I was fortunate to attend the 2023 Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Annual Convention this week, the world's largest and most important international mining industry gathering, known to attract up to 30,000 attendees from over 130 countries.
Of course, the talk of the town was the role that battery metals will play in the energy transition. Fundamentals are looking very strong as countries look to reduce their dependence on China and secure domestic supply, warnings of future copper shortages abound, nickel mining in Ontario's Ring of Fire continues to receive plenty of government support, and lithium was definitely a buzz word.
Tepid global demand for metals driven by recession fears and China’s weak economic recovery have done little to shake the belief among miners that battery materials are heading for an epic bull run.
That was the sentiment of thousands of executives, investors, government officials and bankers who crammed into a conference center in Toronto for the past four days to showcase their assets, network and strike deals. For the event organizer, the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada gathering highlighted the industry’s push to be part of the solution in the worldwide transition to cleaner energy.
“The theme is truly getting the general public to understand their vision of the future — which is zero emissions — and the true importance of the mining industry to help us achieve that,” PDAC President Alex Christopher said in a Wednesday interview. Copper — the wiring metal that’s key to the energy transition — was top of mind for base metals producers at the gathering, though “lithium” was the most-searched word on the organizer’s website, he said.
The rush for battery metals has prompted a flurry of activity from investors not typically associated with the mining industry, including automakers and pension funds— a theme that came up during panel discussions. Governments in North America and Europe have also started making moves to encourage domestic metals production to counter China’s dominance.
The event drew 23,819 attendees this year, more than a third higher than last year’s abbreviated June event when PDAC returned to in-person programming after a pandemic pause.
_The fascination with the Ring of Fire region in northern Ontario is quite evident in the country’s business pages.
_Few mining zones receive more press, even though no mine yet exists in the region 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is anxious to change that, asserting a number of times in the last few years that it was time to “hop on a bulldozer” and start building roads to what have been described as one of the “most promising” critical minerals deposits in Canada.
The Ontario government is confident that the 5,000-square kilometre region has a “multi-generational potential” to contain mineral deposits that will see increasing demand as countries seek to shift away from fossil fuels.
As a result, the Ford government is working on building all-season roads to connect the Ring of Fire in the north with the southern part of the province. Earlier this week, the province said that it was dedicating “close to $1 billion to support critical legacy infrastructure” in the area, but that the federal government also would need to contribute substantial funds.
Mining's GOAT Robert Friedland has suggested the years ahead seem destined to bring a 'revenge of the miners', as the world has shunned the industry with underinvestment and a lack of appreciation for all that companies have done to improve their ESG records. 2023 in metals is shaping up to be just the start of a long bull run...