Canada is a prime source of the elements, minerals and rare earth metals essential to the batteries and motors that power electric vehicles and enable green mobility, and is bolstering the supply chain to deliver them. It also has some nascent technology for sea and air transport that could help Japan

According to the International Energy Agency—a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation that offers policy recommendations, data and analysis on the global energy sector—road transport alone accounts for a sixth of all global greenhouse emissions. Getting more electric vehicles (EVs) on the ground is therefore crucial to making the net zero emissions scenario a reality by 2050.

Meanwhile, the S&P Global Mobility forecast for 2024 says 13.3 million ground EVs will sell worldwide, reaching an estimated 16.2 percent of all vehicle sales. That’s up from 12 percent and a 9.6 percent market share in 2023. 

The supply chain for the rare earth minerals, elements and metals that go into EV batteries, motors and car bodies is just as pivotal. Canada boasts significant stocks of those, as well as an already robust supply chain. In December 2022, the Ottawa government devoted $4 billion to supercharging its critical minerals sector and related green initiatives. The government’s strategy names thirty-one minerals as critical. 

The six with the most potential for driving Canada’s economy are lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper, and rare earth elements. Lithium is a key component in rechargeable batteries for EVs; graphite goes into EV fuel cells, motor components and frictionless materials; nickel is used in battery components and solar panels; cobalt is a key material in EV batteries; copper is a primary material for motors and wiring; and rare earth elements known as lanthanides are essential to permanent magnets in EV motors. 

In September 2023, Canadian Ambassador to Japan Ian McKay announced that Canada is 

committed to helping Japanese companies get whatever they need to succeed in Canada. That was just before Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Yasutoshi Nishimura, signed a memorandum of cooperation on the battery supply chain. Japanese companies can even secure EV tax breaks in the U.S. if they access the Canadian chain


Ramping Up

Quebec and Ontario are among the provinces ramping up to search for and produce critical minerals, build EV components, and bolster their supply chains, hoping to draw international businesses seeking alternatives to dealing with China. 

Quebec, for example,  is talking with auto companies and battery makers seeking to inject $15 billion into the province to build EV supply chains and tap supplies of resources such as lithium, nickel and graphite. Another $15 billion is coming over the next three years. 

Meanwhile, Ontario and the federal government are investing nearly $1 billion in eastern Ontario to build an EV component plant. Early in 2024, Japanese automaker Honda indicated that it is considering building an EV plant in Canada.

Chamber members Teck Resources and Rio Tinto are bringing essential materials such as copper and lead as well as scandium to market in volume. Since the typical EV used four times as much copper as a gas-powered vehicle, demand is elevated. In fact, it’s projected to rise from around 25 million tonnes currently to 36.6 tonnes by 2031. Lead is just as vital—the market is projected to grow 4 percent by 2028. 

The scandium, from Rio Tinto’s new operation in Quebec, is also destined to be part of a solid-state lithium battery, which promises to be safer and deliver higher voltages and greater power density than those using liquid electrolytes—which are also more flammable. Scandium also reduces vehicle weight when combined with aluminium.


By Sea and by Air

While the focus is mostly on building road EVs, there are also more green vehicles in the water, and even some taking to the skies. One promising market is electric boats for servicing Japan’s offshore wind farms. A BC firm called Shift Clean Technology offers a subscription-based battery-swapping service for these boats.

More unexpected and still in its infancy is the electrification of flight. Since commercial aircraft are carbon monsters, any relief on that score is welcome.

Enter Richmond, BC-based Harbour Air, founded in 1982 with two small seaplanes, which became North America’s first and largest fully carbon-neutral airline in 2007. “We serve 500,000 passengers annually on up to 300 daily scheduled flights, scenic tours, adventure packages and private flights,” says Jessica Dunn, Harbour Air’s head of marketing and public affairs.

Harbour Air’s foray into purely electric aviation began with the ePlane project in March 2019 in a groundbreaking partnership with engine manufacturer MagniX to transform its seaplanes into the world’s first all-electric commercial fleet. MagniX’s magni500, a 750-horsepower all-electric motor, powers Harbour Air’s ePlane, a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver. EP Systems supplies the lithium-ion batteries generating approximately 150kWh. 

In April 2023, Harbour Air’s ePlane achieved a major milestone with its inaugural flight to downtown Vancouver on Earth Day. Its ePlane Tour showcased the future of sustainable flight across British Columbia. In May 2023, the prototype plane landed on a scheduled flight route, from Richmond South to Salt Spring Island—the ePlane’s first multi-point flight. 

“Our ePlane has about a 55-minute mission—a 35-minute flight with a 20-minute reserve—and our endurance cruise is about 105 mph,” Dunn explains. “The factor that make it commercially viable are the low energy requirements, since our flights average 30 minutes and typically fly at less than 1500 feet.”  


Business Case

Greg Hatton, an aerospace engineer and representative of Simon Fraser University’s Management of Technology (MOT) MBA program, detailed how SFU’s program contributed to Harbour Air’s success in electric flight. Hatton’s involvement began after attending a Transport Canada conference in November 2022, leading to a collaborative project through the Industry Consulting Project, a capstone of the MOT MBA program. This partnership focused on strategic analyses and practical solutions for Harbour Air’s challenges.

The project team, composed of experts with diverse backgrounds, tackled various aspects crucial for Harbour Air’s venture into electric aviation. They conducted a SWOT analysis to assess the company’s readiness for obtaining a Canadian Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), vital for the ePlane’s certification. They also evaluated the financial viability of the electric aircraft, comparing it to traditional internal combustion engine aircraft in terms of costs, ticket pricing, and potential flight routes.

The team also conducted a valuation of the aircraft, considering increasing and decreasing costs of components. This financial information helps make a business case for obtaining funding and also selling prices of aircraft. “Furthermore, we evaluated their flight operations, comparing an internal combustion engine (ICE) aircraft to electric to assess ticket pricing and potential flight routes,” Hatton notes. 

Despite these innovative strides, Harbour Air and its team acknowledge ongoing challenges, including securing funding, navigating regulatory approvals, and establishing charging infrastructure. However, the comparative production costs to traditional aircraft and the potential for longer routes due to advances in battery technology underscore the project’s feasibility. While the path to certification is fraught with new regulatory challenges, Dunn says the company is aiming for ePlane 2.0 certification by the end of 2025. 

This all underscores Canada’s role in supplying essential elements for EVs of all kinds and the supply chains to deliver them, as well as its commitment to emergent technologies that foster greener, cleaner mobility with significant benefits for global markets, including Japan.