Once completed, the Matawinie mine is expected to produce appoximately 100,000 tonnes of high-grade graphite concentrate per year. Courtesy of Nouveau Monde Graphite.

On Feb. 10 Nouveau Monde received a green light from the Quebec government to begin construction on its open-pit graphite mine in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, Quebec following an environmental review.

The company said its deposit has the potential to turn into the largest graphite mine in North America and Europe and will exclusively use all-electric equipment in its operations. The Matawinie project will have the capacity to produce up to 100,000 tonnes of high-grade graphite concentrate per year.

According to Nouveau Monde president and CEO Eric Desaulniers, the company committed to full electrification of its mine because the availability of affordable and green hydroelectricity in Quebec made the move a logical step, a promise the company is expected to stick to.

“[The provincial government] gave us a maximum of five years to be fully electrified [as part of the environmental review], and we asked them to be severe with us to make sure that we make it happen,” Desaulniers said in an interview with CIM Magazine.

With the environmental review completed, Nouveau Monde has the operational criteria and final design parameters to start construction activities. A 2018 feasibility study estimated an initial capital expenditure of $276 million for the Matawinie project, but Desaulniers said it has increased to around $350 million now that the company has received the conditions from the decree and has more precise plans for building the project.

According to Nouveau Monde’s third-quarter 2020 report, the company had working capital of over $4 million and over $7 million in cash. On Feb. 1, it received $16.5 million from Pallinghurst Group shareholders following the exercise of previously-issued warrants, giving them a cash position of $34 million. That, plus an anticipated additional $5.75 million following the closing of a private placement announced in January, will be sufficient to fund development of its mining and value added projects for 2021, according to the company.

As part of the decree, the company is also incorporating an integration plan to boost tourism in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, with plans to build a mountain bike trail up a hill where its mining operations would be observable as a tourist attraction.

Related: $3.6 million in federal and provincial funding will be used to develop a fast-charging electric vehicle for open-pit mining

Construction at the mine site is set to start later this year after the finalization of permits and authorizations. Commercial production is expected to align with the growing demands of battery manufacturers and will begin in 2023.

Desaulniers added that the company is focused on integrating multiple “unique initiatives” to support sustainable and environmental measures. These initiatives include an integrated onsite water management system, co-disposal of tailings and waste rock and progressive land restoration through backfilling the pit as the site’s mining plans move forward. The company, which has been developing lithium-ion battery anode material using carbon-neutral graphite for years, recently announced an advancement in its process that would turn waste material from the graphite into a saleable product.

SNC-Lavalin, Lamont Expert, Minesite Drainage Assessment Group and the National Research Council of Canada have already conducted modelling analyses to study Nouveau Monde’s co-disposal design as well.

“With this green light to launch our Matawinie project, we plan to bring to market a responsibly extracted high-purity graphite to supply EV and energy storage sectors with a local and sustainable alternative,” Desaulniers said in a statement. “Doing so will position Nouveau Monde as a leading anode material provider for decades to come, creating opportunities and unlocking value for all parties involved.”