Québec on its way to homegrown battery industry

Québec is well positioned to lead the way in lithium battery manufacturing and ramp up the transition to electric transportation

Karim Zaghib
Strategic Advisor to the Investissement Québec Management Committee and Professor at McGill University’s Mining and Materials Engineering Department

In November, the Québec government announced its intention to invest up to $1.4 billion to develop the lithium battery sector and become a world leader in electric transportation.

The stars have never been so favourably aligned for a successful rollout of Québec’s strategy. The province has everything it needs to set up a complete value chain, from ore extraction to battery manufacturing and recycling. It has an abundance of raw materials such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, carbon (graphite), silicon and manganese, strategically important minerals that are essential for battery manufacturing.

Québec also has a number of other significant assets:

  • Its hydroelectricity, a renewable resource with a small environmental footprint that will allow Québec to produce North America’s greenest battery;
  • A world authority in battery R&D with over 850 patents, and a world-class university network that is an incubator for highly qualified talent;
  • Expertise in making electric vehicles, with major players like Nova Bus, the Lion Electric Co. and BRP, to name just a few;
  • Geographic proximity to major automakers and over 700 parts manufacturers, along with easy connections by rail and sea;
  • Low operating costs compared to the rest of North America, and trade agreements providing access to a market of 1.5 billion consumers.

Finally, Québec is a welcoming place—and I ought to know—where home ownership is well within reach, healthcare is free and tuition fees are among the lowest in North America. It’s also one of the most business-friendly places around, with competitive wages and very generous tax and financial incentives.

Support for development of the battery industry

With the demand for electric vehicles skyrocketing worldwide as a result of the climate crisis, the lithium battery sector holds incredible potential for Québec’s economic growth. The government of François Legault expects to see public and private investments totalling $7 billion over the next 10 years. To make that growth a reality, the Québec government has launched the Stratégie québécoise de développement de la filière batterie to develop the battery industry as well as the Plan québécois pour la valorisation des minéraux critiques et stratégiques 2020-2025, or Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals 2020-2025, the measures of which complement each other. Another notable initiative is the Québec government’s 2030 Plan for a Green Economy, which aims, among other things, to replace fossil energies by electricity, particularly in the transportation industry.

Quebecers are showing a growing interest in purchasing electric vehicles thanks to the income tax credits made available to them. According to recent data from the Association des véhicules électriques du Québec (AVEQ) and Electric Mobility Canada (EMC), close to 50% of the plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles bought in Canada are purchased here in Québec.

Investissement Québec will play a pivotal role both in supporting the growth of Québec businesses and in attracting battery component manufacturers to our province. Recent events like the coronavirus pandemic and trade tensions between the U.S. and China have shown how important it is to have a strong local procurement chain. Investissement Québec is also responsible for prospecting for investors in mineral mining and processing and for assisting foreign companies in setting up operations here.

I have been conducting research in the field of lithium-ion batteries for 35 years. I worked in France and Japan before joining Hydro-Québec’s research institute, IREQ, in 1995. Ever since, I have been dreaming that Québec might become a top battery producer. Drawing on my network of local and foreign contacts, I now work with the Québec government, which has a transformative vision for the industry and is taking a growing interest in energy storage and the electrification of transportation. All the necessary ingredients are in place, and it is up to us to seize this opportunity and stake out a position on the world stage today.