A Toronto-based mining company has started their work to build a small-scale lithium plant this fall in the Kenora area, and after over two decades of exploration work, the operation is finally expected to start up by the spring of 2023.

Avalon Advanced Materials acquired a 420-hectare section of property in the Separation Rapids area in 1996, which is now holding 17 mineral claims and one mining lease near Paterson Lake. It’s accessible by a private road, and the company’s spent about $10 million on exploration and development work since.

A number of studies have shown the area’s deposit of lithium, known as the ‘Big Whopper’, would be capable of producing high purity concentrates of petalite to sell to glass-ceramics manufacturers, but the project had to be put on hold due to a lack of demand from manufacturers at the time.

Avalon says they re-activated the Separation Rapids project in 2014 after receiving expressions of interest from several international glass manufacturers and later discovered the petalite could be used as an alternative to lithium-ion battery cathodes – which are coveted in the electric vehicle industry.

Now, Avalon has partnered with Kenora’s Moncrief Construction and the Wabaseemoong Independent Nation community to work on the mine’s roadway and prepare the site for an eventual Dense Media Separation Plant. Work has started at the Avalon Quarry Site.

Avalon says a 5,000-tonne sample that was taken from the area last year will be the first material to be sent through the plant, which will then be used to create product samples to send to manufacturers.

The mine is expected to have a 20-year operating life, producing over 71,000 tonnes of petalite concentrate annually. The project is expected to cost $77 million, with annual profits of $30 million.

Avalon notes they’re also working to create a lithium battery materials refinery in Thunder Bay, with the acquisition of a suitable property expected to be completed in September.