh-largest, with 2.6% of global reserves in 2022 
- Global Production: seventh-largest, with 1.6% of global production in 2022 
Cobalt is another critical mineral found in Canada, the seventh-largest producer and home to the seventh-largest global reserves in 2022. Canadian cobalt production occurs primarily from nickel mines in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador, with Ontario taking the lion’s share. Four new cobalt mines are under development in British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, and the Northwest Territories as Canada continues to strive towards the expansion of its critical mineral production .
Cobalt has many critical uses in the modern world, which includes batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones and computers, powerful magnets used in transformers, superalloys which are used to make turbine engines, a catalyst in the petroleum and chemical industries, power tools, and paints to name a few examples .
Cobalt’s role in the manufacturing of emerging technologies such as advanced batteries makes it an invaluable material globally. The IEA predicts global cobalt demand to grow 21 times between 2020 and 2040, if the world’s sustainable development goals are to be met within two decades .
- Global Reserves: Home to 1% of global reserves in 2021 
- Global Production: 11th largest, with 2.6% of global production in 2021 
Canada was the eleventh-largest copper producer in the world in 2021, and is home to approximately 1% of global reserves – well behind Chile (23%), Australia (11%), Peru (9%), Russia (7%) and other top ten reserve holders. Almost all Canadian copper production is found in British Columbia and Ontario, accounting for 57.4% and 23.8%, respectively, with Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and other provinces and territories accounting for a smaller share .
Copper’s role as an important mineral is often understated; it has been used for thousands of years, possessing unique properties that have made it essential for ancient civilizations and just as important to the modern world. It is one of the few metals that has anti-bacterial properties, making it suitable for medical applications. It is also highly malleable, making it easy to recycle and shape into many different forms, while its high electrical and heat conductivity make it an essential component in electrical applications like electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels .
Copper’s use in almost every electronic imaginable has already put heightened importance on the critical mineral in global supply chains. However, with the emergence of new technologies like electric vehicles – which require up to 2.5 times more copper than a standard internal combustion vehicle (ICE)  – global copper demand is projected to rise by up to 3 times between 2020 and 2040 .
Rare Earth Elements (REEs)
- Global Reserves: Home to some of the world’s largest reserves and resources in 2022 
- Global Production: Currently not a commercial producer or rare earth elements 
Canada, although home to more than 15.1 million tonnes of rare earth oxide in 2022, is currently not a significant producer of REEs, a group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements on the periodic table. Many countries have REE resources, but producing these materials requires complex separation and refinement processes which can be energy and environmentally intensive. Today, China accounts for nearly two-thirds of global REE mine production .
Rare earth elements are used in various high-tech applications such as wind turbines, electric vehicles, digital cameras, computers, flat screen TVs, smart phones and military equipment. Due to their limited availability, these metals are considered “rare” and increasingly in high demand worldwide because of their importance in tech supply chains.
The IEA predicts global consumption of rare earth elements to increase by up to 7 times in a sustainable development scenario, forecast in its flagship report The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions .
Other Critical Minerals in Canada
Canada is home to several more critical minerals and metals than just those listed above. According to Natural Resources Canada, the following are included on the government’s list of 31 critical minerals and metals, over two-thirds of which are already being produced somewhere in the country :
- Platinum Group Metals
- Rare Earth Elements
Canada also has notable reserves of additional minerals such as vanadium, gallium, titanium, scandium, magnesium, and several others on the list above .
Growing Demand for Critical Minerals
The International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests mineral demand will increase six-fold by 2040 as the developed world continues its push to use technologies with less direct emissions than their fossil fuel counterparts.
Canada, with all its mineral wealth, can contribute to providing the world with the minerals and metals it needs to manufacture the technologies of today and tomorrow. However, new mineral resources can take many years to explore and even longer to develop before production. According to Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, the average mining project in Canada can take 12 to 15 years to develop.
Ottawa’s recent critical minerals strategy is a step in the right direction. However, it is crucial that Canada continues to streamline regulatory processes and encourage mining investment if it wants to be the world's go-to critical mineral supplier.
As long as the world needs elements like lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and copper, it should come from the most responsible producers – from places like Canada, with world-class protections for human rights and the environment.
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