Proposed Aitkin County nickel mine gets $114M from infrastructure bill for North Dakota processing plant
The plan would move processing facilities and tailings storage away from Talon’s proposed underground mine near Tamarack and into North Dakota.
TAMARACK, Minn. — A company hoping to open an underground nickel mine received $114 million from the federal government to help build a mineral processing facility in North Dakota aimed at supplying the electric vehicle market with minerals used to make batteries.
Talon Metals' subsidiary, Talon Nickel, was one of 20 processing and manufacturing companies in 12 states awarded a combined $2.8 billion meant to “expand domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and the electrical grid,” the White House said news release Monday.
The money comes from the federal infrastructure law passed last year.
“Right now, 75% of the battery manufacturing is coming from China and for some battery components (and) critical materials, China controls nearly half the global production … Today, we’re stepping up to really take it back — not all of it,” Biden said at an event at the White House on Monday, adding that the federal government is setting goals and actions “to make sure we’re back in the game.”
Talon’s award is expected to fund about 27% of construction at its planned ore processing facility and tailings management site set for an industrial brownsite in Mercer County, North Dakota. Talon is still negotiating a purchase of the site. The plant would be supplied with ore from Talon’s proposed Tamarack mine and other sources in North America.
Earlier this year, electric car maker Tesla Inc. and Talon signed a six-year agreement for Tesla to buy 75,000 metric tons (165 million pounds) of nickel concentrate and requiring Talon to begin shipping the concentrate by Jan. 1, 2026.
Todd Malan, Talon’s chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy, said the company anticipates completion of the North Dakota processing plant and opening of its Tamarack mine to be before 2026.
But it has yet to begin the permitting process in Minnesota. Copper-nickel mining has never taken place in Minnesota and it took the proposed Polymet copper-nickel project near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt 14 years to receive its permits, but those have been caught up in litigation for the last 4 years.
Malan said the company expects to begin the permitting process in February. Malan said only the underground mine and rail loading facility would need permits from Minnesota regulators as the processing facility and tailings would be in North Dakota.
But with Monday’s announcement, Talon said it would no longer process minerals at its Tamarack site, which ”significantly reduces land disturbance and the scope of environmental review and permitting” in Minnesota, the company said in a news release Monday.
Malan said the company would instead send the feedstock by rail from Minnesota to North Dakota, where it will also deal with the tailings — the bits of rock left behind after the desired minerals are processed out of it. Tailings often contain pollutants, namely sulfides, which can form an acid after reacting with oxygen.
The area is dryer than Minnesota. Additionally, the tailings will be embedded in a cement-like substance and stored similar to other dry-stacked facilities that capture stormwater runoff, Malan said.
“We see this as directly responsive to what some of the (Tamarack area) community members have said in our community meetings ... We think this is a way to address what people’s fears were about non-ferrous metals mining in a water-rich environment,” Malan said.
But Paula Maccabee, counsel and advocacy director of environmental group WaterLegacy, cast doubt on the company’s plan to return non-tailing waste rock into the underground mine back in Minnesota and said there were other unanswered questions on how the mine would deal with potentially contaminated water.
She said the federal funding is arriving out of order.
“I’m really concerned that the politics and the money, as usual, are getting out of the gate far ahead of the science and far ahead of reasonable planning,” Maccabee said. “And so the politicians and their use of our own taxpayer resources are being committed long before there is a project defined, let alone an environmental analysis of the impact of the project.”