- I am a lawyer by profession, grew up in in Montreal, went to McGill, and attained my MBA.
- Being a lawyer by background allowed me to work with a number of mining industry experts, which helped me transition from being a legal counselor to a CEO.
What is your field of expertise?
Over the past five years or so, I’ve been at the helm of a company involved in the EV revolution. This experience has allowed me to move from an exploration stage, where the company focused on developing and discovering assets, to now getting more directly involved in the supply chain by focusing on the commissioning of a cobalt sulfate refinery plant. This is the first of its kind in North America and I credit this to my experience and background in the legal field and mining industry.
Describe your journey to where you are today.
The journey started just prior to 2018, when we were called First Cobalt. At that point, there was a realization that a domestic supply of cobalt was needed for EV production to really take off. The bulk of the world’s supply was coming from the DRC, or the Democratic Republic of Congo and an opportunity became available for us to do some exploration work in and around Ontario and Idaho. Most EV’s use a battery chemistry called NMC, or Nickel, Manganese and Cobalt. Cobalt is the most difficult metal of the three to find because of its preponderance in supply coming from the DRC. We noticed the supply chain now is getting more complex and the opportunity to get into sulfates that act as almost like precursors to battery materials emerged.
Now as Electra Battery Materials, our focus is to recondition current assets and become an integral part of the EV supply chain in the upstream market. We anticipate our refinery to be operational in the spring of 2023. In advance of that, we’ll be conducting plant demonstrations of black mass recycling, which involves recycling battery materials. Our process allows the separation of those materials, giving us the ability to monetize multiple products that we extract, including nickel, cobalt, manganese, and lithium.
What does your company do, for whom, and how does it fit into the bigger picture of solving global issues with clean tech?
The long and short of it is that we’re a processor of battery materials. We’re in the stages right now of commissioning a refinery, an important aspect of taking raw material that’s been processed. We plan to take nickel or cobalt that comes in a hydroxide format through a process to produce sulfate. That sulfate then goes through a number of different iterations with battery producers to produce cathode active materials. These materials are necessary and needed for electric vehicles. Without the raw materials, a clean revolution wouldn’t be possible. That is how we plan to help solve global issues with clean tech.
What do you think is the most important thing we can be doing in terms of clean tech solutions?
The increase in government support is critical. For a long time, the majority of battery materials, particularly cobalt supply, came from jurisdictions where people questioned their efficacy and environmental footprint. After a while, it became even more problematic that the bulk of better materials and processing came from China, putting North America and the automotive industry at great peril. Over the last 18 months or so, there has been a movement where various stakeholders are coming together to produce a domestic supply chain that helps onshore EV battery development. In the US, you saw that really come into focus when The Inflation Reduction Act, which provides significant opportunities for both supporting the industry in the form of tax credits and funding, passed recently. In Canada, we saw the federal budget earmarked billions of dollars for four critical metals and the U.S. followed with about $400 million of funding and support. This was a missing ingredient which will provide more confidence for the industry.
What do you wish you could tell the younger you — what would’ve been incredibly helpful to you ten years ago?
The seriousness of climate change didn’t really take hold until the last couple of years or so. I would have told folks 10 years ago that climate change is real, it is happening, investments will happen in this space will take off, and that the sooner you get on board the better.
LinkedIn: Trent Mell