All posts by Stephen Gunnion

Leading the Charge to Develop an Integrated North American Supply Chain for LFP Batteries

Around two-thirds of the batteries used to power new electric vehicles (EVs) in China are now of the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) variety, overtaking lithium-ion batteries as manufacturers aim for reliability and lower price points in the world’s fastest-growing EV market.

The trend in North America is moving that way as well, spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which offers big incentives to manufacturers and consumers.

The IRA’s clean vehicle tax credit, which has already attracted nearly US$100 billion in private-sector investment, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, supports consumers with savings on new clean vehicles while creating jobs and fostering a resilient domestic supply chain. 

There are provisos, though. EVs made with minerals and materials from China won’t qualify for the credit.

Starting in 2024, EVs can’t use battery components from a “foreign entity of concern,” expanding to include minerals in 2025 and prompting a race for automakers to adapt or risk losing tax credits. 

As companies reorganize supply chains for battery parts and minerals outside of China, First Phosphate (CSE:PHOS) is a step ahead. The mineral development company aims to transform the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Québec into North America’s LFP Battery Valley and believes it has a unique proposition.

First Phosphate holds and is actively developing over 1,500 square kilometres of district-scale land claims in the region. The properties host rare anorthosite igneous phosphate rock that can yield the high-purity phosphate required to create the materials used in the manufacture of LFP batteries.

A 43-101 technical report and Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) on its flagship Lac à l’Orignal property revealed 15.8 million tonnes of phosphate (P2O5) in the Indicated category, and a further 33.2 million tonnes in the Inferred category, with a pre-tax net present value of C$795.3 million and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 21.7% at a discount rate of 5%.

The project would produce an annual average of 425,000 tonnes of beneficiated phosphate concentrate at over 40% P2O5 content, 280,000 tonnes of magnetite and 97,000 tonnes of ilmenite over a mine life of 14.2 years.

Nearby at its Bégin-Lamarche property, First Phosphate is conducting a 25,000 metre drill program that should position the company to calculate a 43-101 resource estimate, with a PEA expected to follow. 

Meanwhile, a geological reconnaissance program at its Larouche property, just 40 kilometres from the Port of Saguenay, also revealed strong assay results, including one sample grading 39.45% P2O5.

The company’s goal is to integrate material from these properties into the supply chains of major North American LFP battery producers that require battery-grade LFP cathode active material (CAM) from a consistent and secure supply source.

“What makes us unique is we are trying to set up a fully North American supply chain, and we’re working and we’re cooperating with those who are aligned with that vision,” says Chief Executive Officer John Passalacqua.

“We’re the start of the supply chain; we’re the critical minerals. So, if it starts clean in North America with us, then we make sure that all of our partners downstream, everything that goes into making the battery, the car or the storage system, will be North American-based as far as possible.”

With First Phosphate’s deposits forming the first pillar, Passalacqua explains that his team has established strategic partnerships and alliances with companies that will complete the supply chain as it sticks to both the spirit and the letter of the law in the IRA.

These include Belgium’s Prayon, whose technology is used to produce over 50% of the world’s phosphoric acid. Prayon is looking at a long-term offtake agreement for First Phosphate’s phosphate rock as well as the potential for a purified phosphoric acid toll processing agreement.

The company has also entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NorFalco, a division of Glencore Canada, to secure the supply of sulphuric acid needed to manufacture phosphoric acid. 

A non-binding MOU with Sun Chemical Corporation to develop intermediates used to produce lithium iron phosphate-based cathode active material (LFP CAM) extends the potential supply chain even further.

“We have a number of companies that have processes to make LFP CAM that are interested in working with us,” says Passalacqua.

“Sun Chemical, one of the world’s leading suppliers of inks and pressroom products, with a massive manufacturing footprint around the world, is available with their manufacturing facilities to partner with us to actually build LFP CAM, which is important because that saves on capital outlays.”

In December, First Phosphate signed an MOU with Las Vegas-based Ultion Technologies for the purchase of a non-exclusive, perpetual license for technology to produce LFP and lithium iron manganese phosphate (LFMP) cathode active materials.

A partnership with American Battery Factory aims to support the production of up to 40,000 tonnes of fully North American-manufactured LFP CAM annually.

Finally, the Port of Saguenay can provide access to overseas.

“In everything we do, we’re looking to promote environmental stewardship, while doing it at home and creating jobs at home,” Passalacqua says. 

“We’re trying to get very integrated into the downstream activities so that it becomes a fluid process; it becomes a real supply chain.”

Passalacqua believes a number of factors will continue to drive the push to LFP batteries, including cost, as they are cheaper to manufacture than lithium-ion batteries that use cathode active material from nickel, manganese and cobalt (NMC), which are tougher to source and more toxic. Cobalt also has issues related to ethical supply.

Additionally, the NMC cathode contains available oxygen, making it more susceptible to thermal runaway, which can result in fires. That’s not the case with LFP batteries, which are much more stable. 

Above all, Passalacqua says price is a big factor in choosing LFP batteries, as the cost to produce LFP CAM is generally much lower than for NMC CAM.

“Because of that, there has been a huge flock to LFP batteries,” he says.

“LFP batteries have been known to offer 25% to 30% less range than an NMC battery but the technology is increasing on both of those batteries such that an LFP battery may now get you a 300 kilometre to 350 kilometre range in some models and generally without any associated memory issues.”

While more expensive vehicles that need range for out-of-city driving still veer towards NMC batteries, vehicles targeted for city driving are shifting to LFP due to the price factor. 

Passalacqua says Tesla managed, at one point, to offer pricing below US$40,000 using LFP batteries.

With changes to the IRA, automakers, including Tesla, won’t be able to source their LFP batteries from China, which will work in favour of local companies like First Phosphate.  

“In order to get the IRA subsidies, you need to have a retail price of under US$55,000 on passenger vehicles and one way to get there is with an LFP battery.

“The practical considerations around the LFP battery are cost, certainly the fire safety, and even though it has shorter range you can generally charge it at any point in its battery cycle due to the lack of memory issues.”

For now, though, fresh from an $8.2 million financing, Passalacqua says the immediate priority is to further uncover the deposit at Bégin-Lamarche.

“We have to decide on a potential mine site, start feasibility studies, and take the purified phosphoric acid Prayon prepares for us and send it to potential clients for possible offtakes and partnerships,” he says. 

“We also need to start planning for a purified phosphoric acid plant at the Port of Saguenay.”

Passalacqua says First Phosphate is sitting on perhaps one of the purest phosphate rock qualities in the world, and in one of the best jurisdictions in the world for mining and electrification.

“We want to have the ability to produce much of the phosphoric acid that is going to be needed in North America for the LFP battery in a clean, ethical, just-in-time fashion. We are 100% dedicated to that,” the CEO says.

“We’re well-managed, we’re well-capitalized and we’re fully North American so that opens all the doors to great working relationships with North American companies and North American governments.”

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about First Phosphate at

Democratizing Cannabis Markets While Aiming to Become Canada’s Leading Vice Retailer

You don’t have to look far on the Canadian Securities Exchange to find a cannabis issuer, as some of the world’s most progressive laws governing the plant’s sales and usage have led to rapid growth in cannabis companies turning to Canadian capital markets to grow their businesses.

Among those, 1CM (CSE:EPIC) stands out for the returns it has delivered for shareholders this year, with its market capitalization recently at an all-time high of $263 million.

The multidimensional cannabis company says it is dedicated to democratizing cannabis markets. It is doing this, partly, through its One Cannabis Market technology platform, which provides business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) solutions, including last-mile delivery, digital signage, big data analytics and wholesale clearing services.

Its retail operations are centred on T Cannabis, targeting the rural cannabis retail market, and Cost Cannabis, which is focused on urban consumers.

Following the 2021 acquisition of Tirthankar, a cannabis retailer founded by industry veteran Tanvi Bhandari, the company appointed Bhandari as its Chief Executive Officer six months later.

In a recent discussion with Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine, Bhandari shared her vision for 1CM.

1CM is succeeding in an industry that many companies have found more challenging than they had first anticipated. What gives you an edge?

I think the lowest prices, accompanied by dedication to customer service. When I started my company in 2020, my main goal was to position it to have the lowest operating overheads possible, and then determine the minimum margin required for a successful and scalable business. I think that’s what gives us an edge in the market compared to other retailers.

You say you are using technology to democratize cannabis markets. How are you doing that?

With technology, we do everything in-house with the sole purpose of, again, improving the customer service experience. For example, we have the 1CM loyalty app that’s currently live on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

This app leverages decentralized loyalty points that can be redeemed on the app for NFT coupons, in-store or taken off the app into the customer’s other non-custodial wallets. The ability for the customer to own their loyalty points and their NFT coupons and take them offline into their non-custodial wallets is a great example of democratizing the cannabis loyalty platform. So that’s something exciting. And then we also have our first wholesale e-commerce portal for retailers in Saskatchewan.

In Saskatchewan, other wholesalers operate in a more archaic fashion: they send out weekly Excel inventory lists and expect customers to send them back a purchase order.

We developed an intuitive e-commerce portal with a focus on user interface/user experience. This site allows our wholesale customers to browse, add to their cart, manage their available credit, make payments and check out.

As soon as the order is placed, we send them an advanced shipping notice (ASN) which includes the description and the images of the product that they’ve bought. The ASN can be automatically uploaded to their point of sale system, all of which significantly reduces the effort spent ordering and improves the service experience.

We also have a real-time delivery tracking app and a cannabis search engine that shows the customer the retailers around them selling the product and the price. They just need to type the product name, and it will show where the product has been sold and which location has the lowest price. This also helps us on the back end, as we use this data to ensure that our location has the lowest price.

I think there is a significant opportunity to utilize, develop and improve technology at scale in cannabis markets, and these improvements in technology will continue to democratize them. 

You entered the liquor, tobacco and consumer packaged goods (CPG) retail industry this year. Why the move into liquor?

We are expanding beyond cannabis into other vice industries. We aim to become Canada’s leading vice retailer. We see the cross-segment complementarity and will leverage our strengths and experience in low-margin retail to drive revenues from these other vice segments.

This is how it happened. Earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) decided that they no longer wanted to operate any government-owned liquor stores and that they would all be auctioned out. Cost Cannabis won six auctioned liquor licences and then we went on to purchase some of the underlying real estate from the Saskatchewan government. The good thing about these licences is that they let us sell tobacco products along with all other CPG products depending on the municipality of the location. This is very exciting for us as we look forward to growing revenue in other vice segments, which include liquor, nicotine and CPG.

Will you look for other acquisition opportunities like this?

We’re currently looking for acquisition opportunities, both in cannabis and the liquor market. We’re trying to acquire stores at attractive valuations as the industry continues to consolidate.

Is it important to have an online presence as well as a physical presence?

Yes, 100%. I think it is important to have an online presence connected to the physical presence in this industry. That’s why we want to have the technology side of the business grow in the same way we want to grow our footprint across Canada.

Where do you see future growth coming from? Will it be organic growth or M&A?

I think both at this point. There are a lot of retailers who want to sell stores that are not performing well, so we’re looking for attractive valuations in the industry while also driving significant growth from increases in same-store sales, new locations, B2B wholesale in Saskatchewan and liquor and tobacco sales.

What’s your ultimate vision for 1CM?

My vision for 1CM is to become the leading retailer of vice in Canada, building a brick-and-mortar unicorn the old-fashioned way. That’s what I would want eventually for this company, and I think we’re going in the right direction.

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about 1CM at

Ameriwest Lithium: Unlocking value in a world shifting toward lithium-based energy solutions

Nevada is a hot spot for lithium exploration: Clayton Valley in particular is a mature, well-known, lithium-rich area that includes the only production in the United States, at Albemarle’s Silver Peak lithium mine.

Throughout the state, major players are scouting for the sought-after metal as demand soars due to the shift to green energy solutions powered by lithium-based batteries. The US government has also announced measures to increase domestic production of the metals and minerals that are used in advanced technologies, in order to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers.   

Ameriwest Lithium (CSE:AWLI) is a new, up-and-coming player in the lithium space in Nevada.  It has put together three highly promising early-stage lithium properties in that state and a fourth one in Arizona.  And they are in handy locations as well.  Railroad Valley is the most advanced property and is located about 260 kilometres east-northeast of Clayton Valley.  Edwards Creek Valley is located 225 kilometres west of Reno.  Deer Musk East is in Clayton Valley.  Thompson Valley is 190 kilometres north of Phoenix.

“We made the decision to move into the lithium space in March of 2021, so it’s been just more than a year since we made the transition,” says Watkinson. “Certainly, we see lithium as being one of the hottest metals to look for from an exploration point of view and to generate investor interest. Demand is increasing as we move to electric vehicles, and then there is the need for battery storage as we move to solar and wind energy. So, lithium is going to be something that increases in value over time. It’s a great opportunity for us as a company and for investors to get involved in the lithium area.”

With a number of other explorers also looking for the next big lithium find in Nevada, Watkinson says the technical team that Ameriwest has put together is an important factor, allowing it to grow and acquire what it believes are very good quality assets. The combined technical team has over 170 years of experience in the mining industry.

“There is certainly risk in an exploration company because, especially with a brine target, you can do surface sampling, but that doesn’t really help you to identify a brine target that might be 2,000 feet below surface,” he adds. “Our exploration strategy, using geophysics the way we have, helps set us apart. I don’t see other junior mining companies necessarily taking the same technical approach to define targets. The geologists we have put together and the management team has the ability to go out and find high-quality projects and also to understand and develop the resources on those projects.” 

Once the company has a clearly defined resource, Watkinson says it will augment the technical team with other specialists like metallurgists. However, he adds that it is probably up to two years before it gets to that point.

Ameriwest chose Nevada as its starting point of the focus on lithium, acquiring a series of properties, all of which contain lithium brine targets.  Railroad Valley, Ameriwest’s most advanced project, has brine targets identified by geophysics in preparation for drilling.  

In neighbouring Arizona, Ameriwest’s latest acquisition, Thompson Valley, is a prospective lithium sedimentary deposit with surface or near-surface exposure of lithium-bearing clays that were sampled in the early 1960s.  Geologic mapping is complete, which will be followed by permitting to allow surface sampling and drilling.

“We are trying to get a mix of brine, sedimentary, and, if we can find a hard rock deposit, we would look at that too,” Watkinson says. “While there are technical and environmental challenges when it comes to processing and recovering lithium from various deposit types, the lithium industry is really developing. The technology for processing is being developed almost on a month-by-month basis to handle different types of deposits.”

While the Ameriwest portfolio is shaping up nicely, Watkinson hastens to point out that the projects are all early in nature.  While Albemarle and its predecessor companies have been operating Silver Peak in Clayton Valley since the 1960s, exploration for new lithium properties in the US is essentially a recent phenomenon. With the movement to electric vehicles and alternative energy sources, there is a race to develop new operating mines. 

“Exploration success at any one of these properties could change the fate of the company if we’re successful in discovering significant lithium targets,” says Watkinson. 

Ameriwest’s approach to exploration for lithium brine has been to use geophysics. It typically undertakes a gravity geophysics survey that identifies targets in arid valleys where brine may have accumulated and become concentrated over millions of years. Magnetotelluric geophysics looks at the resistivity (or conversely the conductivity) of the subsurface, which helps indicate the potential for a concentrated brine.

Further seismic analysis helps identify structures such as faults, horsts and grabens that might be subsurface.  This data is then modelled and used to locate drill holes to target conductive brine targets that might host a lithium-bearing reservoir.  The modelling is also used to help target drilling to avoid structures like faults below the surface that might be encountered.

Geophysics also helps in perfecting the claim package staked or acquired by the company. Following acquisition, a gravity survey at Railroad Valley was completed and the claim boundaries have been expanded based on the results. Additional claims were also acquired from American Battery Technology Company to the north, resulting in 780 contiguous claims over 15,300 acres.  A similar targeting approach was used at Edwards Creek Valley where the company has 829 claims totalling about 22,200 acres.

Potential brine targets have already been identified at Railroad Valley and after analysing the geophysical data it has collected, the company plans to drill its first hole later this year targeting a reservoir that potentially hosts lithium brine.  The timing for drilling will be subject to permitting and availability of drilling equipment.

“The geophysics shows us the target, but the drill hole will be proof of concept that it’s there,” Watkinson says. “There’s permitting that will be done for the initial drilling; that’s relatively simple but when we get to developing resources, the permitting becomes more complicated. In the United States, there’s certainly a movement by the government to push the development of critical metals like lithium, but the challenge is moving through the permitting process, and it takes time. So, it’ll take several years to develop our deposit.”

It also takes capital, and Watkinson says Ameriwest has sufficient funds for the initial steps it is taking to identify potential brine targets. Once it reaches the development stages, it will have to raise additional funds or find joint venture partners with deeper pockets, such as one or more of the mining majors.

“We’ll evaluate all those different opportunities,” he says. “Certainly, we have the ability to push the project through and develop it into production if we decide to go that route. But we also would like to take advantage of relationships with senior partners on advanced projects and have them come in and develop. They typically have a lot more expertise in processing and can fund larger capital projects.”

While Albemarle has extracted lithium at its Silver Peak mine by pumping brine and using evaporation ponds to concentrate the lithium before processing, Watkinson says that method is falling out of favour from an environmental perspective due to the amount of water it uses.  New technologies being developed are aimed at pumping fluid back into the aquifer after the lithium has been removed.

Ameriwest is not getting ahead of itself, says Watkinson. For now, the goal is to develop resources. Once those are established, the company will make a decision on the direction it takes as either a lithium producer, a project generator, or to seek out major companies to form joint ventures with.  

“As we develop resources there will be a transition the company goes through,” he says. “Our goal right now is to delineate resources on our properties and try to add value by doing that in the short term.  We have put together a high-quality technical team, acquired what we believe are high quality properties, and are minimizing exploration risk by developing multiple assets.  We have laid the foundation for long-term success with the goal of becoming a major lithium exploration and development company.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Ameriwest Lithium at